Future Reflections Convention Report 2012
by Kim Cunningham
From the Editor: Kim Cunningham is president of the Texas Parents of Blind Children (TPOBC). In her address at the NOPBC board meeting, she urged parents who attended convention to share everything they have learned with other parents back in their home states.
Six or seven years ago, my daughter, Kayleigh, and I attended our first NFB convention in Atlanta. We were desperate for advice and information that would help her become a successful blind high school student. The moment our feet hit the ground, we were embraced by blind people, people who knew exactly the route she needed to take. I was taken with the NFB, and I knew I wanted to spread the message of hope that the NFB gave to us.
I've worked with and been mentored by some great people! Laura Bostick had just formed the Texas Parents of Blind Children a year before I became involved. Sometimes kicking and screaming a bit, I agreed to join the board. We had a total of five board members. Since then I think that what we've accomplished has been remarkable. All the people I work with make our organization look good. If you want to be president of the TPOBC, you'll look good by virtue of the people around you.
We held a parents' session during our state convention, and Dr. Fred Schroeder came and spoke to us about NFB philosophy. We also heard from a panel of blind college students. We had a very nice evening, though we didn't pull in as many parents as we would have liked. We have exhibited at the AER conference (Association for Education and Rehabilitation). I got fifteen new members while I was there, so that worked. We also exhibited at White Cane Day in Houston. We held four BELL programs in Texas this year.
We also do advocacy work. Families contact us almost weekly, wanting information about how to deal with their school districts. One of our board members, Lety Castillo, is bilingual, which is a big plus in Texas! She is also working with our Rio Grande Chapter, forming a parents chapter in that area of the state. Lety Castillo and Sandra Oliver both worked hard on our fundraisers. This year we held a garage sale that raised over $1,800.
For the second year in a row we partnered with our blind students division. The students were looking for younger kids to come into their division, and we were looking for parents to come to our conferences. Last April we held the Quest for Independence weekend convention in San Antonio. It was a great success. We flew in Hoby Wedler, a blind chemist from California. He did a science demonstration in which parents and students took part. We had some sessions for parents only, some for parents and students together, and some just for students. We started planning the conference soon after national convention last year, wanting to make each of our sessions important. We wanted parents and students to walk away feeling empowered. We wanted the parents to meet positive blind role models. We talked about NFB training centers and programs such as the Buddy Programs and the STEP Programs. We talked about adult rehab programs and how important they are for the success of our children before they enter college. The state rehab agency came in and discussed the long white cane. Our school districts do not offer the long white cane and will not teach students to use it. We tried to empower parents to teach their own children, to put the cane in their children's hands and let them explore.
With all that said, participation wasn't quite what I wanted it to be. I was reminded that I needed to remember something. We are reaching families, even if we reach just one family at a time.
We all possess valuable information about raising blind children. Think about everything you have learned this weekend. Think about how much you can take back to your state and share with the families that couldn't attend, families that didn't know about this convention. You might tell yourself that you're not a leader or that you don't know a lot about blindness. But you are a leader in your child's eyes. While you may be thirsty for more information, you already possess a great deal of knowledge from your own on-the-job training.
Think about the families with newly diagnosed kids. Remember the days when you didn't have a clue. Today you can make the decision to go back to your state and invite three or four families for a play date or a picnic in the park. Share what you've learned, and keep paying it forward. You can give as much or as little time as you have. Contact the people in your NFB state affiliate, and let them know that you'd like their support. Perhaps you have enough time to plan a meet-and-greet event for families at your state convention. You don't have to start out by planning conventions with lots of fancy speakers. You can simply get together with other families to discuss raising blind kids. You will be surprised what can develop from one little gathering!
I'm not a professional. I don't have any initials after my name. What I do possess is a willingness to give back. I have had many opportunities to attend trainings, conferences, and conventions throughout my daughter's life. Among all of these learning experiences, the most important have been my social interactions with blind adults. When I need my car repaired, I call a mechanic. When I need information about blindness, I call my blind friends. This is why I love the NFB! We have a wealth of knowledge from thousands of blind people who can help us along our way.
I hope I've inspired you to believe that you can go back to your state and pay it forward to other families. Sometimes we don't need to reach the masses, but just one family at a time. One candle may light a thousand.