'American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections
       Convention 2019      CONVENTION HIGHLIGHTS

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Welcome to Youth Track

by Amy Porterfield

Daniel Early teaches Makenzie Love to tie a tie.From the Editor: During the NFB National Convention, children ages three to ten are kept busy in NFB Childcare, and adults choose from a host of meetings and presentations. To meet the needs of young people between the ages of eleven and eighteen, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) has created Youth Track. In this article Youth Track coordinator Amy Porterfield shares a bit of the history of Youth Track and describes some of the fun and informative activities that keep teens engaged throughout convention week. Amy Porterfield is the director of SAAVI Services for the Blind, based in Tucson, Arizona.

My first experience with Youth Track occurred in 2010, when I enrolled my sighted son, who was in middle school at the time. The sighted children of blind parents and the sighted siblings of blind children have always been welcome in Youth Track. Most of them find it to be a great experience, even putting on learning shades to develop some nonvisual skills.

Over the years a number of different organizations took turns coordinating Youth Track activities at the NFB conventions. In 2017 SAAVI Services for the Blind partnered with the NOPBC to plan and run the annual session for teens, "Looking Good, Feeling Good." In this session, which is linked with the NFB fashion show, blind adults talk with the teens about how good personal grooming can boost confidence. The session involves hands-on skill building with applying makeup for girls and discussion with the boys about shaving.

Since that time staff from SAAVI have worked closely with NOPBC to plan and operate the Youth Track program. From eighty to one hundred teens and preteens sign up each year. Alyssa Bracamonte, the children's and youth coordinator at SAAVI, coordinated the 2019 Youth Track. Her mother is blind, so Alyssa knows about blindness from the inside.

A mentor teaches a group of girls to braid hair.Youth Track draws upon the talents and expertise of staff from the three NFB training centers as well as Federationists from throughout the country. At the 2019 convention, mathematician Al Maneki worked with the teens around tactile graphics, using the inTact Sketchpad. Other sessions involved STEM activities and tactile art projects. Braille was incorporated into all of the activities. The students had fun, but it was what Alyssa called "disguised learning."

Career planning is vital for all teens, and we take it seriously at Youth Track. Every year we seek out blind people with a variety of job experiences who can talk with the students. This year a teacher explained how she handles classroom management. The teens were fascinated to hear from a blind prosecutor who described how he investigates crime scenes nonvisually.  

The students in Youth Track take part in the annual Cane Walk. Orientation and mobility instructors lead them in confidence-building activities such as taking escalators and finding locations in the hotel, all under learning shades and using the long white cane. Some of the teens have never used a cane before. We make sure they take NFB canes with them when they leave.

One of the most memorable Youth Track activities was a scavenger hunt called the Exhibit Hall Challenge. The exhibit hall at convention consists of two vast rooms filled with booths that display the products and services of various companies and organizations. The booths are numbered, and they are arranged in large rectangles, but the rooms are very crowded and the noise level is daunting. Teams of students were assigned to visit particular booths and bring back evidence such as information packets and free samples.

Youth Track students get a basic cane lesson.Early in convention week the Youth Track students and mentors attended the meeting of the Resolutions Committee. Teens sometimes have trouble with the language and phrasing of the resolutions, so afterwards the group met for a separate seminar to review the resolutions one by one. The mentors explained each resolution in lay terms. The students were especially interested in the "Let us play us" resolution, which calls for blind actors to be cast as blind characters on screen. One student voiced concern that the resolution was too narrow. Why should blind actors be restricted to playing the roles of blind characters? Why couldn't casting opportunities be wide open?

The teens in Youth Track attended the NFB board meeting and the general sessions. Youth Track mentors sat with them to help explain what was going on. In addition, the teens were involved in discussions about NFB philosophy and what it means to be blind. In all these activities the Youth Track mentors aimed to create a space where the teens could talk frankly about their experiences in middle and high school.

Throughout convention week Youth Track mentors helped the teens understand the philosophy and purpose of the Federation. They tried to show the students that they are part of the larger organization. Students were encouraged to participate in the NFB as fully as possible. The issues that blind people face affect us all, and age is no barrier to getting involved. During the Youth Track wrap-up at the close of convention, many students said they couldn't wait to go home and become full members of the NFB.

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