by Randi Strope
Editor's Introduction: While she is an active member of the Nebraska affiliate of the NFB, Randi Strope received quite an introduction to the national level of the federation the summer of 2003. She attended her first national convention as a scholarship recipient and worked as a member of the NFB Corps. As many Federationist will agree, the best way to get involved with this organization is to jump in feet first, which is exactly what Randi discusses in this article. Here are her thoughts and reflections on her NFB experiences.
The National Federation of the Blind is a powerful, influential, and successful nation-wide organization, but it would be nothing without the local chapters who work together to drive this massive movement. Most of us are members of local chapters in the towns where we live or go to school, we work on fundraising, educating the local school children, and legislative issues that effect us, among other things. At times selling candles or talking to fifth graders about Braille may seem like little things, but itís these little things that contribute to making the National Federation of the Blind the smooth-running machine that it is.
The job of the National Federation of the Blindís NFB Corps is to travel around the country to recruit members and establish new local chapters of the NFB. This summer, I was one of those who racked up frequent flyer miles and Greyhound bus tickets in order to strengthen the National Federation of the Blind by personally contacting individuals whom we hoped would join our cause.
My journey began in late May with a trip to Baltimore and the National Center for the Blind, where all summer NFB Corps members received a weekend of orientation and inspiration before heading out to form and strengthen chapters of the NFB. I was paired with Kimberly Aguillard and we headed off to a six-week adventure in Illinois. Our first stop was Belleville, Illinois. We set up shop at the local Super 8, and with the help of Jeffery, the friendly desk worker who knew all the good food joints in town; we began our search for new members for the local Four Rivers chapter of the NFB of Illinois. I grew up in a small farming community in Nebraska, so traveling on public transportation was a new concept for me, but when working on the Corps, you quickly become adept to figuring out bus routes, hailing cabs, and checking out other transportation options.
After making countless phone calls and setting up appointments with prospective members the fun part begins, actually meeting and talking with the people. Belleville has many smaller surrounding communities, so arriving at your destination can be an adventure, in fact, one day Kimberly and I took 2 metro-trains, four cabs, and five busses to make a few personal visits to potential members. The headaches that traveling and scheduling can cause are well worth it because the opportunity to teach others about the positive philosophy of the NFB is very rewarding, and one that we should all take advantage of when given the chance.
One afternoon we sat down with a young girl and her mother to tell them about the NFB and what we were trying to do in their area. This young lady was very smart and motivated, but had not yet accepted her blindness, as she had some usable vision and she didnít think all adaptive techniques could be useful to her. She didnít use a cane and she had begun learning Braille, but it clearly wasnít a priority. As I told her the story of how I began to come to grips with my blindness she looked at her mother with a smirk and wide-eyes, because I was telling a story that drew many parallels to her own life. As I told her of how I hid my cane in the closet, so nobody could see it, her mom looked at me and said, ďThatís exactly what she does.Ē Then I told them of the thought process that I had to go through before I had the nerve to begin using a cane. They listened carefully to the rest of my story, we gave them information on the NFB, and the NFB training centers then headed on our way to the next appointment. During the drive to the next town I sat and thought about the girl and her mother, and of how much I hoped they would take a good hard look at the many benefits the NFB has to offer. I also reflected on how far I had come as a blind person, and how far I still had to go. When doing this type of work you not only teach others, but you learn a lot about yourself.
After a few weeks in Belleville, we moved on to Carbondale, Illinois. The situation here was a bit different as there was not a chapter here, so our goal was to generate enough interest to start a new chapter in this community. The biggest lesson I learned from our time in Carbondale was to never hesitate to share the message of the NFB with anyone. Kimberly and I were in the local library typing a press release about our work in the area, to be published in the local paper, when we noticed a man to our right using a CCTV. Finally after we were finished typing we decided to approach the man, he sounded very interested and gave us his contact information. A week later we set up a meeting with him, and it turned out that he has been looking for an organization like the NFB for some time. Eventually he became the secretary/treasurer of the Southern Illinois chapter we formed. The point here is to never stop sharing your positive philosophy with people. Sometimes we find things when we least expect them, but we never would have found them if we hadnít seized the opportunity to learn more about them. We have to give as many people as we can the opportunity to discover the powerful effect the NFB can have on their lives.
After successfully starting a new chapter in Carbondale we headed off to Bradley, Illinois for a short stint before flying to Louisville for the National Convention. I was extremely excited, because this was going to be my first convention, and in addition, I was also a scholarship winner, which made things even more excitingÖ and stressful. I enjoyed all the festivities and seminars, and was rejuvenated and ready to tackle the second half of my NFB Corps experience.
After a few extra days of relaxation at the Gault House I received word that I was heading to Georgia, and that Eddie Culp would be my new partner. After a Greyhound trip to Nashville, a night in the city known best for its country music, and another bus ride to Atlanta I was ready to get started. Eddie and I finally met for the first time, and we spent a weekend in Atlanta, learning about the area from the NFB of Georgia state president Anil Lewis. Eddie and I were going to try to strengthen the existing chapter in Albany, Georgia, so we hopped on a bus and headed off.
Unfortunately, when we arrived in Albany my luggage did not arrive with us. Let me tell you, shopping is not very fun under those circumstances. When you have to find clothes because you donít have any accept the ones on your back itís not as enjoyable as when you shop for fun. The morel of this story, put your luggage on the bus yourself if you want to make sure it makes the trip with you. No matter how many times you ask the customer service people if theyíre sure it will get put on the bus, the only sure thing is if you get it on yourself. While in Albany we discovered that their chapter was a fairly good size and that they were holding meetings. Unfortunately, we were unable to draw much additional interest in that area. However, word came from Mr. Lewis that there was interest in forming a new chapter in Bainbridge, Georgia. So, of course, thatís where we went next.
In Bainbridge we set up shop right across the street from a hotel with a fabulous lunch buffet, full of traditional southern favorites. Take it from me; people in the south know how to cook. I canít wait to go back in 2004 for more of that southern hospitality at the convention in Atlanta. Alright, now back to the important stuff. In Bainbridge they had a factory run by Georgia Industries for the Blind (GIB) so we set up a visit to their facilities. We had an opportunity to talk with the director of the facility and tour the plant. I had never been to a factory like this, so it was a very interesting and educational experience.
Eddie and I received permission later in the week to come back to the facility and make an announcement at the plant-wide meeting about why we were in town and what we were trying to accomplish. This proved to be very beneficial as some of those who attended our initial chapter-forming meeting had heard about us through these means. This just goes to show that all options should be explored when trying to recruit new members, even if you normally donít agree with conditions or the ideas of places like Georgia Industries for the Blind, itís still a good idea to explore those places. These facilities often have some people who have never had the exposure to a positive philosophy of blindness, and it is our job to give them that opportunity. As I alluded to above, we were successful in starting the Bainbridge chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Georgia.
In conclusion, my summer working for the National Federation of the Blind was one of the greatest experiences of my life. It made me mature a great deal because we were on our own for everything, hotel room reservations, travel arrangements, finding meeting places, and selecting individuals that we felt could be good leaders in their chapters. It also gave me the opportunity to travel to new places and meet lots of nice and interesting people. Working on the NFB Corps is also a great opportunity to share the NFB philosophy with people who may not have been exposed to this line of thinking. Not only does this spreading of positive philosophy benefit others, but it also gives you a chance to examine your own thoughts and ideas and really explore why we believe what we do. You have the opportunity to change the lives of others with the National Federation of the Blind, just like it has changed the lives of all of us. I encourage you to seriously consider serving this fine organization that has given all of us so much, after all, doesnít everyone deserve the opportunity to be exposed to the National Federation of the Blind? Through the NFB Corps we can truly do our part in changing what it means to be blind.
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