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Finding a Friend in the Federation

By Ricardo Flores

Editor's Introduction: Ricardo Flores has been an active member of the Federation for almost five years now. His dedication and passion for the movement has grown with each year, and his service to the organization has continually increased. He has found a life-long friend in the Federation, and here, in his speech from the 2004 NABS meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, he shares his story of the impact that friendship has had on his life.

Buddy, pal, sidekick, compadré... Take your pick. I'm sure Webster came up with some fancy definition of friendship, but to me, a friend is someone who can pick you up when you're down, give you a loving shove in the right direction, and send you on your way with a pat on the back when you've done a good job. If you can accept my definition of friendship, then believe me when I say, the NFB has been a true companion.

I come from a family of accomplished parents and two beautiful and intelligent sisters. I also come from a region of Texas where a college education is great but not always required. Looking back, it would have been all too easy to end up living at home as a professional couch potato, and relying on mom and dad's weekly allowance. To be honest, when I got to my senior year in high school, I really had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. By this point, I had already sat through both of my sisters' graduations. One went into medicine while the other went into business management, and as for yours truly, I was perfectly happy playing my guitar and letting tomorrow take care of itself.

It was around this time that I had my first encounter with the Texas affiliate of the NFB. I was introduced to some of the students, and next thing you know, I was on my way to what would be my first state convention. It was there that I got the chance to get to know other blind people who had successfully completed college. I remember feeling intimidated. I mean, there I was, surrounded by people who had so many dreams and ambitions, and I was feeling a little awkward because it seemed like I was the only one at that convention who didn't have it together.

But as things turned out, these were some of the best people I would ever meet. They told me about the organization, the national conventions and about this training center in Louisiana that could help me improve my skills and maybe even help me figure out some of my strengths. I guess what sold me on the whole idea was that they did it in a way that didn't make me feel bad about myself, and I began to think that maybe there could be a little more to my next few years than I had imagined.

I get to the training center and meet one of the first Federationists to teach me a lot about leadership--Joanne Wilson. Well, Joanne's one of a kind. Those of us who've had the privilege of working with Joanne know that she's not one to beat around the bush. I said earlier that friendship involved the occasional push in the right direction, and I'll bet you never guessed who took care of that one. My favorite memory of my days in the adult program was when she forced me to volunteer my services on a cleaning crew after we'd had a picnic in typical hot Louisiana weather. Everyone was tired and irritable, and I thought about saying no, remembered it was Joanne and thought better of it. I never expected her to be one of the workers, but there she was, picking up trash just like everyone else. I don't believe that Joanne expected anyone to notice her willingness to help, but I learned that day that a good leader does these types of things. I notice the same leadership qualities in Pam Allen when I worked for the Summer Buddy Program. Running a center that changes so many peoples' lives is no easy task, and I have enormous respect for all our center employees.

The more I worked with the NFB, the more I learned that there are many paths toward success. We all have different talents, but as long as we take time, have confidence, and are prepared to do lots of hard work we will reach our goals. With the advice of good NFB friends I enrolled in Blinn Junior College, to test my skills of being a blind student. My attendance to Blinn proved to be a mature decision on my part, for I was able to adjust to college and to gain discipline, which when I was completely honest with myself, I realized I did not have before. Two years at Blinn Junior College served its purpose, because last fall I was accepted in to Texas A&M University, and accomplished one of my dreams in following in the footsteps of my two older sisters.

What's kind of ironic about my friendship with the NFB is that my very first convention took place in this very hotel. Who would have guessed that four years after my first convention I would be given the honor of delivering a speech to the best student organization in the country. Along the way I have done my fair share of recruiting, licking envelopes, making calls, fundraising and half a million other things that just seem to come with the territory. While some people may complain about doing those things, I appreciate the opportunity because so much of what I've learned about dedication and persistence I owe to our movement. One day not far from now I will help to educate tomorrow's generations. Some time after that I plan to return to my home town and serve as leader to my community, but where ever my ambitions may carry me, I will be there for the NFB the same way it's been there for me.

Average friendships have the potential to come and go, but before I go, I'd like to leave you with a brief story which I think does a good job of describing my relationship with the Federation:

This guy is walking home one night and falls in a whole. The walls are so steep that he can't get out. So he decides to wait and see if anyone comes along to help him out. A doctor walks by and the guy yells out, "hey doc, could you help me out of this hole?" The doctor writes up a prescription and throws it down in the hole and walks off. Then along comes a priest and the guy yells out again, "father think you could help me out of this hole?" The priest writes up a prayer and throws it down in the hole and walks off. Finally along comes a friend and the guy yells out, "hey, how about giving me a hand out of this hole?" The friend jumps into the hole and the stranded guy says, "What are you, stupid? Now we're both stuck down here." Sounding confident, the friend says, "Yeah I know, but I've been down here before, and I know the way out."

At one time or another every one who is currently a member of the National Federation of the Blind, has had the experience of being that person in the hole until a friend has come along to help show them the way out. And that, my compadres y compadres, is what makes this organization work.


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