The Braille Monitor                                                                                         July, 2002

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Impressions of a New Member

by Neil Schoonmaker

From the Editor: The following article appeared in the Spring 2002 issue of the Gem State Milestones, a publication of the NFB of Idaho. Neil Schoonmaker is a relatively new member of the Idaho affiliate. He has already become a hard-working member, serving on the state scholarship committee. He attended his first state convention in March and delivered a wonderful presentation. I too attended that convention, and it was truly a fine one. It is gratifying to read the comments of a new member and find them very much to the point. State conventions are important events, and it takes the hard work of many people to make them valuable to all who attend. This is what Neil has to say about his first convention:

I have attended numerous business seminars and conventions over the years, but none of them have measured up to the NFB of Idaho's convention held at the Coeur d'Alene Inn over the Saint Patrick's Day weekend. This is my first NFB convention, and ever since I left the snowy late-winter Panhandle setting, I have been asking myself this question, "Why haven't I involved myself in NFB activities in the past?"

As a new attendee to an organization's convention or a business seminar, I have certain expectations of what I will take away from the event. I hope to learn something about the culture of the organization. I hope to gain an awareness of the recent achievements, and I also wish for specific information about future goals and activities. My expectations were exceeded at this year's convention.

Kudos to Al Spooner, Panhandle Chapter President, and other members of the local chapter for coming through with a well-supplied hospitality room and for attending to all the assorted details inherent in putting on a successful event. Al's coordination of the behind-the-scenes work was a perfect foundation for one of the most significant outcomes of the convention--people coming together to update each other on career developments, family news, and ongoing personal endeavors. Beyond sharing, some offered support and a willing ear to those enduring crises or difficult circumstances such as poor health or a recent loss. Friendship and support of one another are most definitely an important part of the culture of the National Federation of the Blind.

With what seems to be an ever shrinking availability of public funds, the blind of Idaho face the challenge of securing political support for programs vital to employment and equal-access opportunities. President Streeter's address to the convention outlining the success of the legislative dinner and a report of the fund-raising successes by the local chapters highlighted the successes of the NFB of Idaho in the prior year.

Being new to the NFB, I attended activities and engaged in discussions on organizational policy. The seeds of the NFB's position on issues are sown in the Resolutions Committee meeting. Because all formal meetings are open to NFB members, everyone has an opportunity to contribute to organizational policy. The group-writing process to finalize convention resolutions mostly consisted of clearly defining the NFB of Idaho's formal position on a funding strategy for NFB NEWSLINE.

Each person attending the Resolutions Committee meeting offered both content and wording contributions as Ramona Walhof skillfully edited and re-edited the official language of the resolutions using a Braille Lite. The final drafts of all resolutions were approved unanimously. The NFB also acknowledged legislative support by passing a resolution commending the work of State Legislator Gary Young.

The NFB was established over sixty years ago and has substantially affected the lives of thousands of blind people over the years. It has flourished because of outstanding leadership and a conscious effort to pass on its heritage to successive generations. This tradition continued at this year's convention in the form of two important actions--a $1000 scholarship award to Andrea Travis, an energetic, community-minded, college-bound student from Idaho Falls, and the formation of a student division of the NFB of Idaho formally dubbed the Idaho Association of Blind Students (IDABS). The future of the NFB in Idaho is assuredly bright since the next generation of leaders is well versed in the tools of independence such as technology and mobility. They already possess outstanding leadership qualities and are a promising reflection of the founders and past leaders of the NFB.

So back to the question of why I haven't involved myself in NFB activities in the past. I have attended college and held a full-time job for the past fifteen years. In short, I haven't had the time. Another way to look at it, however, is to say that I have been too busy benefiting from the infrastructure of support created by the NFB and other organizations to make a time commitment to help. In some ways I would like to think that attending college and taking advantage of an opportunity to advance in my career are consistent with the goals that the NFB has had for blind people since 1940. The Coeur d'Alene convention, however, has shown me that participation in the NFB by all blind people will strengthen the infrastructure and increase the opportunities for everyone. I am planning on participating in NFB activities and attending future conventions. I hope to see you there.

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