Braille Monitor                                                                                                           November 2004

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2004 NFB Scholarship Winners on the Move

From the Editor: As you will discover elsewhere in this issue it is time again to spread the word about the NFB scholarship program, far and away the most valuable collection of scholarships available to blind postsecondary students in the United States. I recently received a brief report on two of the 2004 winners. It came from Peggy Elliott, president of the NFB of Iowa and chairman of the NFB Scholarship Committee. Her report to affiliate members and the newspaper article that follows demonstrate the value of this program. This is what Peggy says:

Darrel Kirby and Kallie Smith won NFB scholarships this year. Each received a warm and very personal--as in, not a form letter--note from Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack. Kallie has now embarked on her college career, moving into her dorm room at the University of Northern Iowa and starting that great adventure. Darrel is likewise starting a new chapter, taking up both graduate school and the presidency of the Old Capitol Chapter.

Here is an article about Darrel, published in the Sunday, August 15, edition of the Iowa City Press‑Citizen. Many old Federation hands know how hard it is to get a reporter to use the name of the Federation at all, let alone get the name and concept right. Darrel has done all that admirably. This turns out to be a big year for Darrel, who in addition to the NFB scholarship has also been awarded a Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic scholarship, a Robert D. Blue Scholarship from Governor Vilsack, and a scholarship from the University of Iowa. Four in one summer; way to go, Darrel! Here's the article:


Man Gives Back to Blind Community
by Alondra Canizal

Two and a half years ago Darrel Kirby was considered legally blind. His vision had started diminishing less than a year before that, causing him to be depressed and unhappy with himself. While riding a bus, Kirby, now twenty-three, met Priscilla McKinley, who had gone through the same thing. She introduced him to local blind people, and today he said he is a perfect example of what a positive attitude, determination, and friends can help accomplish.

Darrel Kirby
.Darrel Kirby

Kirby graduated from the University of Iowa in December with a bachelor's in psychology, and this year he will be working toward his master's degree in social work, something he never imagined possible. He withdrew from the university for one semester after losing his sight.

"When I first became blind, I became depressed," Kirby said. "That was the hardest time in my entire life."

When McKinley introduced Kirby to Old Capitol, the local chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, he met people who taught him that being blind did not mean losing the life he had before, Kirby said.

"We know that blindness doesn't have to be the end of life," McKinley said. "It showed me that blind people were normal individuals; they just happened to be blind."

Kirby dove into the organization full force, becoming a member in February 2003 and being named president this May. He also is president of the Iowa Association of Blind Students.

His dedication to the organization did not go unnoticed at the annual NFB banquet in July in Atlanta. Kirby was awarded the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship for excellence in scholarship, leadership, and service to his community.

"It was quite an honor. I was completely surprised," Kirby said. "It's probably the greatest honor that I could have been given." He was chosen from a field of more than 500 blind applicants nationwide.

Kirby says he's a perfect example of what kind of an effect the organization can have. He has spoken at area elementary schools and at a couple of UI [University of Iowa] classes to educate about blindness. "If I get the chance to educate people about blindness, I usually jump at the chance," Kirby said.

This summer he was a counselor for blind high school students at the Iowa Department for the Blind's Orientation and Adjustment Center, the same place he found himself one year ago as a student. "A lot of them hadn't accepted the idea that they were blind," Kirby said.

Last summer Kirby was a part of the adult classes being offered at the center. In two-and-a-half months he learned Braille, assistance [access] computer technology, and cooking, and he also took a wood shop class that helped him build confidence.

This summer he said he saw himself in a lot of the teenagers that he was counseling. "I didn't know you could go to college and be successful," Kirby said. "Now I don't let (being blind) slow me down," Kirby said.

Most recently Kirby was one of thirty recipients of the Robert D. Blue Scholarship, which awarded him $1,000 and the opportunity to have dinner with Governor Tom Vilsack. He will be using his scholarship money to pay off his school loans. "We're all very proud of Darrel; he's a great kid," McKinley said. "He's like a second son to me, but I get mad when he calls me Mom."

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