Future Reflections          Winter/Spring 2008

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My First NFB Convention Experience

by Kathi Cassi and Maria Alvarez

Editorís Note: Kathi Cassi is the Ohio mother of a young man who became blind as a teenager, and Idaho resident, Maria Alverez, is the mom of a blind toddler. Kathi and her son Luke attended their first NFB national convention in Dallas, Texas, in 2006; it was also Mariaís first NFB convention. Here is what these mothers have to say about their experiences as reprinted from their respective state NFB newsletters:

My First Convention

by Kathi Cassi

Reprinted from the Fall 2006 issue of the Buckeye Bulletin, the newsletter of the NFB of Ohio.

Kathi Cassi and son, LukeMy name is Kathi Cassi, but I would much rather be identified as Adam and Lukeís mom. We were content living a small-town life. Like all families we had our problems, but they were nothing we couldnít deal with. Then my son Luke, who is now nineteen, began to lose his vision soon after high school. While in high school he excelled in sports and socializing. His biggest worry until then was that he and his friends, (many of whom he had had since kindergarten) were all about to go separate ways.

The doctors determined that his vision loss was caused by a disease our family had never even heard of called Leberís Hereditary Optic Neuropathy. The fact that it is a mitochondrial disease that is passed from the mother added another dimension to the horrific pain, shock, and sadness that I was feeling upon learning my son was losing his sight. I felt extremely guilty. I also began to worry about my other son, Adam. Would this terrible disease strike him? I went into a motherís mourning having lost such a precious part of my child.

As I rose from my despair, I was ready to fight. I found Barbara Pierce, and she encouraged us to attend the national convention in Dallas. She also encouraged Luke to consider going to the Louisiana Center for the Blind for adjustment-to-blindness training. With much hesitation, not knowing what to expect, Luke and I went to the NFB convention in Dallas. We hooked up with other Federationists in Cleveland, and the welcome, fellowship, unity, and friendship never stopped. We have both made life-long friends.

When we arrived in Dallas, Luke and I met his roommate for the week. I told this gentleman that he did not have to worry about babysitting Luke because he is very independent. Eric Duffy assured me that he would not babysit even if I wanted him to. After a while I almost wished I had persuaded him to make that babysitting commitment.

Luke may not always have gotten Aís in academic subjects in high school, but he always got Aís in ďplays well with others.Ē Most of the time I could not keep up with him. I found myself knocking on the door or calling the room asking Eric if he knew where Luke was. After a while, when Eric heard my voice, he automatically said, ďNo! I donít know where he is, and I donít want to know where he is.Ē

Here are a few things I learned from the convention:

1. I learned that blindness doesnít rob a person of his gifts. Luke can still make friends as easily as he ever did.
2. I learned that I have taken life and vision way too seriously.
3. I learned that you donít need pictures or souvenirs to carry home; the memories are in your heart.
4. I learned that the most important things in life cannot be seen: God, love, self-confidence, success, and joy.
5. I learned that our days are measured. Whether we enjoy life and what we do with our time is our choice and in our power.
6. I learned that my son is going to be okay. He has tapped resources that he never knew he had. His mind, heart, and soul are intact. He is strong and kind and fun to be around. He holds his head high and carries and presents himself with confidence.
7. The image of a hero youíve spent a lifetime constructing can change in a week or in the blink of an eye.
8. Stupidity, meanness, and lack of compassion are more blinding than the loss of eyesight.

Thank you, National Federation of the Blind of Ohio; you taught me how to see. Luke is now attending the Louisiana Center for the Blind and reports that things are a little tough but certainly doable. I miss him terribly, yet I have great confidence that he is where he should be. This belief is reinforced each time he calls with his friends near by, eager for him to get off the phone.

My Experience at the NFB Convention

by Maria Alvarez

Reprinted from the Fall 2006 issue of the Gem State Milestones, the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of Idaho.

Maria AlvarezThe NFB convention in Dallas, Texas, was my first experience with the NFB. My name is Maria Alvarez and I have a son, Diamond, who is two years old and is blind. Being able to help him succeed in every aspect of life is my goal; I think any mother will go to extremes to help her children. The NFB convention was so inspirational to me. I met other parents, teachers, orientation and mobility instructors, blind lawyers, blind scientists, blind leaders, and many, many new friends. It allowed me to see about three-thousand blind individuals making their way through airports, hotels, restaurants, and more. I also had the opportunity to attend the parentsí division meetings and workshops and meet other parents with the same concerns that I had. Some of them had already gone through a lot of the same experiences as I had, and were so helpful in giving advice. I was understood in a different way by individuals who have overcome the same doubts and concerns I experienced. It was a comforting moment. I realized that I was not alone, and it empowered me to pass this on to others in my home state of Idaho. I am now committed to initiating a parents division for the NFB here in Idaho.

Some of the most inspiring moments at the NFB convention for me were witnessing the young (blind) students doing presentations. Wow! These young kids helped me to see what my son, Diamond, can become. They were so well-rounded, well-spoken, and not at all shy. When I think about it, it brings a knot to my throat and tears to my eyes. Before I attended the convention, I now see that I did have different expectations for Diamond because of his blindness. The convention helped me see that Diamond can be who he wants, and do what he wants; blindness does not need to define him, he will define himself. It was such an emotional experience and it is hard to express on paper. I wish every parent could go to the NFB National Convention and experience the power and empathy that flows throughout.

I want to thank Elsie Lamp for taking the time to talk to me at the Sensory Safari exhibition held at the Shilo Inn in Idaho Falls. I noticed there were NFB pamphlets, and I asked Elsie to explain to me what the NFB did. I had always thought it was only for adults. If it had not been for Elsie taking the time to talk to me, and then contacting Paula Achter, NFB President of Idaho, I would not have had the opportunity to attend the convention, and I am so grateful.

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