2016: Reflecting, Building, Succeeding

When a new year comes in, the tendency sometimes is to discard the past and focus completely on the future. When we in the Community Service Division come to the beginning of a new year, we take a moment to look back, not to settle on past success, but to revisit what we’ve worked together to accomplish. Overall, we have discovered that as long as we maintain our knack for dreaming up creative ideas, our want to see them through, and a desire to keep the goal of raising expectations of the blind through service to our community in the forefront, then we will continue to do what we can to advance our shared vision in the National Federation of the Blind of security, equality, and opportunity for all blind people around the country.

When we look back on 2016, we discover another year full of its fair share of successes and challenges. We threw ourselves into continuing the momentum started by 2015’s 75 Days of Service by rolling out May, the Mission, the Movement, the Message, the Milestone. This was a month-long effort in which the mission was to give of our talents and skills to people and places in our communities. We wanted our sighted friends and neighbors to understand that the blind can and do give and are not always the “takers” society might have us be. The movement referred to all of us as the organized blind, furthering our message through community service that blindness is not the characteristic that defines us or our future. It was also us coming together to support each other as we found the ways we would give back alongside our sighted peers. The milestone referred to the results, the raising of expectations of the blind, and the celebration of the difference that we will have made as a Federation family by coming together to share our successes and work through our obstacles in order to ultimately strengthen the Federation and break down barriers to full participation in society. Participants could take part in this project individually or with their chapter by engaging in a community service project such as volunteering for a nonprofit organization, local church, or school or helping those in need in their neighborhood.

On the heels of this initiative, we planned and carried out a very successful service project with Habitat for Humanity as a part of the 76th convention of the National Federation of the Blind. The Golden Triangle Chapter of the NFB of Texas provided lunch, and the division provided transportation. In all, we were able to feed and transport 10 members, a teacher of the blind, and her student to the project. With every piece of drywall raised and every screw driven into place, we not only helped form a home for someone, but we also helped form a positive view of blindness in the Habitat staff and raised our expectations of what the blind are truly capable of.

During the week of Convention, we held our 2nd annual seminar and business meeting. At this meeting, we enjoyed powerful messages from great leaders and great people. From Amy Buresh sharing how personal community service is to her as a leader, a person, and a parent; to Gary Wunder reminding us of the importance of being a good humanitarian and helping not only are fellow blind person, but also helping just any person; to our national scholarship finalists sharing how service is very much a part of their identity; to the many other stories that were shared, we found a united message of a belief in the blind and the expectation that we take our positive philosophy about blindness beyond where we would traditionally go so that we can be good people and Federationists in our communities who can educate society about our true abilities.

I was reminded how as members of the Federation, we have a tremendously strong belief in ourselves and our value as people whose blindness is simply a characteristic that doesn’t define who we are and the impact we can have on the world in which we live. I am very proud to be a part of this movement and to have the opportunity to do whatever I can to make this organization better.

That week, we also gathered together for our annual trivia night. This year, we chose music as our theme, and teams of Federationists had to identify songs from well-known TV shows and movies, popular songs, famous artists, and more. Much fun was had by all, and we hope to make the event a larger one in 2017.

Coming off the high of another exciting convention, the division went to work planning the activities for the upcoming year. We established a service awards program which was designed to award those who involved themselves in community service projects that portrayed the blind as givers to our larger society. We also began a series of conference calls called #WhatsInItForYou. These calls have been planned in partnership with our sister divisions in the movement. The first of these calls was in partnership with our National Association of Blind Students. The experiences shared and the lessons related communicated that community service is not only a thing to do now, but also something that can help a student figure out what they would like to do in the future. We have enjoyed planning these calls and expect to put on at least one more before Convention this year.

We closed out 2016 with a letters for troops program. The purpose of this program was to gather letters in order to send them to deployed men and women. We sent out 21 letters from everyone from middle schoolers to grandparents. Letters were sent to new recruits, veterans, first responders, deployed troops, and wounded warriors. The letters gave encouragement and thanks to soldiers for the holiday season and related funny personal stories and summaries of the participants' lives. Several participants over the age of 18 included their contact information so soldiers could feel free to write back. This was a project taken on by Tara Abella, and I very much appreciate her work on this, as well as the service awards program.

These projects take courage to try because of how difficult it can be to take an idea and make it into something attractive enough to get behind. the risk of failure is real, but the willingness to try is an example of some of the strong leadership being exhibited by strong workers in the division. It is truly exciting to see some of the things we are planning coming together.

Looking to 2017, we only have more to be excited about, from a recently-completed Hadley Institute webinar, to an upcoming call on community service and the NFB scholarship jointly organized by Ronnie Bellomy’s outreach committee and Kyra Sweeney’s membership committee, to Dacia Cole’s service engagement committee’s upcoming conference call about activities for local chapters of the Federation, to the efforts being planned by Jonathan Franks’ fundraising committee, to the great work on our blog and Web site by Chris Parsons and her Web site committee, to the tireless social media efforts of Johna Wright. We look forward to planning our customary activities for National Convention and making them bigger and better than they have been. We are excited to try new things at this year’s Convention, and we look forward to your thoughts and suggestions on these things and all of the things we do.

We are working to tell those who might not know about the Federation that we are here and that we are working to expand opportunities and raise the expectations of the blind.
We know that expectations are still unacceptably low for us as blind people, and we know that the sky is the only true limit to how far we can go. through advocacy, education, love, hope, and determination, we will create a future where we are valued, respected, and sought after in our communities.