Newsletter, Fall 2015

National Federation of the Blind Community Service Division

Darian Smith, President

Newsletter: Fall 2015

Hindley Williams, Editor

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Letter From the President

Note from the Editor: Darian Smith is the president of the Community Service Division. In this letter, he describes the extensive accomplishments of this new and proud division of the NFB.

Dear Fellow Federationists,

The National Federation of the Blind is celebrating 75 years of raising expectations of blind people, and the Community Service Division is, naturally, doing its part to support the work and celebrate the collective realization of our dreams thus far.

Our division started as an interest group back in 2011 with a handful of committed leaders coming together to dream what could be when we focus our minds and share our experiences.

Four years later, we've seen the culmination of our efforts to organize this new division come to fruition and are proud to be counted among the number of divisions changing what it means to be blind for all of the nation.

Thanks to the work of our leadership this year, we've seen the growth of our blog, a medium through which we communicate real, true stories of blind people showing in action that they are not the "takers" society might perceive us to be.

We've also seen the establishment of new committees, such as "publications," "partnerships," "fund-raising," and "social media".

We are glad to see our numbers grow on our Facebook and twitter platforms, as more people will come to know of our division and how community service can paint a picture of blindness not being the characteristic that defines us and what we choose to do with our lives.

I truly hope that you find energy in the words, empowerment in the actions, and a drive to not only serve your community and change perceptions of blindness by these great stories, but that you take an opportunity to learn about the Community Service Division and come to know and understand who we are in the National Federation of the Blind.

We are creative, courageous, loving, inclusive, and familial in all that we are and all that we do.

On a personal note, I want to take a moment to recognize in this, our first of hopefully many newsletters to come, the wonderful and indescribable amount of love, energy, and enthusiasm that has come from every person who's given of their time, talent and treasure to build the foundation of this Division, because what we see today would not be possible without them- Thank you so much!

We look forward to seeing most of you in Orlando in July at our national convention. Until then, let's continue to seek out ways to expand and increase true opportunity for the blind, let's continue to serve in our communities, and let's get involved!
Darian Smith
President, National Federation of the Blind, Community Service Division

75 Days of Service

by Libra Robinson

Note from the Editor: Libra Robinson is the president of the D.C. Community Service Division, and played a critical role in planning and executing the 75 Days of Service Campaign. Here are her reflections on the campaign halfway through the 75-day period.

The 75 Days of Service Campaign is a project intended to encourage members of the Federation and their families and friends to volunteer in and around their communities. From there, we encourage people to share their service experiences or to ask questions via the Community Service Division's Facebook group, the division's blog, bi-weekly conference calls held throughout the campaign, and to Tweet using the hashtag #NFB75Serve. The name of this campaign reflects the 75th anniversary of the existence of the National Federation of the Blind.

We have had three conference calls, and it seems that our fellow Federationists are really geared up about this project. On our first call, we had the pleasure of hearing from our national President, Mark Riccobono, who shared his thoughts and ideas on how to volunteer in our communities. In addition, we have had chapter members from different states share ideas and ways they have volunteered or are going to volunteer on all three of the calls. Together, we brainstormed ideas on how to create hands-on service projects. I personally am very excited and can't wait to read the many blog posts about the different ways people have chosen to serve during this campaign, and I know that the two remaining conference calls will be filled with many new ideas and enthusiasm.

If you have not as of yet volunteered or created a service project, you still have time! This campaign lasts from April 12 through June 26. I encourage everyone to get involved and share with others about The 75 Days of Service Campaign!

The Importance of Volunteerism

by Mary Jo Partyka

Note from the Editor: Mary Jo is a devoted member of the division's Publications Committee. She has been serving for many years, and in this article, she shares her experience with a particular service organization. To read more stories about blind individuals serving in their communities like Mary Jo, check out our blog.

Although I was employed for 35 years, it is important to me that I am an active and involved member of my community. After college, I saw a newspaper article about a training class for a 24-hour crisis-intervention program hotline and figured, why not?

The organization, called Contact, serves people all over the United States and the world. Many of our callers have serious mental health concerns including alcoholism, difficulties with family members, depression, and suicidal thoughts. In order to prepare myself for talking to callers, Contact required me to attend a training, where I learned from guest speakers, practiced active listening, and worked through simulated phone calls. Although I have a degree in counseling, the experiences I had during and after the training had more of an impact on me than anything I had learned in college.

The calls I have received over the years are often from people in great pain, and they share with me what they are feeling. I have received calls from friends and family members of people who are threatening to commit suicide. There are times when the potential suicide victims themselves call me and, in many cases, these callers are individuals who feel trapped. Other times, calls are not as immediate, but stem from a place of deep sadness.

Being involved as a blind person in this organization has never been an issue for me. After rejoining Contact in 2013 after a 30-year hiatus, I found that members of this organization continued to be committed to helping people, and that recent changes in the technology used by the organization have allowed me to be a more independent volunteer as I log calls into the computer rather than the printed forms from years past. Contact has been very accepting of me and my capabilities, and the volunteers I work alongside understand that I have much to contribute to the cause, just like they do.

This kind of volunteerism keeps me on my toes, but I'm committed to it. I have been asked to be a group leader for several training sessions. I was also elected chairperson of the board of directors. I'm always ready to learn and grow.

You may be wondering why I decide to spend 20 hours a month answering calls from people who are unhappy. I want people to know that they are valued, and I believe that, in helping other people with certain parts of their personal lives, I am helping the people in the community. Although I have never been in their positions, I want to provide them with sufficient information so they will know what to do to help their friend, relative, or themselves.

I am just one person, and although I do my best, I don't have all the answers. But providing help to people in pain or crisis makes me realize how important our service is here at Contact and how much it is needed.

Let's Get Involved: The American Red Cross

By Michele Mitchell

Note from the Editor: Michele Mitchell is a co-chair of the division's Publications Committee. In the below article, she encourages individuals to get involved in one of the most active and well-known service organizations in the world.

Today, we generally think of The Red Cross as being a disaster relief organization, but it did not start that way. The Red Cross is the world's largest volunteer network, and has a variety of services that it provides. The founder, Henry Dunant, wanted to create an organization which protected the sick and wounded during wartime regardless of nationality and allowed national organizations to provide aid on a neutral basis. Dunant's organization adopted the symbol of a red cross on a white background, which is now an internationally recognized symbol of relief and neutrality in wartime.

The American Red Cross was founded in 1881 by Clara Barton, who got her start in service during the Civil War, collecting and distributing supplies to the troops and providing personal comfort to soldiers in the field as well as their families at home. During a post-war visit to Europe, Barton was introduced to the global Red Cross network and took part in some of their relief activities. Upon her return to the U.S., Barton succeeded in procuring U.S. membership in the global Red Cross network in 1882. At this point, the United States was no longer at war, so The American Red Cross primarily provided disaster relief during its first 20 years, distributing aid and supplies to victims of fires, floods, famine, and countless other catastrophes both in the United States and abroad. This expansion of Red Cross services caught on globally, and in 1884, aiding victims of natural disasters was noted as one of the primary functions of The Red Cross worldwide.

Today, the organization continues its traditional commitment to the American Armed Forces, with service now expanded to include veterans, reserves, the National Guard, and military families. In addition, The Red Cross provides food, clothing, shelter, and medical care to victims of disasters ranging from single family home fires to earthquakes that devastate entire regions. Services also include Health and safety classes, such as first aid and CPR, swimming and water safety, disaster preparedness and emergency prevention, and even child care.

The Red Cross is a service organization that serves many purposes, inviting people who come from all backgrounds and skill levels to join the cause. Visit their Web site or call to get involved in your area.