2008 IABS Presidential Report
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Illinois Association of Blind Students
Accepted October 18, 2008
I stand here today, before friends and those who have become members of my family, to share the triumphs and successes of the Illinois Association of Blind Students this past year. I also stand here, with pride in my current Board, hope and confidence in the Board which will succeed us, and a renewed sense of purpose, determination, and energy for the work that remains to be done for and by blind students.
Two years ago, I outlined how IABS intended to rise from infancy once again to reaffirm the position of blind students as successful, confident, and talented members of society. Last year, in a room similar to this one, I discussed some of the ways IABS began reaching out to Illinois’s blind students, engaging their minds, cultivating their talents, and building their confidence. I am thrilled to be able to report on some of the vital ways the Illinois Association of Blind Students has expanded on these activities in the past year.
I have had the privilege of serving along side the most talented and dynamic group of individuals. Each member has experienced personal triumphs and tribulations in his or her educational lives; each member brings heart, brains, and courage to the organization. We range in age from five to over 75. We range in education from preschool to post doctoral fellows. We vary in cultural, religious, and socio-economic backgrounds. But we share in common an appreciation for education and the desire to ensure that every blind student maximizes his or her educational potential in this state.
Since last November, IABS has been very busy. In January, we attended the Winter meeting of the National Association of Blind Students. President Ronza Othman, Second Vice President Rob Hobson, Secretary Meghan Joost, and Member Janice Jeang were all in attendance. IABS reported its activities for the previous year and was once again, singled out as one of NABS’s most active chapters. The members then participated in Washington Seminar, where they met with members of the legislature to discuss issues of vital importance to the blind. Students accompanied veteran members of the affiliate to educate Congress on new and emerging threats like quiet cars as well as funding the digital conversion of the NLS Talking Book Program, both of which directly affect the student population. In addition, we fought and shall continue to fight alongside our mentors to ensure equality, efficiency, and fairness in the Social Security Program.
We’ve learned from those that preceded us that civic engagement has far-reaching affects. We have visited members of the legislature in our home districts to encourage them to support our initiatives over the past year. We’ve engaged in letter campaigns, telephonic contact, and email communication. And we’ve helped in getting many Illinois Representatives to cosponsor legislation that will directly impact the lives of blind citizens.
In fact, this past summer, Congress enacted the “Higher Education Accessible Materials Act.” This legislation will ensure that every student in the country receives his or her textbooks in a format he or she can use on time. This legislation will allow blind students to compete on equal footing with their sighted counterparts in the classroom for the first time in history. This very bill originated as an issue at Washington Seminar less than two years ago. By participating in the legislative process, blind students, including our own, take an active role in defining their rights and responsibilities.
While growing as strong, motivated individuals ourselves, the leaders in IABS must begin to spread the wealth of knowledge and experiences we gained from our own mentors and those who laid the foundation for us in the past. Last April, IABS and the NFBI cosponsored “Beyond Barriers.” This student seminar brought together 22 students from various academic levels and geographic locations throughout the state. The event took place over two days and was held in Urbana, just off the campus of the University of Illinois. The purpose of the seminar was to promote self-advocacy, empowerment, and positive attitudes towards blindness. We emphasized available technology, Braille literacy, and independent mobility. Some of the highlights of the seminar included a technology round robin, a scavenger hunt throughout the hotel using our long white canes, dance lessons, and a spirited discussion of the Rehabilitation system. Several of the students who participated in the spring student seminar are here at convention, and we’re thrilled to have them among us. “Beyond Barriers” helped its participants cultivate their abilities, learn needed skills and techniques, and network with other students and successful blind members. By drawing from the resources established by others, they begin working toward building the futures they desire. And we, the IABS members who were a part of developing and implementing the seminar, learned first-hand how challenging and rewarding it is to repay those who fostered our own development by helping the next generations find their way.
We are aware that we are in training to one day lead this affiliate. . This year, I am pleased to relay that we have members serving on every NFBI committee, from legislation, to Resolutions, to scholarship, to public relations and press, to fundraising and development, to Recruitment and Retention. In this capacity, we are a part of the organization on the grass-roots level. We are able to incorporate educational issues and youth development into every facet of the NFBI’s operation and policy development; thus we ensure that our organization continues to respond quickly and appropriately to emerging issues. Moreover, we are able to help find and cultivate the next generation of leaders, identify funding sources for our programs, draft legislation and advocate positions that improve the quality of life for the blind, and have a real role in defining the direction of the organized blind movement.
In July, members of IABS traveled to Dallas to participate in the NFB National Convention. We attended sessions, seminars, and workshops. Additionally, Ronza Othman, Lori Brown, Rob Hobson, Treasurer Alyson Slaughter, and Members Julia Chang, Brando Collins, Janice Jeang, Eduardo Martinez, and Maira Ramirez attended the National Association of Blind Students meeting.
This past summer, the Illinois Association of Blind Students held a Six Flags Outing in Dallas. Seven members headed to Six Flags Over Texas, long white canes in hand, and engaged in the ultimate mobility exercise. We navigated through the park successfully, rode roller coasters, talked with other guests about our blindness, and had a wonderful time. We organized this activity in order to demonstrate to the public that blind people enjoy the same activities as the sighted; we also sought to challenge our mobility skills and engage in public education. This activity was wildly successful, with all the participants asking for a repeat next year.
Our members have attended training sessions and workshops to hone our leadership, mentoring, and outreach skills. Members Kelly Doty and Ronza Othman attended a youth development seminar at the National Center for the Blind in January. In addition, Rob Hobson and Kelly Doty attended leadership seminars at NFB Headquarters. Lori Brown participated in advocacy workshops through Blind, Inc. Eduardo Martinez and Maira Ramirez participated in a Youth Leadership seminar in Baltimore this past April. Finally, Ronza Othman facilitated a session during the Scholarship Alumni Mentoring Program Seminar last January.
Our members have also participated in programs and seminars on the national level. Kaitlyn Ryan, Emma Meyer, and Jada Pumphrey all attended the NFB’s Junior Science Academy, an intensive seminar in science. Additionally, Chris Mankowski participated in the Teen Empowerment Academy, an eight-week-long program aimed at teaching participants blindness skills such as Braille, mobility, home management, cooking, and more; the program also incorporated an internship so participants could gain practical work experience.
In September, IABS, along with the NFBI, embarked on our most ambitious and long-term project thus far. We began a transitions program for high school students called “freedom Link.” The group meets monthly and engages in both educational and social activities. The purpose of the program is to prepare students for what comes after high school, to instill in them the confidence to succeed, and to furnish them with the tools they will need to flourish.
This month, the Illinois Association of Blind Students held several Meet the Blind Month events. We visited elementary and high schools in Oak Lawn, Minneapolis, and Louisiana. There, we demonstrated the use of Braille and the cane. We are also planning to visit colleges throughout the state, including the University of Illinois at Champaign, DePaul University, and others. Our goal is to man information tables and demonstrate through our presence that blind students, provided they have proper training and opportunities, can succeed both in school and after graduation.
Our affiliate has made mentorship a priority in the past year. Since many new members to the NFB take the form of students, IABS has been very busy forging mentoring relationships with the newcomers. Members of the Board served as a resource for scholarship and internship winners, first-time convention attendees, Spring Student Seminar and Teen Empowerment and Junior Science Academy participants, and youth who were new to our organization. By serving as mentors, we became positive role models, demonstrating that blindness is not a barrier to academic accomplishment. We will continue to build our mentoring program in the coming year fully aware that today’s newcomer is tomorrow’s leader. It was not long ago that we ourselves were being mentored; we’re honored to have the opportunity to share our knowledge and experiences with those that come after us.
Later today, IABS will be hosting the annual Student Luncheon. We will discuss issues relevant to blind students. In addition, this year’s scholarship class will introduce themselves. We will hear from a leader in the National Association of Blind Students. Moreover, IABS will present an Excellence in Teaching Blind Students Award to one very deserving educator. In order to maximize educational potential for Illinois’s blind students, we must collaborate with, provide training to, and learn from educators and administrators. Illinois boasts some of the most talented and committed teachers in the country. We recognize the best and most talented among them because they play such a crucial role in furnishing students with the arsenal they will need to earn degrees, build careers, and become productive members of society.
IABS has worked hard to build a sound treasurery. Our programs and activities are costly, but the current Board determined that it was crucial to hand off healthy finances. Thus, we’ve sought donations from private individuals and local businesses. We’ve also sold IABS snacks at the National Convention in Dallas, including Taffy Apples, yogurt, and Chex Mix.
Last night, IABS hosted our third annual IABS Idol. Members performed acts and songs before a panel of judges. This event generated $260. Congratulations to Lori Brown on an award-winning performance. Thank you to everyone who participated. Special thanks to our Sound Engineers Byron Lee and Blair Alper and Logistics Coordinator Leanne Mayne for an amazing job handling all our technology needs. IABS extends infinite gratitude to our judges, Mark Riccobono, Ryan Strunk, and Julia Chang. IABS is now selling CD’s of IABS Idol for $10 each.
Currently, IABS is selling raffle tickets for $1 each and 6 for $5. The person who purchases the winning ticket will receive one-half of the proceeds from the raffle. Good luck to everyone who participates.
As those of you on the Chicago Chapter bus know, IABS is also selling Chex Mix and bottled water for $1 each. Please visit the IABS table at the back of General Session for your raffle ticket, Chex Mix, and bottled water needs.
We rely very heavily on our website to disseminate information about IABS. Visitors can find updated information about events and activities as well as links to valuable resources. Special and infinite thanks go out to Ruth Anne Wheeler for her hard work in creating and maintaining the site.
In addition, it takes tremendous work to maintain current membership lists. Special thanks to Connie Davis for her diligence and exemplary record keeping.
The Student Division will be very busy in the coming months. IABS plans to be well represented at Washington Seminar once again in February. Students are a critical constituency, and our issues matter. We have an obligation to promote those issues to our legislators. They can only create policy on our behalf if we demand to be heard. We will advocate for issues of importance to the blind and educate our legislators on how we want to live. We’ve proven in the past that collective action works, and it works well. We want to be a part of defining our identity as an organization, as a movement, and as a community.
Next year, IABS, along with the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois, will collaborate on another youth seminar. Please keep a watch for information about this seminar in the coming weeks.
As our term comes to a close, I look back on the two years we’ve served the blind students of Illinois. We accomplished a great deal as a Board and as a division. We saw the establishment of regular student seminars, a transitions club for high school students, active involvement in the legislative, advocacy, and mentoring processes, the growth of our members, both in quantity and in ability, and much more. I cannot convey how grateful I am for the faith in me the membership has had. I’m humbled by the support and affection I’ve received the last two years. It has been my honor to serve you, the students, leaders, and members of this affiliate. I’ve learned much, grown more, and found a family here in Illinois. I’ve given my heart and sweat to this division, as has every member of the Board. We’ve served you and one another, and we hope we walk away having cherished the legacy we were gifted.
The outgoing Board has worked very hard to lead this division in a positive direction, to root its foundation in NFB philosophy, and to build it so it withstands the transient nature of students. This group of dynamic individuals has served with their intellects, their hearts, and their experiences guiding them to make the decisions that would govern IABS. Lori Brown, First vice President, has been my right hand, my sister, and my confidante. She is the voice of reason of our Board. Second Vice President Rob Hobson is the enthusiasm of this Board; nothing is too difficult, anything is possible, and we’ll all be better for trying, even if there appear to be numerous complications at first. Secretary Meghan Joost is the sense of humor of this Board; she makes us laugh at ourselves and each other, teaching us that governing can be fun if you let it be. Treasurer Aly Slaughter is our resilience. She finds ways to bounce back no matter what obstacles we encounter. She is a born leader, though she does so with a quiet grace and dignity I could never affect. She will be a fine President, a staunch advocate, and the refreshing change this division needs. Board Member Bruce Paul is our constant. No matter what difficulties he has faced in his life, his steadiness and experience have grounded us. He is thoughtful and detail oriented, and he knows how to have fun. Board Member Michelle Wesley embodies the vision of this Board. She is strong, intelligent, enthusiastic, and understands the spirit that is the NFB. She is our youngest elected leader, but she has all the abilities and potential of the older among the Board combined. She will continue to nourish IABS and help direct it so that it too maximizes its potential. As a President, my job was incredibly easy because of the work and talent of my Board. Thank you for your vision, thank you for you’re your guidance, and thank you for your service.
But none of us would be here without our beloved members. You elected us to lead you, and we’ve done so to the best of our abilities. You have been our motivation, our support, and our purpose. You’ve taught us, and you’ve learned from us. But we are all here together, whether titled or not, as members of the Illinois Association of Blind Students. We come together, educated and not, young and experienced, newcomers and veterans, to serve blind students in Illinois and elsewhere. We set the example, and we learn from it. We pave the way, and we walk the road. We embrace our past, and we envision our future.
This year, as we celebrate 40 years of a rich and productive organization, it is essential to look back at our past as a student division. The life of a student division is filled with fits and starts, as those seeking formal education shift locations, places in their lives, and goals. Nonetheless, we are at our strongest point as a division in history. Our members serve more than just the blind student population in Illinois. We are involved in a variety of activities within and outside of the affiliate, utilizing our talents to raise the bar for all blind people. We recognize that we have been given the gift of knowledge and experience by the NFBI’s leaders; we appreciate that so many of this affiliate’s members have served as mentors, both formally and informally, to our youth. We value their work, past, present, and future, and we’re grateful and honored to have become leaders in our own right. We’ve been granted the legacy, that is the future of this organization. We recognize it as a gift, as a responsibility, a tradition. Our esteemed President, Patti Gregory-Chang once stated, “I’m a Federationist because of those who came before me and those who will come after.” Truer words were never spoken.
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