Category Archives: Fundraising

The Vigilant: March-April 2019

The Vigilant is a publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia. For questions or submissions, please send us an email.

Joe Orozco, Editor

From the President’s Desk

We’re in the middle of enjoying the blessings of Spring. As the weather changes, I appreciate the longer days, the warm temperatures, and the excitement in the air. In the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia, you can feel that excitement in the great work we accomplish together.

Membership Initiative and Membership Coins:

As you may be aware, 2019 is an exciting year for members of the National Federation of the Blind. We are working with our national office to implement an exciting change to our membership processes including: (A) Strengthen the information we have on our members; (B) Celebrate our Members; and (C) Educate Our Members.

A. Strengthen Our Knowledge About Our Members

If we want to maximize our movement’s effectiveness as the most important force advocating for blind people, we need to know our members. If we don’t have a detailed understanding about who is a member, we are less effective at leveraging our most valuable resource, our members. Our chapters and divisions have not been super diligent about maintaining and sharing membership information with the affiliate.
This year, at a national level, we are compiling an updated and integrated database of all members called Connections. Each chapter has been tasked to help compile the membership list using a specific import format. Sandy Halverson and Mark Roane have been working to take the membership lists each chapter provides and massage the data into the Connections database import format. We should be grateful that Mark and Sandy are willing to take on this challenging task. However, we need each chapter and division to provide an updated membership list along with addressing a set of questions from our membership Chairperson, Sandy Halverson. While a number of chapters and divisions have provided updated lists of their members, many have not. This is essential to our success and I am hopeful that the remaining chapters and divisions will work immediately to address this challenge.

The membership list should be for dues paying members. A membership list is not just a contact list, it is the list of individuals who have paid dues and are active by attending a meeting.

B. Celebrate Our Members

Each member of the National Federation of the Blind will receive a membership coin that serves as a symbol of our work together to improve the lives of blind people. The coin even has the word “together” in Braille.

We will be implementing a special ceremony to celebrate our members and share these membership coins. I am asking the participants in the Virginia Chapter Leadership Institute to develop some ideas for how to implement recognition events in our chapters and divisions. If you have specific suggestions, please reach out to me.

C. Educate Our Members

As I mentioned at our 2018 state convention, it is important to ensure that membership is meaningful. We need to implement processes to ensure we share our philosophy, our history and the expectations we have for members in our movement. There will not be a one size fits all answer for how we ensure that every member knows who we are and what we believe. If you have suggestions, I would like to hear your ideas.

I suspect that there will be a number of sessions at our national convention focused on helping chapters and affiliates to implement these changes. Please include these important sessions in your personal agenda for the national convention.

Visiting Chapters and Other Events:

On March 22, I was honored to address a meeting of blind entrepreneurs at a conference in Richmond. On March 23, I was excited to attend the Richmond Chapter’s Chili Cook Off. I hope to visit more chapters in the coming months. Feel free to let me know what you are doing and how I can help. I would be glad to assist in my capacity as president, but honestly, I really just enjoy being around you guys.

National Convention

Our National Convention is fast approaching. In the February newsletter, we provided details about our state and national programs for first time convention participants (deadline 4/15) and expectations for requesting financial assistance. The 2019 National Convention is going to be outstanding but we really need you there to make the convention the best ever. We will need help from our members in a number of ways including working the Virginia table in the exhibit hall, assisting with the Independence Market, and mentoring first time convention attendees
Thank you for all you do to help grow our movement.

Yours in service,

Tracy Soforenko, President
National Federation of the Blind of Virginia

This Month’s Words of Inspiration

“The blind have a right to live in the world. That right is as deep as human nature; as pervasive as the need for social existence; as ubiquitous as the human race; as invincible as the human spirit. As their souls are their own, so their destiny must be their own. Their salvation or failure lies within their own choice and responsibility. That choice cannot be precluded or prejudged; those lives cannot be predetermined or controlled.”–Dr. Jacobus tenBroek from a national convention banquet speech, Are We Equal To The Challenge?

A Note From the Editor

We’re about to make changes to the newsletter to make it easier to both produce and distribute. Hopefully for you, it means it will also be easier to read.

In August 2017 we relaunched The Vigilant. It’s been a great communication vehicle from the affiliate, a great way to stay on top of recent activities in between board meetings, but it’s also evolved into something of a miniature Braille Monitor. The harder we push for great content, the higher we push the standard for quality, which means the tougher it becomes to get an issue out the door on time. Put it a different way, what is supposed to be a newsletter has actually turned into a little magazine. We simply do not have the people power to keep up the momentum.

As part of a total overhaul of the affiliate website, we’re going to keep pushing for exceptional content. Moving forward, however, we’re going to split the content between a newsletter and a blog. The newsletter will primarily consist of presidential updates from Tracy, including any high level announcements that bear reiterating. The blog will carry the more human interest items some of you have grown to expect of the newsletter. By moving to this model, we will be able to get the newsletter out on time for a change, totally my fault by the way, while not missing out on the great writing our affiliate membership has to offer.

For the moment, the newsletter will remain as is. Whether in one form or the other though, we are always interested in your thoughts, questions, and of course, your contributions. Neither the newsletter or the blog will amount to a whole lot if we cannot count on you to help keep the ball rolling. Thank you so much for all you do. We’ve gotten compliments on our newsletter from people outside the affiliate, and we have you to thank for garnering that sort of attention. Let’s work together to see the newsletter successfully into its next stage of development.

Yours sincerely,

Joe Orozco, Editor

Fundraising Committee Needs You

As those of you that attended our January board meeting know, and to those of you that were not there, I have been entrusted with taking on the position of chairing the affiliate fundraising committee. So I am looking for a few good Federationists to be part of this dynamic committee. We have the task of coming up with the ideas that will help fund the vision and the goals of our affiliate going forward. First and foremost we have to make decisions on what items we will have on our Virginia table at the National Convention in Las Vegas this Summer. Virginia peanuts are a given. It would not be the Virginia Table without peanuts. But we need to discuss other possible items and have ideas to present at the upcoming May board meeting. If you are on the current fundraising committee please contact me at the contact information listed below. If you would like to join our ranks please contact me. I am waiting to hear from you.

Earl Everett
NFBV Fundraising Chairperson
Phone: 804-252-8998
Email: ever23851 at

My Experience of Being a Member of the National Federation of the Blind
By Chris Walker

Editor’s Note: The following article by one of our own appeared in the April edition of the Braille Monitor. The text follows.

From the Editor: Chris Walker is an active member in our Virginia affiliate. He comes to the Federation at a later date than some of our contributors, having gone blind in late 2009. A little research by talking with his fellow Virginians tells us he is the chapter president in Winchester, and in a very admiring voice one member said, “The thing I love about Chris is that he is such a nice guy.” I admire people who are so kind that they rate the title “nice,” and I can’t wait to meet him. Here is what he writes:

To help explain my motivation and commitment to the NFB, I would like to provide some of my personal background. During the last two months of 2009 I went from being a sighted person to being completely blind from Acute Retinal Necrosis (ARN). In December 2009, when I was discharged from the hospital after going blind at age forty-four, I was given a normal, supportive, walking cane and sent on my way into a sighted world with no information on what to do next. During the next six months I received blind services in Las Vegas, developed orientation and mobility skills, and began to learn the blindness skills needed to become an independent person.

My partner and I decided to move back to Northern Virginia to be closer to our families. Shortly after the move my partner passed away suddenly. I knew from that point that I needed to be independent and self-supporting. I also knew that once I got my life back together, I wanted to be able to be there for the next person who lost his/her vision.

I began the next phase of gaining my independence by moving from my family’s home in Warrenton to the city of Winchester, Virginia, where I rented a room from a recent acquaintance. Once settled, I began looking for an organization that would be able to guide me through this new life. I tried to find local organizations around Winchester that could help assist me on this journey. One day as I walked around town with my friends, we met a blind couple who suggested I visit the National Federation of the Blind website. I went home and joined the NFB that night. As I learned more about the NFB, I found the Virginia affiliate’s at-large group and attended several of that group’s monthly conference calls. I later discovered there was a local Winchester chapter of the NFB, and I have been an active member of the chapter since joining in 2015. While attending my second chapter meeting, I expressed a desire to set up an information booth at a local community’s Fourth of July celebration. I was immediately nominated and elected as the outreach chair for the Winchester Chapter of the NFB. After joining the local chapter I realized that being a member of the NFB was what you made it. The more I put into the organization the more I got back.

In the summer of 2015, I listened to the NFB national convention through the internet and social media simulcasts. That fall I attended my first state affiliate convention and was asked to join the Virginia affiliate’s Leadership Fellows Program, which gave me the opportunity to begin learning about the different operational areas of the national organization and the state affiliate. The next year I attended my first NFB national convention and was inspired by the thousands of attendees not letting blindness be their defining characteristic.

As an active member of the NFB, I have been provided with many opportunities to become involved at the local and state levels of the organization. The NFB has helped me to grow personally and professionally. I have been involved with all sorts of fun recreational events from climbing a thirty-foot rock climbing wall to judging a chili cook-off event. I have also attended fun learning events like “Connecting the Dots, the Federation Philosophy.” The NFB has also provided me with opportunities to become a more confident public speaker by inviting me to be a guest speaker at other Virginia chapter meetings and by encouraging me to speak to the Lions Club, Kiwanis Club, and other local service organizations.

I have learned the importance of advocating for the rights of the blind by contacting the local voter registrar about issues that the members of the Winchester chapter were experiencing while trying to vote. Through my efforts the training for the local poll workers changed from “telling a visually impaired person to have someone help them vote” to the poll workers being trained on how to use the ADA-compliant voting devices and how to instruct people on the procedures for voting with the device. I was also invited to the poll worker training sessions to describe my experiences and to discuss proper etiquette when working with the blind/visually impaired.

I am not saying that being a member of the NFB has always been a walk in the park-it’s just like life: there are ups, and there are downs. But I have found, when I focus on my natural gifts-which have a special place in my heart-there are many more ups than downs. My natural gift is volunteering to provide outreach to the blind/visually impaired who have not found the support of the National Federation of the Blind.

I have been very involved with social media, and I am a member of many blind/visually impaired discussion groups and chat rooms. Through my social media presence I have stayed on top of what’s going on at the national, state, and local levels across the United States. By being part of the heartbeat of the National Federation of the Blind, we can encourage and challenge each other to serve in many different capacities, to give back to others, and to serve in our local community. We can all help to console, empathize, support, and educate people about our experiences with being blind and how the NFB has helped us to embody the axiom, “You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back. The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams.”

Amy Barnes Scholarship Opportunity

Dear federation family,

The Winchester chapter is pleased to provide the Amy barn scholarship in the amount of $600 for any legally blind student that will be attending a college in the Shenandoah Valley area.

If anybody is interested, please contact me at 540-303-0080 or by email at

Christopher Walker

President Winchester Chapter

Protected Class? Not So Fast: The Exploitation of Workers with Disabilities
By Sarah Patnaude

Editor’s Note: Sarah Patnaude is our affiliate’s corresponding secretary. Among other tasks, Sarah oversees our social media channels, our website, newsletter production, and promotion campaigns surrounding events like the state convention. She is a member of the Potomac Chapter and represents the chapter in the Chapter Leadership Institute. This May Sarah will graduate from George Mason with a Masters in Social Work, and before leaving the halls of Academia, she wrote an article for the university newspaper that appears below with permission.

Everyone has that one thing that fires them up. For me, it’s knowing that I am not protected under the law as I enter the workforce. The government continues to systematically discriminate against me and my peers with disabilities. While preparing to graduate with my Masters of Social Work, I have continuously engaged in conversations regarding the barriers within employment and the impact of income. However, the discussion around employment and income is typically limited to racial and ethnic identities, gender, and sometimes mental health. Disability is left out of the conversation.

Many have heard of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938. This piece of legislation outlines the rights and protections of workers. The federal minimum wage, currently set at $7.25/hour , is one of the protections workers are entitled to under FLSA. Did you know that this protection is not guaranteed if you have a disability? That’s right: employers can legally pay their workers with disabilities below the minimum wage. Through a provision in the law, Sec 14(c), employers can obtain special wage certificates from the Department of Labor, allowing them to pay their workers a fraction of the wage their coworkers without disabilities are paid – sometimes just pennies per hour. Wages are based on timed-tests given to employees. However, these tests are set up for employees to fail. For example, Harold Leigland, blind, sorts and hang clothes by color at Goodwill Industries. His job doesn’t set him up for success. Making matters worse, Harold’s productivity was tested by his ability to sort toys by similarity – a task which was also inaccessible – resulting in his wage dropping to $2.75.

Rooted in the beliefs and culture of 1938, the practice of paying workers with disabilities subminimum wages stems from misconceptions and stereotypes. Often society equates disability with low productivity and low competence. However, that cannot be further from the truth. Workers with disabilities can work alongside their nondisabled coworkers in competitive integrated work environments. Subminimum wages is not a comparable compensation for the work people with disabilities produce. Instead, it is an expression of the low expectations the government and employers have for people with disabilities and a modern day form of exploitation.

Putting on the social work hat, this policy is not only discriminatory, it is oppressive. How can someone live on a wage that is just pennies or dollars an hour or a wage that changes every few months? The simple answer: someone can’t. Food, housing, transportation, healthcare and all the other services and products we need to meet our needs cost money. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the current living wage in Virginia is approximately $14 for one adult. If $7.25 is not enough to live on, then why are we expecting those with disabilities to live off of even less? Through this practice, we are not only telling people with disabilities that they are inferior, we are keeping them in a cycle of dependency that is difficult to get out of. The fraction of a wage – if we can even call it that – people with disabilities earn due to this practice creates and fosters barriers in surviving and thriving.

Disability is an income issue. The current policies in place continues the cycle of oppression for people with disabilities, preventing us from living the lives we have the capacity to live and further perpetrating damaging stereotypes of disabilities. Let’s not forget about people with disabilities as we continue to discuss the issues surrounding income and employment and fight for equal and fair wages for all. All means all.

Social Media Protest for Authentic Representation

There is no doubt the influence the entertainment industry has on society and the beliefs and attitudes viewers have about various topics, including disability. On March 12th, 2019, the National Federation of the Blind published a press release regarding the history of exclusion in the entertainment industry. Blind characters have been written into numerous movies and TV shows throughout the years. Often, the portrayals of blindness on screen are inaccurate and further perpetrate stereotypes and misconceptions. Furthermore, “not even one of them has featured a blind actor in a recurring lead role.” The National Federation of the Blind will not let Hollywood spread inaccurate messages about blindness anymore. It’s time we have authentic representation in the entertainment industry.

Read the full statement here.

In response to the upcoming show “In The Dark,” the National Federation of the Blind held a social media protest on March 27. Members from all over the country participated on twitter, @NFB-voice, using the hashtag #LetUsPlayUs. An engaging conversation took place on the topic, including diving into the history, sharing personal stories, and explaining the importance of authentic representation.

On April 2 members of the NFB descended on New York City to give voice to their objections of the show. You can read the press release here.

Stay tuned. By the sounds of it, the national office will continue to bring attention to the issue in the months to come.

Authenticity Matters
By Sarah Patnaude

Editor’s Note: And here’s the perfect accompanying piece to the item just prior.

The sun was shining; the breeze was blowing. I could hear the crashing of waves in the distance. It was a normal week spent at my childhood vacation spot: Nags Head, North Carolina. Except it wasn’t. Unlike most thirteen year olds, I couldn’t be found bogey boarding or swimming. I wasn’t playing basketball or even relaxing inside. Instead, I made the porch my fortress for the week. You see, the back porch was my practice stage.

In just a few weeks, I would star in a local children’s production. I had a book of lines to memorize. Ok…you caught me. That’s an exaggeration. As the 2nd main character, I had a total of one line and that was at the very end. How much practice can one line need? Despite only one line, my character was at the center of the story. I was in most scenes in some fashion, moving around and causing havoc. My scenes were calculated but yet spontaneous. My character was blind. Not just blind, but Deafblind. I had landed the role of playing Helen Keller in the production of The Miracle Worker.

As a blind pre-teen, I thought I had this character nailed. I was blind and had a hearing impairment. My first language happened to be Sign Language. For me, these were assets I brought to the table. I could harness my lived experiences to further the authenticity of my acting. The director had other thoughts. My blindness was not an asset. Instead, my blindness was viewed as the very reason to not cast me. I remember her asking me how I, as a blind person, could possibly play a blind character accurately. In other words, would I, as a blind person, be able to further perpetuate the misconceptions and negative attitudes about blindness she was hoping to promote in her rendition of the account of a teacher and her student?
I remember telling her “If you can find someone else with thirteen years of experience playing a blind child by all means cast them. But I don’t think you will.” This was the first time I identified myself as blind. My whole life, I was told I wasn’t blind enough by professionals whenever I fought for services. But this was the opposite. I was too blind to play blind.

Unfortunately, this experience isn’t uncommon in the entertainment industry. I was lucky that my sassy thirteen year old attitude was enough to change the director’s mind, and I have the opportunity to say I had a paid acting gig – receiving a quarter as my cast gift still counts as being paid in my mind. However, blind actors are continuously not casted in roles where characters are blind. These roles still are largely played by sighted performers and are still largely based on the misconceptions and negative attitudes society has towards blindness. In any other role, authenticity is important. Research is conducted. The writers and performers consult others to keep the integrity of the experiences of the character and those who can identify with the character. It’s 2019 and we are still fighting to have a seat in the entertainment business, one of the largest industries in the U.S. It’s time we start having a say in how we are portrayed. It’s time for blind characters to be casted by blind performers. We bring our lived experiences to the table. We bring the truth about blindness to the table. Authenticity matters.

Word of Mouth
By Mary Fernandez

Editor’s Note: Some of you may have met Mary Fernandez from one of her visits to Virginia. Though she calls New Jersey home, she is a friend of the Virginia affiliate and was a part of the team who prepared the original proposal for what would become Project RISE. Though this article, borrowed from the Student Slate archives, was published a long while ago, the core message remains relevant today and will hopefully serve as a source of encouragement for anyone currently looking for a job.

From the Editor: Mary Fernandez recently graduated from Emory, and found a job in these tough economic times. Here is her story of how she got that job, and her suggestions for how we can all do the same.

I jumped out of the cab in front of Union Station, and made my way rather quickly to the ticket counter. I had already missed the train I had been planning to catch, and was hoping to make the next train. I bought my Amtrak ticket, and made my way to the gate. It looked like I would make it on time for my first ever job interview. Once onboard, I sat down with every intention of relaxing. But after five seconds exactly, my thigh started twitching. Taking a deep breath I told myself that while this was a big deal, it would be ok, right? Then my foot started tapping. Ok, I’ll call my mom! Well, that only took ten minutes. Fine, I’ll listen to some relaxing music. I will ignore the five year old that lives in my head, and that at times, like now, annoyingly asks questions like, are we there yet? I thought that if I was going to be thinking I might as well think about things that might help me during the interview. The only problem was that aside from the research I had done during the last two weeks, I wasn’t even quite sure that I was even qualified to be a paralegal. Which brought my mind back around to my resume… Did I include everything I had done? Did I ever fix that one spelling error? Ok, so this isn’t working, and I still had fifteen minutes to go on the train. So I gave up and just let my thigh twitch but restrained from picking at my nails, hopefully there was no one staring at me and my peculiar behavior. Or if someone was looking at me, hopefully they had nothing to do with the decision of hiring me.

At long last, after what seemed like three hours instead of half an hour, the train arrived At Baltimore Penn Station. I walked as quickly and in as dignified a manner as my four inch heels would allow me. I got in yet another cab and asked the driver to take me to the offices of Brown Goldstein and Levy. As I sat in the cab, I wondered yet again how exactly I had managed to land an interview, for a dream job, which I hadn’t even considered during my job search. The ride was mercifully short, and I still made it the requisite fifteen minutes early that just look good. Ok, I had made it! IN time! I sat in the gorgeous lobby, and utilized every tool I had ever learned to control stage fright. After a while my twitching subsided though my heart-rate would still speed up if I thought too hard about the importance of the next hour.

The interview started exactly on time, and as it turned out, it wasn’t an hour, but closer to two hours. I was quickly briefed by the firm administrator and told that I would be speaking to a total of five people. The good news was that after the second person, I just couldn’t keep up my high agitation level. And with everyone that I spoke to, I realized more and more what a wonderful opportunity it would be to land the job. By the end of the interview, I was exhausted, and my heart-rate had picked up again. This time however, it was just pure unadulterated excitement; sadly, that lasted until I realized that now I had to wait to find out the end result. That night I came back to DC and was set to wait for at least two days to know whether or not I got the job and to reflect some more on how it had all happened.

It all started in October of my senior year. After having a rather dramatic epiphany during which I realized that psychology was not what I wanted to do for the next seven years let alone the rest of my life, I found myself at a complete loss. Here I was, months away from graduation, and the plan that I had so carefully sculpted during the last four years had crumbled right in front of my eyes. After many antics on my behalf, and after I had tired myself out with my panic of no longer having a ten year plan, I finally calmed down and started listening to what people had to say. I also started listening to myself, and much of what was coming out of my mouth, things like “Oh my gosh, I’m a failure”, and “there’s nothing else I can possibly do with my life” stopped making as much sense as they once did. I figured out that what I really wanted to do was try working for a year or two, and then, I would go to law school, something I had wanted to do since the age of seven. Ok, so great, now I had decided to not go to school and try to find a job in one of the hardest economic times our country has faced. And so it all started. I officially began my job search in November of 2011 and did not get an interview until June of 2012. Like all my fellow graduating students, I became an expert on job searches. I started by crafting a good resume, which I would doubt on my way to my first job interview. Be that as it may, I tried to make my resume not only succinct but also demonstrative of all my hard work and achievements during my four years in college. Even though the end result was a resume that had a strong foundation and only needed a few tweaks depending on the specific position, a double major at a liberal arts college, learning a third language, interning every summer, doing significant academic research and having my name in a publication, and serving the community did not cut it for about fifty jobs. Once I had a resume that was approved by friends and the career center at Emory, it all began in earnest. My major focus when looking for a job was to try the federal sector first, since the benefits are great, and supposedly the government is always hiring. I have since learned that the government isn’t always hiring, especially since we are getting out of an economic recession. Despite that, I did learn about some incredible resources that every student with a disability who is graduating should explore. The first program I heard of is called WRP, or the Workforce Recruitment Program. This is a program targeting college students and recent graduates with a disability. There is an application process, and a recruiter will come to college campuses that have requested them to interview candidates; the end result is a database in which resumes and applications are posted along with the interviewer’s thoughts of the applicants. This database is accessed by government agencies and private contractors interested in hiring individuals with disabilities.

Aside from WRP, I also became a frequent attendee of career fairs. Every career fair on campus was fair game, it got to the point where if I knew I had a career fair to go to between classes, I had this whole routine for changing into my business clothes, going, doing my thing, and changing back into regular clothes before running across campus to go to class. But out of all the career fairs I attended the most adventurous was a career expo for people with disabilities in DC. The event was taking place on the last Friday of spring break. And so, I decided to stay on campus through most of the Spring break, as I had a recital to prepare for, and just fly out into DC on Thursday and go on Friday. I would use AirTran U, which allows college students under the age of 23 to fly for a significantly reduced rate. So Thursday came along, and after packing my extremely fashionable and professional business outfit, I ran to get my nails done. Since the lady did such a fine job, I was now running a lot later than I intended, so I took a $40 cab to the Atlanta Airport. I didn’t mind this so much since all this money was an investment for my future. I got to the Atlanta airport only to be informed that AirTran U had been suspended since Southwest took over. I was told that if I wanted to get to DC for the weekend I would have to pay about $800. Now, there are investments, and there are investments; I did not have the capacity to make an $800 investment for my future. I was crushed… And I was determined… I refused to believe that after all my preparation I would have to go back to Emory. As I was starving from running around all day, I went to Wendy’s and started to eat and work the phone. After a few phone calls I discovered that a really good friend of mine has a wonderful father that works for Delta. This amazing man called me, and set everything up so that I could fly into DC and back to Atlanta for the best price I’ve ever gotten on a round trip. Although this career expo was extremely informative and opened my eyes to many realities about looking for a job, the most valuable lesson I began to learn that weekend was on personal connections and building relationships. I had been friends with this girl through our career at Emory, and I’m sure at some point she mentioned her parents occupations, but, if I hadn’t built enough of a connection with her, her father would have never known about me and my plight.

Eventually, getting a job did not come about from spending entire weekends on, or applying to every job announcement I could possibly, maybe be qualified for. It came down to personal connections. Soon after I graduated, I fell into this rather pitiful funk. I had a college degree and was back to living with my mother. I adore my mother and I would not be anywhere close to where I am without her, but I had pictured myself in a position where I might be able to help her out after I graduated. After seeing me mope around for long enough, she finally asked me what my job search consisted of. I explained all of the Internet resources I was exploiting etc. She said that she was sure that would eventually get me results, but if I wanted a job in the next two months I should probably consider picking up the phone and connecting with people. After a minute of thinking this over, I decided that she, as always, was right. And that is what I did. I called everyone who I knew who has a job. Not only that, I focused on people who knew me, who knew my capabilities, who had worked with me in the past, and who are well-connected. I made it easier for them by forwarding them my resume. But most importantly, I have always expressed my gratitude to anyone who cared enough to take time out of their busy days to send out my resume to people they knew.

Something truly amazing happened once I took this approach. People who were looking for employees started calling me about potential employment opportunities. A week and a half later I got an e-mail from Brown Goldstein & Levy, where my resume had miraculously landed. I swear the only time I have screamed so loud was when I got an invitation from the White House asking me to spend an evening with my idol Michelle Obama and President Obama. They actually wanted to interview me! Now, when you have been rejected over and over by people who don’t have a clue about you, you start hoping to just have one minute face to face with them so you can show them that you are awesome. That is why when I got a request for an interview I not only jumped for joy but I also screamed it out.

I often speculate with my close friends that technology has not only changed the way we do things, but the way we interact with people. I pride myself in the fact that while I love texting, and will log on to Facebook at least once a week, I still talk on the phone for the majority of my communications. I like e-mailing too, because when you sit down and take more than five seconds to write something that is more than 160 characters long, you are more likely to make a close connection with the person on the other side. But, even I had forgotten about the importance of net working in the true sense. I think a lot of us think of networking as meeting people for a minute or so, exchanging e-mail addresses and maybe emailing them or texting them when you need something and remember them long enough to think they might be able to help. But networking is more than being Facebook friends, or being connected on Linked-in. It is about building relationships with people, letting those relationships grow, and then, when you are searching for employment you can call them up. They will not only know who you are, but be proud that you have graduated, that you are in the search for a job and want to become a responsible citizen. I was very fortunate that my mother gave me that little kick I needed to get going, but, although the economy is slowly but surely getting better, I think now more than ever it is important to connect with people. As young blind professionals, or students, we struggle with not only getting an interview, but with all the misconceptions that will inevitably arise when you walk into an employer’s office. I was extremely fortunate that Brown Goldstein & Levy is a law firm that not only knows people with disabilities, but has time and time again stood with us to fight for our rights.

I found my ideal job. It took many, many months of work, and an incredible amount of perseverance. It took support from my friends, and one particular friend who, when I would start getting a bit hysterical after my 20th, and 40th, and 60th rejection letter, would assure me that I was really a rock star and that there was a job waiting for me. That same friend was proved right when the email with the job offer got to me through his WIFI network, only one day after my interview. It took a reality check from my mother who reminded me that while it might seem like technology runs the world, there are people behind those technologies who are looking for employees. It took a measure of luck. But in the end all it really took was a phone call.

3 Steps to Launch a Website
By Joe Orozco

For those of you interested in entrepreneurship, we try to run articles from time to time to help you in that venture. Without a doubt, setting up a website is essential to your operation. Here are a few ideas on how to get started.

Launchhing your own website does not have to be as complicated as people make it out to be. In fact, you can knock it out in a few simple steps:

Pick a Domain Name

Your domain is the address people will visit to reach your site, or, etc. The domain should give a sense of what you do and be short enough to remember, and yes, this is most definitely a case of do as I say and not as I do. At nineteen characters, I sometimes wonder if AlphaComm Strategies was the brightest name for my own freelance business.


  • You can used parked domains to point to your main site. Parked domains are alternative URLs that can point to a specific address. If you want,, and to all point to, well, that is your prerogative.
  • Domain registrations can range from $6 to $15 a year.
  • Privacy registration at an average cost of $10 a year hides your mailing address from Whois records.
  • Whois records give contact information about the website owner and date the domain registration expires.
  • The .com extension is still the most popular despite the avalanche of new choices.

Pick a Web Host

It is possible to host your website on your own server. Here’s a great article detailing the process, but for the rest of us, paying someone else to maintain the stability of your online business is well worth the cost.


  • Your web host should count on more than one data center for redundant backup of your data.
  • A good web host will give you at least one free domain registration.
  • Features such as one-click installers are great, but the up-time guarantee is more important.
  • One-click installers are things like shopping carts and content managers.
  • My personal preference for the backend management of a website is CPanel.
  • The worse backend management system I’ve had the distaste of using is that from GoDaddy.

Pick a Content Management System

Once upon a time web developers used a basic text editor like NotePad to manually design their web pages. I suppose you still could, but it’s more efficient to use a CMS to organize and publish your information. A good CMS provides a web interface that guides you in plain English through the process of creating static pages, blogs and accomplish more advanced tasks like setting up an online store.

The two systems I’ve used and can personally recommend are Drupal and WordPress. Both are free, and both are a little bit of a pain to set up the first time. I prefer Drupal for no other reason than it was the system I tried first, but there are hundreds of great websites using one or the other. Here’s a good comparison article to help you decide which CMS is right for you.

If you have any questions, send me an email. Your website is too important not to be a part of your business operation, and with so many opportunities out there to set one up, there’s no reason why you should not have your own space on the web.

NFB Pledge

I pledge to participate actively in the effort of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.

The Vigilant: May 2018

The Vigilant: May 2018

Joe Orozco, Editor

From the President’s Desk

In the past month, I was reminded about how much I love our Federation family. As many of you know, my wife’s father, Dr. Leonard Appel passed away on April 21. The outpouring of love and support to Sharon and we have been tremendous and I am grateful for the kindness and friendship in our Federation family. While we work together to accomplish great things, we are also there for each other.

Project RISE:

On Saturday, May 12, we held another great event where students learned new skills and expanded their capabilities through a transit and travel adventure. In addition to our project RISE team, we had talented volunteers assist including Conchita Hernandez, Maurice Peret, and Ollie cantos. Now, we are ramping up for a weekend long event at the NFB Jernigan Institute in June.

Code of Conduct:

Over the past month, I have had the pleasure to visit with members of the Peninsula, Tidewater and Greater Alexandria chapters. These meetings have been fun and enlightening. I am grateful to the hospitality and warmth from our chapter members and truly enjoy visiting with you. One topic of conversation was the code of Conduct. People ask how to sign.

To sign the Code of Conduct, simply send Tracy an email message with Section XI of the code of conduct in the body of the message. Where is says federation Leader, replace that text with your first and last name. The Code of Conduct can be found in the March Vigilant.

If people don’t have access to email or have other challenges, we will have some paper copies at the May 19 Board of Directors meeting

My target is to get signed copies from all affiliate elected officers, all chapter officers, and all division officers before the convention in July.

Visiting Chapters:

On April 19, I attended the Greater Alexandria Chapter’s first birthday party. This chapter holds a very engaging and interactive meeting and it was a blast. On May 12, I enjoyed attending a joint meeting of the Tidewater and Peninsula Chapters in Norfolk. I hope to visit more chapters in the coming months so feel free to let me know what you are doing and how I can help.

National Scholarship Finalists

Please join me in congratulating our two scholarship finalists Naim Abu-El Hawa and Sarah Patnaude.

Sarah, as you might recall, was elected to our affiliate board at last year’s convention. She recently finished her first year of graduate school at George Mason University. After graduating with her Master’s in Social Work, Sarah plans on becoming a victim advocate, where she hopes to help survivors of trauma regain their voice and take control of the steering wheel in their life. Beyond school and her work with the NFB, Sarah enjoys travelling and has a love for musicals. As a tenBroek Fellow this year, she looks forward to continuing to learn from Federationists across the country and using the knowledge and experiences she gains to strengthen the movement.

Naim is also very active in our affiliate. He is the vice-president of the Virginia Association of Blind Students and holds a board position in our Potomac Chapter.

These students will be with us at our national convention and I am thrilled to be cheering for them at the banquet.

National Convention

Our National Convention is fast approaching. In the April newsletter, we provided details about our responsibilities this year as one of the host affiliates. Shortly, we will provide details on how to sign up for a shift at the Virginia Table, the Welcome Table, the Hospitality Suite, or working at the Friday night Welcome Party. Additionally, we will need people to mentor first time convention attendees through the McDonald fellowship program and the Jernigan Convention Scholarship program. As you know, the convention only works when many volunteers step up to help. Please make time to assist us by taking a shift for these responsibilities. I look forward to working together with you at convention.

Yours in Service,

Tracy Soforenko
President, National Federation of the Blind of Virginia

This Month’s Words of Inspiration

“You can buy food, but not appetite; medicine but not health; knowledge but not wisdom; glitter, but not beauty; fun, but not joy; acquaintances, but not friends; servants, but not faithfulness; leisure, but not peace. You can have the husk of everything for money, but not the kernel.” — Arne Garborg

Ten Tips for a Resume that Gets You the Interview
By John Bailey

Project RISE is possible thanks in large part to the efforts of the volunteers who make each session come alive. John Bailey, president of the Fairfax Chapter, recently met with our students to discuss, among other employment tasks, drafting compelling resumes. Here are the tips he shared with the students, which you yourself might benefit from when you are ready to start searching for your first job or land that next position.

Let’s face it, the whole goal from searching online for a job, creating that perfect resume, talking to your career buddies about unadvertised job opportunities is to get you an interview. Getting face-to-face with your potential employer means that you are almost there in terms of getting the job you want. Once in the interview, you can let your skills, knowledge, and personality take over to dazzle so that you will get the offer. Once in the interview, you have all the power.

But, how do you get invited to that all-important interview? A lot of groundwork must happen first and one of the most important components of that work is having a resume that conveys just enough information about your abilities and professionalism to get hiring managers to want to see you in person.

I have been reviewing resumes from job seekers for over 20 years and they have varied greatly in their quality. From my experience, below are 10 of the easiest ways to supercharge your resume so that it is put into the ‘interview’ pile instead of the recycle bin.

1. Avoid typos and grammatical errors at all costs!

Would you go to a job interview with a blaring stain on your clothing? Of course not. So, why wouldn’t you take the same amount of care that you put into your clothing than you do in crafting an effective resume?

The unpleasant truth is, in the initial review of your resume, people are looking for reasons not to read it. And, grammatical errors can get your resume tossed quicker than any other reason. Take the time to review your resume for spelling and grammar mistakes. Then, have a friend you trust review it again.

2. Highlight Achievements rather than duties

It is all too easy to just copy your list of current duties and put them down in your resume. Employers really don’t care about what you did in your last job. They want to know what value you can bring to their organization if they hire you. In order to convey this effectively, rewrite your activities in terms of how you made things better (added value) at your last job. A great way to do this is to state how you made things better by quantifying the results. Ideally, use specific numbers. For example, ‘Oversaw training program for over a dozen employees increasing retention by 20 percent.”

Turning duties into accomplishments is just a matter of looking at things a little differently.

3. Write for the job you are applying for

As mentioned earlier, during the initial review of your resume, staff is looking for reasons to toss it in order to get through as many resumes as possible. To make your resume stand out as one that should be read completely, you should customize your resume so that they will want to read it. You accomplish this by ‘echoing’ back the keywords, skill sets, and terms used in the original job posting. Give them what they are looking for and make it easy to find!

4. Give them just enough information in your resume to get them to want to know more

Again, the goal of a well-crafted resume should be to get you the interview. You should just include enough information to whet the curiosity of the hiring manager to want to talk to you further. Save your life’s story for the novel.

6. Write a summary that allows you to shine

Unfortunately, resume summaries are one of the last parts of the resume to be written and the most neglected. Employers do read your career summary looking for the values and attitudes that would make you a good fit for their organization. Don’t skimp on this opportunity to shine. Put down your goals and how they will benefit the organization that hires you. A resume is a beauty contest and you should look your best at every opportunity.

7. Convey accomplishments by using action verbs

Telling a potential employer, you were ‘responsible’ for a duty bores them to tears. Expand on terms like responsible with action verbs like, organized, implemented, oversaw, enhanced, etc. Again, it is all about what value you can bring to the hiring organization.

8. Even volunteers have value

Here is a great tip for new job seekers who feel their resume is a bit short on accomplishments. Every resume should include some references to unpaid employment. A skill is a skill whether or not you receive monetary compensation for it.

9. Keep your resume easy to read

People who read resumes for a living have a hard-enough job. Make it easy for them to find the information they are looking for by using lots of white space, using bold or highlighted text to emphasize important terms or skills that the employer might be looking for, use a minimum of fonts, and most importantly, use a font size that is easy on the eyes.

10. Continue updating your resume even if you aren’t looking for a new job

Leaving all the great things you have accomplished to memory is a receipt for disaster. You will forget. So, continually update your resume with newly acquired skills and talents so that when it does come time for a job move, you won’t be scratching your head trying to remember what you did last year.

In conclusion, resumes are the key for unlocking doors to interviews. Your resume should scream value, competence, and professionalism. Just a bit of extra work on your resume can make a world of difference in getting that dream interview.

Join the NFB of Virginia team for Braille Literacy

The following is from President Soforenko. Please take note of the deadline noted below. Our sincere apologies for running this issue so late in the month, but hopefully some of you will still find the means to participate in this worthwhile activity.

Join Federationists and friends from across the Mid Atlantic for a fun 6K Run / Walk at the NFB Six Dot Dash in Baltimore.

While some of us will be running, many including myself will probably walk.

On Sunday, June 3, the National Federation of the Blind Six Dot Dash will begin at 8:00 AM on the streets of Federal Hill in Baltimore.

We have established an NFB of Virginia team (called Virginia Federationists) and you could join us to help us field the largest team at this year’s event. There will be members from Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia and hopefully other affiliates across the Mid Atlantic.

Some of us will be going up Saturday evening, June 2 and staying at the NFB National Center. If you are interested in joining the NFB of Virginia team, please email me by Sunday, May 20. This is especially important for those hoping to stay at the NFB National Center. President Riccobono has generously offered to let us stay at the national Center but there will be no food provided by the center and we will need to provide a set of individuals who will be staying shortly after May 20.

Please know that you are responsible for the $39 online pre-registration fee ($40 on race day) and costs for transportation and a Saturday evening meal at a restaurant in Baltimore. There will not be a cost for our stay at the NFB National Center’s conference center. We will bring up a simple breakfast of bagels and orange juice for Sunday morning.

Click here for more details on the Six Dot Dash, go to the below web link:

Click here to register.

I found the Event Bright web site to be frustrating with a screen reader but I eventually muddled through it. Our team is called Virginia Federationists.

I hope you can join us for this fun morning with Federationists and friends from across the Mid Atlantic.

Nonprofit Development: Grant Writing 101
By Joe Orozco

In the coming years our affiliate will implement a diverse fundraising strategy to make it possible for us to have more services like Project RISE. One of those funding strategies will likely be grant writing, and while grant writing will make the most sense at the affiliate level, where we can project the greatest impacts, that does not mean chapters and divisions cannot pursue their own grant writing strategies to help fund activities they would like to sponsor. Here’s a starting point to thinking about grant writing.

Do you want to know the top three reasons grant seekers fail to land an award? First, the applicant’s work does not match the funder’s priorities. Second, the applicant does not follow directions about when and how to submit a proposal, and third, the applicant fails to communicate with the funder before and after the application process.

The reasons for these mistakes are as diverse as the organizations that make them. Based on my professional experience, here are a few guesses why the mistakes persist:

  • Why pay a professional when we can just use community volunteers?
  • We just got a sizable grant from a well-known foundation that will surely give us credibility.
  • If we apply to 100 opportunities, someone is bound to give us money!
  • We can’t meet all the application guidelines but meet enough of them that we may as well try.
  • We’re doing such great work that funders would be stupid, heartless and insensitive not to pick us.
  • We’ve got the grant, so why should we keep communicating with the funder?

Grant writing is not exact science. Only scammers can promise you a near 100% success rate, but that doesn’t mean you can’t increase your likelihood of attracting lucrative grant awards.

Before you apply for a grant, consider these basic questions:

  • Does the funder sponsor work in your city and state?
  • Does your mission statement neatly fit into one of the funder’s program areas?
  • Will the grant fund an existing program, or will you need to create a new one?
  • Does the deadline give you enough time to gather all your materials and prepare the proposal?
  • If you were sitting on the other side of the table, would you be eager to select your own application?

Cultivating a healthy grant portfolio is difficult but not impossible. If you want to tackle it yourself, you’ll be far ahead of the curve if you avoid the common pitfalls that put so many grant seekers in the recycle bin.

The Parsons Report

Robert Parsons is involved in all kinds of tasks and projects in the affiliate. Here are a couple of his recent undertakings, and because we were late in putting out this issue, we were unable to properly announce the fact the student division provided lunch at the most recent affiliate board meeting. But thank you to Robert and his teams for all they do for Virginia.


The Virginia Student Division is, as usual, hard at work at promoting the continued message of the Federation that our future leaders are cultivated through community, regional, and national efforts of advocacy and confidence building.

VABS will have a full presence at the National Convention, where we will continue our fundraising efforts. VABS will be raffling off Uber, Lift, and Amazon gift cards for the entirety of the week, with a winning ticket being drawn every two days.

Finally, from August 10-12, the Virginia Association of Blind Students will be participating in the NFB Southeastern Student Seminar. This weekend event will see the combined advocacy, confidence building, and leadership skills of national and state leaders disseminated to the students of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington D. C.. Any students interested in joining VABS or attending any of these events can contact Robert Parsons, President, at 804,801.7674.

Richmond Chapter:

The Richmond chapter is hard at work at continuing its tradition of being a local and statewide leader in innovative social planning. The annual Richmond chapter spring picnic will take place on Saturday, June 9, 2018 at the Richmond ARC Park, located at 3600 Saunders Avenue, Richmond, VA 23227. For more information, please contact Gerald Meredith, event planner, at 804.243.3980.

NFB Pledge

I pledge to participate actively in the effort of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.

The Vigilant: April 2018

The Vigilant: April 2018

Joe Orozco, Editor

From the President’s Desk

In the 80s TV Show, The A Team, the character Hannibal led a diverse crew in adventures with explosions, excitement and humor. Hannibal was a project manager who would gleefully state, “I love it when a good plan comes together.” I occasionally say the same thing then remember that the source is this silly TV show.

In the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia, we are making and delivering on these plans.

Project RISE

On Saturday, April 7, I had the pleasure to participate in an outstanding session with Project RISE, our pre-employment transition service for students. The program was high energy with tremendous interaction between students, mentors and volunteers. We reviewed resumes and cover letters, conducted mock interviews, discussed informational interviews and connected positive blind role models with a truly engaged set of students. It was truly empowering for all involved. I can’t wait for our members from throughout the Commonwealth to meet these students at upcoming events.

Code of conduct:

Many of our chapters and divisions are talking about the Code of Conduct. Some of you attended our conference calls on the Code of Conduct held in March. If you have more questions, please feel free to reach out to me. Elected officers in our chapters, divisions, and at the affiliate level are asked to send me (via email) Section XI with your name replacing Federation Leader. An introduction from President Riccobono and the Code of conduct can be found in this month’s Braille Monitor.

Presidential Release:

I want to encourage you to play the Presidential Release at your chapter meeting. President Riccobono eloquently described the reasons why in this month’s Braille Monitor.

Visiting Chapters:

On April 19, I am excited to attend the Greater Alexandria Chapter’s First Birthday party.

On May 12, I will have the pleasure to meet with the Tidewater and Peninsula Chapters for a joint meeting in Norfolk.

I hope to visit more chapters in the coming months so feel free to let me know what you are doing and how I can help.

National Convention:

Our National Convention is fast approaching. In the March Vigilant we provided details about our state and national programs for first time convention participants (deadline 4/15) and expectations for requesting financial assistance. The 2018 National Convention is going to be outstanding but we really need you there to make the convention the best ever. We will need help from our members in a number of ways:

  • Monday, July 2 – work the Welcome table
  • Tuesday, July 3- Work the Host Committee Hospitality suite
  • Wednesday and Thursday – July 4 and 5 – Work the Virginia Table in the Exhibit Hall
  • Wednesday, July 4, attend the Virginia Caucus and meet up with our NFB of Virginia Federation Family
  • Friday, July 6 – Work the Hospitality Suite (breakfast and lunch only)
  • Friday, July 6 – Cheer for the Opening Ceremonies organized by the Virginia, Iowa, and Florida affiliates
  • Sunday, July 8 – Attend the Banquet and we hope we will have a Scholarship Finalist to Cheer

These are all special events that are over and above the typical convention agenda. But we need you there to make it work.

2018 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Applicants

This year, we had a large and diverse set of national scholarship applicants. It is my pleasure to interview these individuals and I want to wish them all our best as they compete amongst a very demanding pool.

  • Abu-El Hawa: Vienna – Northern Virginia Community College
  • Elijah Anderson: Smithfield – Christopher Newport University
  • Steve Cantos: Arlington – George Mason University
  • Nick cantos: Arlington – Virginia Southern University
  • Leo Cantos: Arlington – George Mason University
  • Phuong Dang: Falls church – George Mason University
  • Christian Howard: New Market, MD – Liberty University
  • Traci Jones: Ashland – Chicago School of Professional Psychology
  • Mausam Mehta: Staunton – Undecided
  • Gerald Meredith: South Chesterfield – Virginia State University
  • Robert Parsons: Henrico – Undecided
  • Sarah Patnaude: Midlothian – George Mason University
  • Kassahun Sahilu: Alexandria – Northeastern University

I would love to connect you with our applicants for added mentorship and camaraderie. Please reach out to these individuals to encourage them to participate in local chapters and truly connect with our Federation Family.

Board Meeting – May 19

On Saturday, May 19, we will hold our National Federation of the Blind of Virginia Board of Directors meeting on the DBVI campus in Richmond. We are beginning to work on the agenda so please feel free to reach out to me for suggestions for the agenda. The Virginia Association of Blind Students will again arrange for a lunch to be available for purchase at the meeting.

BELL Academies – Arlington and Harrisonburg

We are actively recruiting students to participate in the two Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) Academies to be held this summer. The program in Harrisonburg is scheduled from June 18-29 and the program in Arlington is scheduled from July 16-27. Details on the programs can be found on the Virginia BELL Academy Frequently Asked Questions page.

I am encouraged by all the exciting activity in the Virginia AFFILIATE and look forward to our work together.

In addition, we are looking at other special events that are being planned by the host committee.

Help me keep the NFB of Virginia spirit alive!

Yours in service,

Tracy Soforenko, President
National Federation of the Blind of Virginia

This Month’s Words of Inspiration

“It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.” – Marcus Aurelius

An Open Letter to Federation Chapters Regarding the Presidential Release

The following is reprinted from the April issue of the Braille Monitor.

An Open Letter to Federation Chapters Regarding the Presidential Release
by Mark Riccobono

Dear Federationists:

In my role as President of the National Federation of the Blind, I love attending local chapter meetings since that is the place where the heartbeat of the organization begins. The chapter meeting is my monthly grounding in what is central to our organization—connecting with our Federation family, hearing about the ups and downs members experience, sharing my own ups and downs, explaining what we are doing as a movement, and engaging in conversations about where we have been and where we wish to go together at all levels of our organization. Unfortunately, I cannot physically be at every local chapter meeting across the country. Yet some of the engagement and dialogue that I would have in person is facilitated through the Presidential Release.

Playing the Presidential Release at your local monthly chapter meeting fuels progress toward our organizational objectives by allowing me to:
Speak directly to our membership in an environment where questions can be raised, issues can be discussed, and we can spark meaningful conversation
Share what we are doing at a national level and strengthen the common bond we hold in our movement
Cultivate the understanding and feeling that we are an authentic national network and that our local work has value that stretches beyond our community
Inspire people to act to advance our collective interests
Share happenings in the Federation family to connect our members with Federationists they may have met outside the local community
Build a direct connection between the leadership and the membership
These are all important to our movement, and I hope this letter helps you to have a deeper understanding of why they should be important to your chapter. Careful attention goes into the Presidential Release to ensure that it contains important information, builds relationships, and includes some humor—known as “customary endings.” Good chapter meetings are busy and packed with program—which should include the Presidential Release. If your chapter is not consistently playing the Presidential Release every month, this letter is to ask you to work closely with your chapter president to make sure it is part of the monthly program.

The very first Presidential Release was made on November 12, 1973, and I first heard a Presidential Release in the fall of 1996 after I became president of the student division for the Wisconsin affiliate. The question of why chapters of the National Federation of the Blind should offer the Presidential Release at the monthly chapter meeting has been around as long as I have been in the organization, and I suspect it came up before that time. As we come to the forty-fifth anniversary of this organizational asset, it seemed appropriate that the question get attention directly from the horse’s mouth—or maybe it is the horse’s hooves since this is being composed on a computer.

What is the Presidential Release?

The Presidential Release is a monthly communication that is planned and presented by the President of the National Federation of the Blind. It is a direct message from the President of the national organization to the members at the local level, and it is intended to be shared within a local chapter meeting. The Presidential Release was originally distributed on cassette tape to chapter presidents and other Federation leaders. In 2012 it began being distributed on a flash drive which dramatically cut the time for duplicating and distributing the release. Not too long after that we began posting the audio file to, and starting with the August 2015 release, #441, we added an RSS feed allowing it to be podcast. Shortly after that we added a new version of the Presidential Release which is intended to reach out to members who primarily speak Spanish—the first Spanish release was November 2015, #444 . In the same timeframe that we moved away from cassette tape distribution, we established a telephone number that could be called to listen to the release, and that capability was later moved to NFB-NEWSLINE where you can now find the release on the National Federation of the Blind channel. In January of 2018 we began posting the English and Spanish transcripts of the Presidential Release at to provide access to members who are deafblind. To make sure our list is comprehensive, I should mention that the Presidential Release can also be accessed on devices like the Amazon Echo or by pulling up the NFB Connect mobile application on iOS or Android. To get the release with Amazon Alexa say, “Play the Presidential Release podcast.” In general the Presidential Release is made eleven times a year, and it is available prior to the first Saturday of the month on the website and via the podcast feed. We generally have the Presidential Release posted within twenty-four hours of recording it, and the Spanish and text versions follow later in the month. I am not aware of any Federation chapters that meet earlier than the first Saturday. Therefore every chapter should plan to have the Presidential Release at their chapter meeting as long as a new one has been produced for that month

What is the purpose of the release?

The Presidential Release is intended to be a common bond shared among all of the chapters of the Federation. Our organization is strong because it is a wide, diverse network of chapters working on common issues. The release is also an opportunity to make the President of the Federation more personally known by the members. Obviously I cannot be at every chapter meeting, but the release allows me to share some personal reflections, information about what is happening, and some personal notes that might not otherwise be widely distributed. The release is also a reminder for members of the Federation that they can reach out directly to me to share ideas, information, and feedback. I am always surprised when a member asks if they can have my email address since it is on the Presidential Release every month.

The release is also a tool that chapters can use to spark discussion about the topics that are raised. For example, discussion of organizational priorities, the national convention, pressing legislative concerns, or new Federation projects are an opportunity for chapters to discuss how those national themes fit into the priorities of the chapter and how the chapter can contribute. The goal is to have a united organization where we coordinate work at all levels—local, state, and national—and we find ways to maximize opportunities for blind people.

When should the Presidential Release be played at chapter meetings?

The most important thing to know is that presenting the audio version of the Presidential Release should be a regular part of every chapter meeting agenda. At what point in the meeting it should be played and how it should be discussed is up to the chapter president as the individual running the meeting. Some chapters use it as the first major item of content at the meeting. Others work it in immediately before a report from the affiliate president. Still others take it in chunks so that discussion can happen after a particularly important item has been raised on the release. I caution against the release being the final item on the agenda if it has the effect of encouraging some members to beat the crowd and leave before the meeting is over. I also urge that it not be used as background noise for a break in the meeting. Both of those approaches diminish the intent and importance of the release to the Federation.

The Presidential Release should be introduced with some context for new members. chapter presidents have an opportunity to remind existing members and educate new members before every release is played about its value in bringing the chapter together with every other chapter in the nation. The preamble to the release need not be long, but it is important to remind each other why we do what we do.
Although many members think I do not know, I am well aware that the release is sometimes played at a faster speed at some chapter meetings. I do not strongly object to this practice, but I do urge that chapter presidents be sure that the faster speed works for everyone in the room. Some people have hearing difficulties, and many newly-blind people may not be comfortable with listening to things at a higher rate of speed. Thus, my preference is that the Presidential Release be presented at the speed it was intended to make sure that it is as accessible to as many people in the room as possible. The playing of the release should be thoughtfully placed in the meeting, offered in its entirety, and its presentation should be managed by the chapter president.

How does the Presidential Release fit into today’s fast-paced communication culture?

In 1973 when the first release was made by Dr. Jernigan, or even in July 1986 when Dr. Maurer recorded his first Presidential Release (#117), we did not have the diverse and speedy communication tools we have today. It can be argued that email, Twitter, Facebook, podcasting, and other methods of sharing information mean that the information on the release is outdated as soon as it arrives. I believe this is not the case. In fact, if you go back and listen to the release over the years you can hear some of the commonality and some of the evolution. The release is presented in my voice, and much of our other organizational communication is heard through other voices. We provide less detail about specifics of Federation activities than we once did because we can now refer people to the website. Thus, rather than giving all of the details about the program for the law symposium or our next youth STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math] program, I can discuss the overall program and refer people to other sources for the details. Additionally, the release shares information that we do not share through other organizational channels such as celebrations of new Federationists (babies and grandbabies) and new Federation marriages as well as local Federationists who have passed away. This section of the release, which I refer to as the Federation Family notes, reminds us that we are a diverse, grassroots organization where most of our contributors are not high-profile names known to all across the nation. However, many of the names are widely known because of meetings at national conventions, service on a Federation committee, or information sharing through the Federation network. More than any other tool of communication we have, the release brings the personal element of shared understanding between our leaders and our members.

When I first heard the Presidential Release in 1996, I came to know that our President was a blind man who faced the same barriers and misconceptions that I did as a struggling student at the University of Wisconsin. The national President was better at dealing with the barriers than I was, and the release helped contribute to my development of methods and skills to cope with obstacles I encountered. When I finally met Marc Maurer in person, I felt like I already knew him from the release, and it eased my nervousness about approaching the President. Similarly, it is my hope that the Presidential Release brings members of the Federation to a place where they know me and can work with me. I could write something to the members every week or send out a Tweet of the day, but it will not be as personal or as comprehensive as the Presidential Release is today. I also believe that the release is an important part of cataloguing our progress as a movement. It gives us a running understanding of the Federation’s concerns and priorities over time, and it allows us to understand those concerns through the perspective of the principal leader of the movement. The release itself has given us a mechanism for continuing to evaluate what we do and how we might do it better—hence the evolution of the ways of distributing the release and the change from a communication that went primarily to leaders to one that is easily accessed by anybody (member or not). I hasten to add that I’ve seen this availability to everyone used as a reason not to take chapter time for the release, but, as I’ve already made clear, the release is meant to stimulate discussion in the meeting and not just as another source of information.
It is also worth noting that research demonstrates that people have to be exposed to things multiple times—seven is the number used in marketing circles—before it sticks with them. Even if the Presidential Release emphasizes content that is promoted in other places, the fact that it is on the release is helping it gain importance and building understanding within the membership. A good example is that someone once said to me that they were not invited to visit the Presidential Suite at the national convention. Besides the fact that it is in the convention agenda every year and we mention it throughout the convention, I have specifically invited people to come to the suite and thanked them for coming on Presidential Releases. Why did this individual think they were not invited? I suspect because the Presidential Release may not have been played at their chapter meeting.

How can you contribute to the release?

I have tried to make the Presidential Release authentic to my style as a leader of the Federation. I have also tried to encourage people to share ideas, topics, and customary endings that might help shape the content of the release in ways that are helpful to the Federation. While I wish to have feedback and ideas, you should know that I have avoided certain things. I frequently get requests to announce a chapter fundraiser on the release, and I have consciously decided not to open up those floodgates. I may share interesting fundraising ideas that chapters are implementing, but I do not think the Presidential Release is the correct forum for pitching candy bars and umbrellas. I invite customary endings, and I have tried to encourage people to send audio clips of young Federationists sharing those treasures. Sometimes I receive jokes which are not appropriate for the family atmosphere we want at our chapter meetings. Other times I receive cute recordings, but they are hard enough to understand that I decide not to include them. In other words, just because you send a contribution does not mean it will be included for a variety of reasons. On the whole, I never get enough feedback on things you would like to hear discussed on the release.
And now for the real customary endings:
This was the only ending on the very first Presidential Release offered by Kenneth Jernigan:
What do you call a sleeping bull? A bulldozer.
On Marc Maurer’s first release in July 1986 he offered a number of one liners but this one seems most appropriate for a customary ending:
What goes ha, ha, ha bam? A man laughing his head off.
My favorite ending from the first forty Presidential Releases I have recorded appears at the very end of #458 (February 3, 2017). This ending is delivered by me to Oriana Riccobono. I think the ending is a good one, but Oriana’s reaction is the real Presidential Release gem—you will have to pull up the episode online to hear what happens. Here is my ending:
What did the coffee say to the cream? I do not always know how to espresso my feelings, but I love-a you a latte!
As we come to the close of this Presidential Release letter, I wish to offer a few items that might be of interest. Dr. Jernigan wrote an article upon the occasion of the 100th release in 1984. That article notes that he tried to keep the release to about twenty minutes. I had not known that fact until putting this letter together. I also try to keep it to about twenty minutes, but frequently it runs longer because of the number of important topics that I want to cover. With today’s digital delivery of the release, chapter presidents can easily note the run time of the release and work that into the planning of the chapter agenda. You can read the other nuggets from the first one hundred releases in the February 1985 issue of the Braille Monitor in the article entitled “Presidential Releases” (available at

We only have eleven releases a year—how come? Because we do not have twelve of course. Actually the reason is that traditionally one is not made very close to the national convention because the organization is focused on the activities of the national convention. The President does not want to scoop any of the happenings of the convention on the release, and chapters should be discussing the national convention during that month. I did not examine the archive to determine if there was ever a year when we had a release very close to the convention because there was something urgent. However, I can remember years when we have had more than eleven releases. Typically this means we do not have a release in June, but can you think of a year when we had a June Presidential Release? It happened in 2017 because the convention was late enough in July that the July release would have come out immediately before the convention.
We have mentioned the first release by other Federation Presidents. What was my first release you might ask? It was July 2014, #429

I have tried to do some different things on the Presidential Release in the time I have been putting it together. Including my family in the release has been fun—my son Austin even tries to create his own customary endings now. I also once invited the Amazon Alexa to offer customary endings—probably the first time they were offered via the cloud. If the pattern for releases holds, the five hundredth Presidential Release will be December of 2020—seems like that presents an interesting opportunity to do something fun.

There are a lot of fun and interesting jobs related to serving as President of the National Federation of the Blind. The Presidential Release is one of the fun tasks to tackle. It is not always that the news to be delivered is joyful, but the release itself—what it represents and the bond that it allows me to strengthen with members of the Federation—is really important to me and valuable to our organization. I hope that you will join me in that bond by making the Presidential Release a priority at Federation chapter meetings. Equally as important, I urge you to continue contributing to that bond by giving me feedback and sending customary endings—I would love to put more young Federationists on the release. If you have great customary endings but no young Federationists to deliver them, send them anyway—I have three members that I go to when a recording is needed. It is my honor to be a part of every chapter meeting within the National Federation of the Blind. I hope to get to your chapter in person very soon. Even if I cannot be there in person, I appreciate that I have the opportunity to offer my perspectives at the meeting. In many large organizations the primary leader serves at a distance to the members. That is not the Federation way, and I am glad to continue the tradition of direct engagement with members at all levels. Remember that together with love, hope, and determination we transform dreams into reality. Let’s go build the National Federation of the Blind.

Breaking Down Barriers to Employment with Project RISE
By Kathryn Webster, Program Coordinator

As our Project RISE participants reconvened for the April session, we witnessed miraculous growth as students gained knowledge in areas of professionalism, informational interviews, career mentoring, mock interviews, and other topics relevant to the internship and job search. We were fortunate enough to have Jeremy Grandstaff, one of our Greater Alexandria chapter leaders and CEO of S&G Endeavors, facilitate the session with his wealth of wisdom and experience. Perhaps what made this session most memorable was that our students had the opportunity to interact with community members, leaders in our affiliate, and human Resource professionals. It brings a special sense of purpose in our program when students develop self-confidence before our eyes as they feel excitement in partaking in a mock interview, something that initially brought anxiety to some of our participants. One student emphasized, “This activity really helped me identify weaknesses that I now know how to overcome and transform into strengths.”

The morning session included a panel on informational interviews and professional mentoring, followed by small group discussions and then a large moderated discussion with questions asked regarding networking events, interviewing, and disclosing blindness. During lunch, we heard the story of Alysha Hiller, a member of our new Prince William’s chapter, as she shared her experience at the FBI from campus recruitment to eight years of professional experience behind her. Students were mesmerized by the sole fact that they could one day work for such a prestigious agency. These testimonies are exactly what our students need to hear as they begin shaping the future of their lives.

After lunch, our students engaged in five different rotations: mock interviews, review of Career Inventory assessments, polishing resumes, cleaning up cover letters, and preparation for informational interviews. Simultaneously, students collaborated with our coordinators and volunteers by participating in technology demonstrations with blind and low vision tools. It’s always exciting to learn new and handy tips and tricks to be efficient with our accessible devices.

Each month, our Project RISE program proves to be a success as our mentors and coordinators hear overwhelming support and devotion to continuing the program and bringing newfound experiences to our transition-aged students. Our Coordinators truly believe in the influence of blindness programs; and are confident that the lessons learned and general takeaways are individually exemplifying the true federation philosophy through and through.

A huge thank you to President Soforenko, Jeremy Grandstaff, Andrew and Alysha Hiller, Hindley Williams, Amir Rahimi, Crystal Grandstaff, and Gail Weiss; as well as to our mentors Susie D’Mello, Evelyn Valdez, Marc Canamaso, Sarah Patnaude, and Derek Manners for ensuring that the April session was a powerful experience for all! Be sure to contact Kathryn Webster at if interested in volunteering during our May 12 or June 9-11 sessions.

Nonprofit Development: Planning a Special Event
By Joe Orozco

Each month, the NFB of Virginia Fellows host a monthly call to discuss various topics to help in their leadership development. In March, we discussed planning special events. Following are the notes from that call. We hope you’ll find the advice of use in your chapters and state divisions, and if any of it does not make sense, please get in touch.

Remember, these are notes. This is not an article, so questions truly are welcomed.

No aspect of fundraising should exist in a vacuum. Organizations should use grant writing, event planning, direct mail, and other aspects of nonprofit development to help build up budgets through a diversified fundraising strategy.

Why Fundraise?

The NFB hosts a number of important programs and services of benefit to blind people at all stages of independence. We know our cause is a worthy one, but remember there are more than 1.9 million registered nonprofits competing for the same financial contributions. In the District of Columbia alone there are 32,000 nonprofits competing for donor attention.

Building a Fundraising Team

  • Convene diverse talents to shape a more robust skill set.
  • Diversity will give you access to different industries and in some cases pro bono services, including: legal service, marketing, printing, accounting, etc.
  • Do not just pick people who agree with you.
  • Do not just pick people from inside the organization.
  • Pick people personally willing to invest in your special event. After all, they are primarily responsible for helping you reach your fundraising goal.

What are you raising money for?

Give people a specific, tangible cause they can wrap their minds around. It is not enough to say we are raising money for Project RISE, or the BELL Program. Paint a picture. Put a face on the objective so that potential donors know they are giving money to blind children and youth. Help them understand they are contributing to expand literacy or whatever it is your special event is attempting to raise funds, but do not assume people will naturally understand programs and initiatives in the same way fellow members will.

What is the purpose of the event?

Special events can help you achieve one of a few objectives:

  • Raise money
  • Gain publicity
  • Break into a new network

Work with your team to determine your objective so that you can market and coordinate the event accordingly.

Target Audience

On a closely related point, you need to figure out what segment of the community you want at your event. This is not to say you will exclude people who do not fit this category, but it will help you organize the event to achieve maximum output.

For the NFB of Virginia, are you interested in attracting parents of blind children? Young blind professionals? Students? Professionals who work with blind consumers?

You’ll also want to consider factors like income levels. A golf tournament, for example, is more expensive to host, but it might be the sort of event that could attract participants with the means to play.

By determining your target audience, you’ll be able to more easily determine the event type: walkathon, wine tasting, fundraising dinner party, etc.

How much do you want to raise?

That would seem like an obvious point. Few people set realistic goals though. Remember, you need to consider the net amount, the amount that will go into your treasury after you’ve paid the various expenses.


These are some of the points your budget should consider. Of course, not every special event will feature these items, and every possible item is not reflected here, but it’s a starting point:

  • List all expenses
  • Consider the cost of the venue
  • Transportation
  • Paid staff
  • Invitations
  • Entertainment
  • Catering
  • Leave room for unforeseen expenses


A good sponsorship program will:

  • Lend credibility to your event
  • Lend name recognition that you yourself may not be able to produce
  • Provide free publicity through the sponsors’ own networks
  • Save you money and resources
  • Build a healthy partnership, because sponsors will also benefit from the publicity

Note: When promoting the event to your sponsors, it is a good idea to underestimate the number of anticipated guests. This will help them see the power their partnership has at increasing attendance rates.

Know Your Limitations

  • Do not overpromise
  • Plan early to avoid shortcomings
  • Balls will drop, learn to keep the right ones aloft

The Value of Awards

One strategy you may want to implement to draw more people to your event is giving awards. Identify services in your community that have shown great benefit to the blindness community. By giving away annual awards, you lend your event a certain credibility. You build partnerships, and the recipients of these awards will publicize the fact they won your recognition, thereby attracting more people to your cause.

Strategic Positioning

If you decide to host a fundraising event at a convention, state or national, it could be to your benefit to position yourself outside of the general meeting space. In doing so, you break out of the flow of your fellow members. By holding a music event at a restaurant, for example, you open the event to the general public, thereby increasing your potential to bring in funds.

If you employ this strategy, it might behoove you not to specify a giving amount. Let people tell you their perception of what they feel your fundraising event is worth. Some people may only give you five dollars, but there are often times cases where people will give you double and triple the amount because they do not want to appear to be slacking in light of such a worthy cause.

Hiring a Special Events Coordinator

Hiring someone to organize the event is not a bad idea. Yet, here are a few pointers.

Always talk to references. When you do so, make sure you talk to references with an event similar in scope to yours.

Do not expect the events coordinator to hand over their list of contacts. Yes, they may have personal contacts at Google, Microsoft and such, but those companies have relationships built with that individual, not you. If the coordinator wants to place calls for you, let them take the initiative to do so.

Not all event coordinators are good. Take the time to properly vet them. Pose every question you can imagine to ensure they understand what it is you’re trying to accomplish and what resources you possess to help achieve those objectives.

Are you interested in being a professional fundraiser?

You should know the work can be draining. Clients can be demanding, and when things go wrong, you can expect to assume the bulk of the blame. A thick skin is mandatory, especially as you approach the final stretch before the big day. Remember though, event planning is only one aspect to being a professional fundraiser.

If you remain interested, the median salary for a fundraiser as of March 2018 was $104,242 in the District of Columbia. The salary range for the region was $84,255 to $118,539.

This Month’s Helpful Resource: BlindBargains

In this column, we’re going to identify helpful resources for blind consumers. Some of it, perhaps a good portion of it, will be technology-related, but if we identify a good service or resource that could be of interest to you as a blind person, we’ll do our best to feature it here.

Of course if you have suggestions, please drop us a line and let us know about it.

If you have yet to catch up on all the great developments reported at this year’s CSUN conference, here’s a great resource you might want to look into.

BlindBargains provides a great audio archive of interviews conducted with some of the leading vendors who exhibited this year.

Interview samples include:

  • : A New NVDA Add-on Can Describe Website Images, Plus Accessible Approaching Buses
  • : A New ViewPoint in Wearables from Patriot Vision
  • : The Brailliant 14 from Humanware is Now Available
  • : A new Gesture-based Keyboard for your iPhone from Qwertyfree
  • : OCR Comes to the Small Screen on the Optelec Compact 6
  • : Vital Access to Graphics using a Tablet
  • : Grab that Controller: Big Strides Forward for Game Accessibility

These interviews and others can be found by visiting the BlindBargains Audio Archive.

In general, you’ll find BlindBargains provides classifieds, discount alerts, articles and other items of interest to the community.

Note: The aforementioned was offered for informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement by the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia or its parent organization.

NFB Pledge

I pledge to participate actively in the effort of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.

Walk with the Blind

Join members of the Rivers and Bay chapters of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia as we walk through Historic Colonial Williamsburg. Support us as we raise awareness of what blind people can achieve.

  • When: Saturday, October 14, 2017
  • 9:00 AM: Registration Opens
  • 10:00 AM: Kick Off
  • Where: Starting at the Capital Building (end of Duke of Gloucester St.), Colonial Williamsburg
  • Registration: $15

Sponsored by the following Chapters of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia “Living the Lives We want”:

  • Chesapeake Bay,
  • Eastern Shore,
  • Greater Williamsburg,
  • Peninsula, and
  • Tidewater

For more information, contact:

  • Corlis Jones
  • Phone: (757) 565-1185
  • Email:

If joining us, please fill out the following Registration form.

Link here for registration and pledge form

Everyone walking is welcome to take the pledge form and obtain pledges from family and friends to support our work. The members of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia local chapters along the rivers and bays of Southeastern Virginia are looking forward to this first annual event for MEET THE BLIND month.

NFB Ear Buds, Virginia Peanuts, & a Chance to win Serious Cash

The National Federation of the Blind of Virginia (NFBV) is excited to announce that in celebration of the NFB’s 75th anniversary, we will be offering the following items for sale at our convention in Orlando, FL at table D16 in the exhibit hall:

  • Raffle tickets for a chance to win a grand prize of $2,500.00 – $10.00 per ticket or 3 tickets for $20.00
  • Earbuds with commemorative NFB pocket carrying case for $5.00
  • Virginia Peanuts (salted and butter toasted) – 1 bag for $3.00 or 2 bags for

So please visit the Virginia booth at the exhibit hall in Orlando and help us “Change what it means to be blind”.

See you in Florida,

Bernard Werwie

  • NFBV Fundraising Chairman
  • Cell: (540)846-9518
  • Email:

John Dubois raises funds to attend his first National Convention in 2015 commemorating the 75th anniversary of the NFB

By Michael Kasey, president, NFB of Virginia

John Dubois asked Dr. Schroeder and I to assist him to attend his first National Convention. We agreed. We asked him to begin a campaign to raise money to help with his request. He commemorates the 75th Anniversary of the NFb by raising over $750 for the NFB of Virginia. Here is a note from John.

  • From: John Dubois
  • Sent: Saturday, April 25, 2015 6:39 PM
  • To: Michael Kasey

I believe fund raising gave me a good experience, because it teaches the importance of reaching out to others in times of need. I started by sending out a message on Facebook to everyone. Pastor Rudy from Grace United Methodist Church, Pastor Jeri, and others pitched in to contribute. I sent out thank you’ s using Facebook Messenger . I also set this up on

It was in 2014 that I chose to go to National convention. I felt it was something God was calling me to do. I decided this because at the National convention, I would meet other blind people, and partially sighted people, as well as see new technology, and also to explore other career opportunities.

John DuBois