Category Archives: Leadership

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.

2016 Leadership Fellows Biographies

Alexander A. Castillo

Ask who I am and the reply will be that I am the son of Dominican immigrants–someone who has struggled in finding their identity as blind, as Dominican, and who has worked to understand how this has made for a unique perspective and life.

In The Dominican Republic, where I lived until third grade, rarely did I recall blindness as an issue. If there was anything atypical about me, it was that I was a very social, mischievous child, and this meant that my claim to independence came at quite an early age. We moved to the states because my parents had found it increasingly costly to travel back and forth from The Island to see my corneal specialist in New York. I went from having everyone know me in my community, to only spending time with family in a Northern Manhattan Neighborhood. New York City had not yet become Disney and M&M stores. You stayed away from street corners, and did not set foot in Brooklyn.

In school, Initially, I was not permitted to participate in gym and other classes because of my vision. This created a strong aversion to identifying as blind, as I didn’t want to appear as a victim, or weak, and worst of all, instilled a tremendous fear of using a cane: a fear which stayed with me until my mid 20’s. However blindness did afford me some opportunities which I would not have otherwise had.

As a student who needed low vision services, the schools I attended, for example, were very diverse, the teachers had good relationships with the students, and I got an opportunity to experience the “big Apple” as I would ride the yellow bus downtown.

My parents also made sure that my brother and I had an eclectic cultural education. There were music lessons, martial arts, and hikes and my father would sit us down and have us listen to Broadway Musicals. My brother and I, thought the marionette scene from the “sound OF Music” was amazing, and didn’t quite get why the neighborhood kids didn’t feel the same. We were Dominican, but the other Dominicans saw us as different. Much of the other people in our community had only come to the States out of financial need.
My parents had come for my health.

Like many, I was the only blind child in our family, and it felt like I was the only blind person in Manhattan. There was no connection to blindness, until I took a martial arts class in my mid 20’s during which A classmate told me: If you ever attend an NFB convention, you’re going to hear so many canes, that the sound will be like heavy rain.” This martial arts class was about the only thing I had ever done that was blindness related and voluntary. He was right. It was a great sound and blindness, for the first time was not a barrier, but a way to connect with others.

The first NFB convention I attended was in Detroit. I met so many students which had the same struggles that I faced, even those feelings of inadequacy, but more importantly, they had so many ways to adapt, self-accommodate, and build and be part of communities in and out of blindness. This really hit home. Along with others, I rebuilt the New York student division and had the privilege of serving as president for two years.

I also received another opportunity. The National Science Foundation was concerned that minority students with disabilities had very little representation in the STEM fields and centralized a program at Hunter College where I attended. I was approached by the program director at a psychology convention and asked to join the program. what caught the program coordinator’s attention besides good academic standing, was my long white cane, which after many years of neglect, I was finally able to confidently hold, and my ability to reach out to Spanish speakers, the ladder, being something which until I began to volunteer as a tech instructor and work with this population, I had not been comfortable doing.

These connections led to more volunteering, close friends, employment opportunities and professional contacts.

Throughout the past 6 years, I have focused on developing a strong background in direct services to individuals with disabilities of marginalized communities. This is in large due to after many years, finally having a strong identification as being Dominican, a New Yorker, and a person who is blind.

Earl Everet

I was born in Washington D.C. in the mid 50’s, and it was discovered pretty early on that I had congenital glaucoma. My family decided it was best for me to stay with relatives in Franklin VA so I could attend the VA School at Hampton for the Deaf and Blind where I learned Braille, Orientation and Mobility and other life skills in addition to an academic curriculum.

Upon graduation I briefly attended Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond VA as a music education major. Accessibility Services being what they were in the mid 70’s I was unable to obtain my degree and soon left the University. I moved to Norfolk, VA and through VDBI I was able to obtain a job at Old Dominion University in their Housekeeping Department where I stayed for close to 10 years until I developed cataracts which hindered me from successfully fulfilling my duties.

I returned to Franklin for the next few years until I was able to enroll in the Customer Service Program at the VA Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Vision Impaired. Upon completion of the program I interned at the Lillian Vernon Corporation in VA. Beach, VA where I was offered a position.

After the company decided to close up operations in VA Beach I developed an interest in the law and the legal process. I enrolled in J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College and received my Associates Degree in Paralegal Studies. I then went back to VA Commonwealth University where I finally was able to obtain my Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and Pre-Law. I am currently seeking employment hopefully in the legal field and am even giving thought to taking the LSAT’s (Law School Admittance Test)) to obtain my Law Degree.

I joined the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia, Richmond Chapter in 2008. I was elected Secretary of the Chapter in 2014, and in 2015 I was appointed as Chairman of the newly formed Legislative Committee. I was able to attend my 1st National Convention this past summer as a McDonald Scholarship winner and it was truly an inspiring and enlightening experience. I look forward to this next chapter of my life as a Leadership Fellow and am ready to embrace all the promise and opportunities the future may hold.

Michael Kitchens

My name is Michael David Kitchens, II, and I was born in Portsmouth, VA on September 19, 1976. I have a form of condition known as albinism, which affects pigment in the skin and in the eyes. I have myopia (nearsightedness), light sensitivity and I sunburn very easily.

I graduated from Western Branch High School in Chesapeake, VA in 1994 as an honor graduate. I was included in the 1994 edition of Who’s Who among American High School Students. I then went to college at Tidewater Community College and then ITT Technical Institute to study Computer-Aided Drafting and Design (CADD). I have two Associate degrees in that field. I also graduated from ITT as the class valedictorian. I studied CADD because I first realized I could draw in that manner when I was 9 or 10 years old.

I currently work at the City of Chesapeake, VA Department of Public Works as an Engineering CAD Technician II. I have been there since May 2015.

I am considered low-vision, to the point where I am currently unable to
drive. I first joined the Federation in 2009, because I was inspired by a
former (now deceased) member of the NFB, Mr. Nelson Malbon. When I was a little boy, he helped my mom in getting access to assistance and services
that I needed. Being part of the NFB is my way of giving back and paying
his help forward. And now that I am a Leadership Fellow for 2016, I hope that I can really make a difference.

Domonique Lawless

I moved to Richmond in July, when I started working as an Orientation and Mobility Instructor at the Virginia Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Vision Impaired. I grew up mostly in upstate New York and Nashville Tennessee with a few places in between. I am a graduate of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and after my blindness skills training I obtained my Master’s Degree in teaching blind students and orientation and mobility. I find that living in many places helps me appreciate people from all walks of life and the stories they have to share. It also means that I am slightly culturally confused. I miss corner bakeries where you can get good cannoli, do not like southern sweet tea, and can almost eat my weight in crawfish at a crawfish boil.

In 2000, I was invited to a student seminar at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. That moment forever changed my life. I was connected with other blind students and adults who didn’t let their blindness limit them, and those people became my mentors and friends. I have been a member of the National Federation of the Blind for sixteen years. During this time, I have served on chapter, state, and national boards. I have also worked as an instructor and mentor for many of our youth programs.

When I’m not working at the center, I spend my time creating new recipes in the kitchen, reading, and crafting. I am excited to be a part of the Virginia affiliate and can’t wait to get to know my new NFBV family.

Sean McMahon

Sean McMahon serves as the treasurer for the Potomac chapter. He has been a member of the Potomac chapter since moving to the D.C area 6 years ago to take a job as a software quality control specialist at the Internal Revenue Service. As a Virginia Fellow, he hopes to help our membership meet their individual accessibility challenges, learn legislative advocacy and spread our great can-do spirit. He enjoys live jazz and has an obsession for watching sports. He lives in Vienna with his Cantankerous cat Magic and girlfriend Sarah who is also an active board member of their chapter.

Christopher O’Meally

My Name is Christopher O’Meally, and I have lived in the Richmond Virginia area all my life, besides my 9 month stay at the Louisiana center for the blind. I am currently pursuing my second degree in business information systems management with a concentration in contract administration, and currently work for the defense contract management agency. In my spare time, I enjoy a bit of computer troubleshooting and repair, running my small data recovery service, trying to convince people not to pay me to build custom gaming computers because it would be entirely easier and cheaper to go to best buy, and long walks on the beach.

In my 10 years in involvement with the National Federation of the Blind, my main focus has been with the students. I have served in every position on the board at least once, and now that I am back in school again, will most likely be running this year. Advocacy is very important to me, and so when people come to ask me questions, I always mention my federation family, as they have shown me much of what I know about my blindness, the rights that our community is entitled to, and even who to contact if I am not sure of what I am being asked.

Onto of that, I am a graduate of guiding eyes, and am currently in the matching process for my second dog, so the equal treatment of handlers and dogs is very near and dear to my heart. People know me as the resident tech guy around the state of Virginia. I enjoy presenting at seminars at various events in and outside of the federation, and even teaching a bit on the side when I have time.

I applied to be a leadership fellow so that our more experienced members and leadership can mold me into the leader that many of my friends and family members always say I am, and so that I can give back to the federation in return. I am not quite sure where my place is, but my goal is simple, and to me, less means more in most situations. I want to make a difference somewhere.

Joe Orozco

Joe Orozco is an intelligence analyst with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. On his spare time he runs a small freelance writing business catering to small nonprofits and tech startups. He enjoys reading and writing horror and young adult fiction, hiking, all genre of music, and eclectic foods. Joe was introduced to the Federation in the Texas affiliate and looks forward to making worthwhile contributions to his new home in Virginia.

Robert Parsons

My name is Robert Parsons and I am 27-years old. Originally from Brooklyn, NY, I moved to Richmond, VA in 2012 in hopes of finding work and going back to college. It was in Richmond that I went blind in 2013 by means of a gunshot to the head during a robbery of my house. The attack left me with no vision or light perception and I was left to pick up the pieces of my life and decide what to do with myself. In 2014, I began my time as a student at the Virginia Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Vision Impaired, where I learned, honed, and practiced my skills of blindness in preparation to return to college. It was at the Virginia Rehab Center that I was introduced to the Richmond chapter of the NFBV and became a member. I graduated from the center 5 months later and began attending Reynolds Community College, where I will be graduating in December with an Associate’s Degree in Social Science to begin attending Randolph Macon College in Ashland, Virginia In pursuit of a dual Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and French.

I am extremely active in the Richmond chapter and Virginia affiliate, serving as the first Vice President of the chapter, coordinator of the car donation program, coordinator of the exhibit hall at state convention, and Virginia table at national convention.

Evelyn Valdez

I’d like to introduce myself as a transplant hailing from the Garden State of New Jersey also known as Joe Ruffalo country. I am ecstatic to have been chosen as the distinguished member of such an illustrious class of Virginia Fellows for the 2016-2017 class.

Born in New York and raised in New Jersey, there was never a dull moment in the Valdez household, from my brother playing baseball to me competing in JROTC drill team competitions. It was not a farfetched idea that I would be joining the Marine Corps and of course I knew what I was going to do. My MOS (major/area of study) would be Communications in the Marine Corps and I would have Uncle Sam pay for my higher education. Well, it’s all good when one is taken on an alternate route, but the big question was if I was ready for the ride? I went blind at 17 and my military career took a permanent backseat. I decided to become a teacher and so I did, not knowing too much about blindness and all the resources that were available to me at first. I began meeting go-getters like Ms. Ever-lee Hairston and slowly this “ride”
didn’t seem too difficult. What turned it more exciting was when I attended my first national convention as a national scholarship winner in Texas. That was the seal of approval for me, it cemented everything into perspective.

After teaching inclusion in the Hillside school district in NJ for six and a half years, I wanted I went to polish my blindness skills at the Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB) in Ruston, Louisiana. A change in my career path had been in the works for some time until it was finalized just two months before I graduated from my blindness training at LCB, I was given an employment opportunity at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington DC.

I have been an active member of the NFB for ten years now, serving as co-founder of the NJ Association of Blind Students, affiliate board member, second vice president of the Greater DC Chapter, and in my present role as recording secretary for the Potomac chapter. I have recently embarked on a cycling phase. I had been on a running phase not too long ago doing the Marine Corps 10-K with an awesome marathon runner as my sighted guide! I am working on becoming a stronger cyclist and feeling good that I have been coached by a famous road racer, Jim Alvord from Pennsylvania.

This ride has Never Felt Better!

Meet the 2015 NFB of Virginia Leadership Fellows

Introducing our 7 outstanding Fellows:

Christopher Walker

Christopher is Outreach Chair for the Winchester Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia, and is responsible for increasing public awareness of the blind within the City of Winchester and Shenandoah Valley area. Mr. Walker works with the blind who are not able to attend monthly chapter meetings, keeping them up to date with the latest information. Mr. Walker is active on social media, interacting with blind people all around the world.

Prior to being appointed Outreach Chair, Christopher served in a variety of capacities for the following organizations: Huntington T. Block Insurance, Account Executive; American Physical Therapy Association, Meeting / Exhibits Coordinator; American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association, Government Affairs Assistant; Council for Exceptional Children, Meetings Coordinator.

Mr. Walker lost his sight in 2010 and has no-light-perception. He currently resides in the Winchester Virginia area with his spouse. As a NFB of Virginia Fellow, he plans to educate himself about different divisions and
committees within the NFB while strengthening his leadership skills.

Michael Valentino

Michael is married and the father of two wonderful children. Their home is in Mechanicsville outside of Richmond, Virginia.

He is a Multimedia Journalist, LIVE News Anchor, and DJ & on Air Personality who shows a passion for radio. He is legally Blind and a certified guide dog user. He has an extensive knowledge of music and pop culture. This includes over 23 years of experience in radio, strong social media skills, and a powerful presence for promotional efforts, seasoned production skills in both audio and video. Michael owns and operates Party Central Entertainment and Productions of Virginia, a mobile DJ service.

He spends time on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University where he is pursuing a master’s degree. He joined the Federation when he met other members at the General Assembly advocating for Braille to be taught to Blind children in Virginia. He is now an active member in the Richmond Chapter.

Michael was accepted as a Virginia Leadership Fellow for which he hopes to take more responsibility in the organization.

Brittany Savage

Brittany is currently the youth coordinator for the NFB Virginia state affiliate. She has the national certification of braille literacy and is studying to take the unified English Brail certification test. She is preparing for the Cain travel apprenticeship through Louisiana Tech. Her goal is to be dual certified in Braille and Cain travel to teach blind students. She has been a member of the national Federation of the blind for
10 years.

She has held a number of positions on our student board, and is looking forward to doing so much more. She has completed the independence training program at the Colorado Center for the blind this past year. She has also taught there for the high school program the past two summers. She taught home management as well as braille and residential skills. She is grateful for the opportunity to serve as a Virginia leadership Fellow.

Uricka Harrison

Uricka is 51 years old and the mother of 2 daughters. She lost
her sight at the age of 9 from having a tonsillectomy. Uricka attended
the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind at Hampton. Where she graduated in 1982. Later attended Thomas Nelson community college where she obtained an associate’s degree in Public administration in 1997. In 1996 joined the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia (Peninsula chapter where she is currently a member. Throughout the years she has served as Vice President
and on a few committees. Uricka Has also been to 4 National conventions
and several state conventions so far.

For several years, she worked at Insight Enterprises (Peninsula Center for Independent Living as an Independent Living Advocate. The duties she had
while working included: providing independent living, employment,
housing, advocacy and group counseling. During this time she participated in lobbying for the (ADA) Americans with Disabilities Act before the House of representative and the Senate. Also was a part of advocating at the general assembly for funding and needed programs. Currently she is volunteering in her community in various jobs and she sits on several boards and committees.

Stephanie DeLuca

Stephanie is currently the Science Policy Fellow at the American Chemical Society in Washington, D.C. She has been living in Arlington, Virginia since August 2014 and serves as a Board Member of the NFB Potomac Chapter. Stephanie moved to Arlington from Nashville, Tennessee, where she completed her Ph.D. in Chemical and Physical Biology at Vanderbilt University. Prior to her graduate studies, she performed computational chemistry research as a Fulbright Student Scholarship recipient in the lab of Professor Dr. Peter R. Schreiner at the Justus-Liebig University in Giessen, Germany. Stephanie grew up in Killen, Alabama and attended college at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, or UAB, where she studied chemistry and first learned about NFB. She received a national scholarship in 2004 and attended her first NFB National Convention in Atlanta that year.

After a long hiatus, she joined the Tennessee affiliate during graduate school and was awarded her second national scholarship in 2013. During her time as a member of the NFB of Tennessee, Stephanie participated in Washington Seminar and served as the president of the Tennessee Association of Blind Students. Stephanie is excited to be a new member of the NFBV and to participate in the NFBV Leadership Fellows program. She is passionate about building partnerships, as well as increasing the NFB’s reach in advocacy, policy, and participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Stephanie and her husband, Sam, have a cat named Callisto, who is learning to be friends with Stephanie’s new Seeing Eye dog, Karra.

Deepa Goraya

Deepa has been a member of the NFB since 2005, graduating from the Louisiana Center for the Blind in December of the same year. Originally from California, Deepa was an active member and leader in the NFB of California, serving as Secretary and then President of the West Los Angeles Chapter, and as Secretary and then President of the California Association of Blind Students. She is both a California state and national NFB scholarship winner.

Deepa moved to the DC area after law school in 2013. She is an active member and Board Member of the Potomac Chapter, and serves on the Virginia Scholarship Committee. She has attended Washington Seminar several times over the past few years, and the Richmond Seminar once before. She has also participated in two national leadership seminars.

Deepa is a member of the California and DC bars, and graduated from the University of Michigan Law School in 2012. She now works at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs as a Disability Rights Staff Attorney. She also serves on the American Bar Association’s Commission on Disability Rights, and as Board Member of the newly formed National Association of Attorneys with Disabilities. She also serves as Co-Chair of the ABA Young Lawyers Division Minorities in the Profession Committee, and was a 2012-2013 ABA Young Lawyers Division Minorities in the Profession Scholar.

Brian McCann

Brian was born in November of 1983 in Washington State, but he and his family moved back to Virginia Beach, VA shortly after he was born. He is the youngest of four siblings but has one younger stepsister. He has two older brothers and one older sister, all of whom are legally blind due to a hereditary eye disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). He and is siblings inherited the eye disease from their mother, who is also legally blind.

McCann became legally blind at the age of 27 and his vision is progressively getting worse. Although he knew he would have a vision problem, as a child he never felt limited in what he could do. His low vision means he sometimes has to work harder.

McCann attended public schools and was an average student. He graduated High School in 2002. McCann did not go to college right after he graduated because he was already a successful manager at a major retail store and did not think he would need a college education. After a few more years working in the retail business, he realized he had to find something else to do for a career. This was also during the same period he was starting to lose his vision. After doing some research on the internet, he discovered that there was an IRS training program at Lions World Services for the Blind in Little Rock, AR.

In November of 2007, he applied and was accepted into the IRS program. After graduating and earning the highest score in the IRS training program history, he was then sent to Holtsville, NY on Long Island to start his new career. He worked for the IRS as a Tax Examiner from August 2008 to August 2010 and resigned due to injuries suffered from being a passenger in an automobile accident. He was blessed though because he and his guide dog, Julie, were the only survivors out of seven people including the driver of his car.

From 2010 to 2012, McCann decided to take time off from work and to focus on getting his health back on track. Being restless and full of energy, he had to find something to do with his time. He has been actively involved with several different organization of the blind throughout his life, but the one organization that has inspired him the most is the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). He became very active with his local and state affiliate chapters of the NFB; serving as the First Vice President of his local chapter, state board rep, web designer and webmaster for the NFBV affiliate website, and several other committees on the local and state levels.

He has been in the contract and procurement field since 2012 working for the Department of Defense in Philadelphia, PA and Richmond, VA. McCann is currently a contract specialist/project manager for the City of Virginia Beach since March of 2015. He is also currently attending college full-time at Stray University and is majoring in Business Administration (BBA) with Acquisition and Contract Management as his concentration. A local community college has made him an Associated Professor on the topic of Small, Women and Minority Owned Businesses Understanding Government Contracts.

In 2014, McCann began to take on additional responsibilities within the NFB by serving as the Youth Track Coordinator and then as Chairman of the Events & Organization team for the Virginia state affiliate. Most recently, McCann was accepted into the NFBV Leadership Fellows program where other NFB leaders will mentor him to develop his own leadership path within the organization. He has already adopted several of the NFB’s philosophies and is eager to share with anyone that will listen.