The Vigilant: December 2018

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

For a large part of the country, December 25 is a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus. For others, it is a time to consider our relationship with the wider society. We do not have to share the same faith to appreciate what the season provides, an opportunity to love and just as important, an opportunity to be loved.

Please reach out and love your fellow members in this great organization. Help them feel welcomed and included, regardless of their blindness skills. Michael Jordan was not born with a basketball in his hands. He had to start from scratch just like everyone else. Please do your part to spread the gift of positive independence, and of course, completely aside from the NFB, please reach out and love someone you may have neglected recently.

Please allow others to love you. It’s very easy to extend yourself to others. It is a beautiful thing to feel and act on a spirit of service, but sometimes we forget that we might be depriving someone of that beauty when we prevent them from helping us.

If there is anything sad about this time of year, it is that we are too quick to forget that these feelings of love and fellowship should be characteristics we ought to be expressing all year long. Pain and suffering do not wait until the end of the year to manifest themselves. People should not bank on the holidays to receive the love and kindness they ought to be entitled to on a regular basis. As a member of the NFB of Virginia, you already belong to a great family. Some of your relatives here will annoy you just as is true of your birth family, but just like your birth family, I want you to always feel as though you have a place among us you can call home.

Yours, with love,

Tracy Soforenko, President
National Federation of the Blind of Virginia

This Month’s Words of Inspiration

“An arrogant person considers himself perfect. This is the chief harm of arrogance. It interferes with a person’s main task in life – becoming a better person.” – Leo Tolstoy

Presidential Report

Editor’s Note: The following was delivered to the NFB of Virginia convention on the morning of Saturday, November 10 by our affiliate president, Tracy Soforenko. Here is the text of that inspirational presentation.

Good Morning Virginia Federation family!

The NFB 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. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back.

I love our 1-minute message.

What are the characteristics that define you?

The characteristics that define me are: Husband, Father, Community and synagogue leader, technology geek, Fed, Member of the National Federation of the Blind.

My blindness does not define me.

What are the characteristics that define the NFB of VA?

I would propose there are six characteristics that define our movement in Virginia and around the country: collective Action, respect, courage, full Participation, democracy, and love.

In 2018, we have embodied these characteristics.

Collective Action

At the core of our movement, we come together to achieve results we could not achieve alone.
Here are this year’s examples.

Vision Zero – In Alexandria, bob Hartt and Jeremy Grandstaff helped to make a plan for safer streets through the adoption of a vision Zero plan and greater access to public transit.

Williamsburg Housing and Transport – In Williamsburg, the late Elsie Castleman worked with the Mayor to make housing and transit more accessible for blind people.

Meet the Blind – In Fredericksburg, Richmond, Woodbridge, Winchester and Arlington, our meet the blind programs have educated the public about the capabilities of blind people to live full and active lives.

Statewide – At a statewide level, our legislative advocacy, led by Derek Manners, moved our legislative priorities forward:

  • ADA Rights – We defeated legislation to weaken the Virginians with Disabilities Act by itemizing all the harm caused by this ill-conceived legislation.
  • Blind Parents – We moved forward our legislation to secure greater rights for blind parents. The House committee agreed that there is a problem but we were not able to agree on the remedy. Our partnership of disability advocates was unable to defeat the Virginia Bar and Virginia’s most prestigious lobbyist. We have ideas on new ways to advance the fight in the coming years. True change takes time and commitment. We will not be deterred and we will not accept useless band-aids that simply state Don’t discriminate. Valuable civil rights legislation requires processes and supports, not just a kind statement. Disabled parents in Virginia deserve rights, not window dressing.
  • Education of Blind and Low Vision Students – Throughout the Fall and Winter, Derek Manners and Fred Schroeder partnered with AER (the Association for the Education and rehabilitation of the Blind) to prepare legislation that we all could be proud of. No more fighting between advocates for blind and low vision kids. We stood united. Unfortunately, local jurisdictions recognize that providing an equal education might cost the schools more and fought back. We will look to build broader partnerships in the coming years to improve legislation for Virginia’s students.

However, our advocacy for students doesn’t stop in the legislature.

  • To ensure a quality education, we are committed to helping students and their parents in IEP meetings and in the courts.
  • Chincoteague, Ashburn, Clark County, Stafford, Springfield, Chesapeake, Tazewell and Harrisonburg-Sandy Halverson, Nancy Yeager, Chris Walker, Fred Schroeder, and Patrick Johnson have crisscrossed the Commonwealth helping
  • We have assisted with legal representation for Maddie Martin to try to secure a quality education in Loudoun County and Kim Pfifer Snow to get access to the PowerSchool educational platform in Chesterfield.
  • Blind and low vision students deserve a quality education and we will not settle for less.


We believe in the capability and dignity of blind people and know that society’s low expectations are false.

There are at least three women who set high expectations thanks to the support of their Federation family.

Evelyn Valdez fought both society’s low expectations, her own doubts, and injuries to run her first Summer Sprint triathlon this July, placing first in her age bracket.

Naomi O’Toole- Chesapeake Bay Chapter member Naomi O’Toole was a participant in the Virginia Beach BELL Academy. Naomi uses braille as part of her academic and extracurricular work including a very stellar vocal talent. Naomi just signed a gospel recording concert where a portion of the funds profit will go to the NFB. Next month, Naomi will bring her talent to the Christian Broadcasting Network’s 700 Club.

Jody Silverberg started a new business, Little Herbs Bakery in Fredericksburg. This month, at the Marine Corps University cafeteria in Quantico, you can purchase items from her bakery at Leon Anderson’s dining facility.

Our members show that high expectations set within our Federation community can help us achieve greatness.


Fighting for freedom takes perseverance and unwavering commitment.

Today, I am going to highlight some of the challenges faced by blind parents.

I have some yes or No questions where I am seeking a response:

– All successful blind parents have stellar blindness skills?

– Blind parents cannot successfully raise a child with special needs?

– Going away for blindness skills training means you are abandoning your kids?

If you think these are absurd questions, welcome to my world.

Edward Tweed is a blind father in Virginia Beach. Edward’s son lived with the mother and had some challenging behavioral issues
. In 2016, The son was moved to live with Edward and his new wife Sheena.
In 2017, after living with Edward and Shena for nine months, Edward’s son was removed from their home and placed in foster care. The courts and child protection system were not convinced that disabled parents could address the needs of children with special needs.

In 2018, the City was seeking to terminate Edward’s parental rights and put the son up for adoption. We stepped in to provide Edward solid representation and connect him with positive blind role models. Our Chesapeake Bay Chapter has welcomed the Tweeds, offered to help get Edward the mentoring from other blind parents, and ensure that the city respects the rights of blind people to parent. Based on our work together this Summer, the city has suspended its decision to pursue termination of parental rights and added family reunification as its focus.

This is a travesty. Can you imagine 2 years without your child? Edward and his wife Shena are here with us today. By next year, I hope their son is home with them and with us at our next convention.

Asia Hurtado is a newly blind Woodbridge Mom who sought blindness skills training at the VRCBVI. She is also trying to retain custody of her children. Lawyers told her that Virginia courts would view her efforts to leave her kids at home so she could get great blindness training as abandonment of her children. Have you ever heard something so absurd? But, our rights to be parents are not clear and the legal system is not in our favor. Don’t believe the doubters.

As you herd this morning, she did attend VRCBVI and has developed strong blindness skills to both work and raise her family. She is making us proud.

Discrimination happens in Virginia. Don’t believe the doubters.

In addition to the many resources for blind parents found at blind parents .org, we just established the Virginia Blind Parents List serve as a tool to help blind parents here in VA.

Our federation family grows with new Moms like Jessica Reed, Brittany Ingram, and CJ Fish.

Full Participation

Blind people have the right to live fully and equally in society.

Before highlighting a few of our students, please know that starting something new is really, really hard. Kathryn Webster and Arielle Silverman have invested love, hope and determination to make Project RISE a success.

Our mentors are: Sarah Patnaude, Marc Canamaso, Evelyn Valdez, Jeremy Grandstaff, John Bailey, Derek Manners, and Suzy D’Mello. They have built lasting relationships with our students.
I suspect that when you include this weekend, nearly 100 positive blind role models have volunteered their time to invest in our Project RISE students.

For example, we had a Spanish speaking falls Church high School student who had difficulty with communication and big goals but no idea how to achieve these goals. Through mentoring, he has been transformed. His English Language skill went from pre-K to 6th grade. He now uses his cane, communicates with peers, and had a work experience. Before Project RISE, he dreamed of becoming a baker, but he had never baked. At our first event, he helped bake cookies. By this Summer, he had a job at a bakery.

One of our Stafford High School Graduates would describe himself as timid, genuine and thoughtful but he had difficulty making friends. Through Project RISE, he built lasting friendships and was eager to share his love of music and desire to edit, mix and DJ. He secured a great job at a music store in Culpeper. This experience culminated with and electronic dance music (EDM) show with his friends, colleagues and family.

Both students will be back for year 2.


We are a democratic organization representing the needs of our members.

The NFB was instrumental in ensuring an independent private ability to vote through the Help America Vote Act. Now, we seek to remove additional barriers to voting. In the past month, we partnered with LYFT to provide blind Virginians with vouchers to use this service to get to the polls. Each time a blind person votes, we share in democracy and increase our power as Americans and as a movement. Sarah Patnaude was instrumental on this front in our affiliate.

Our new Chapter Leadership Institute will grow leaders and help invigorate our chapters to put everyone to work in our chapters. We’ll talk more about this tomorrow.

Visiting Chapters is an important role of my job. I have visited Chesapeake Bay, Peninsula, Tidewater, Greater Williamsburg, Prince William County, Fairfax, Greater Alexandria, and Potomac. I have some chapters to visit in the coming year, so please tell me as your chapter plans events, especially on weekends. Some chapters are changing the Guard, including: At Large, Winchester, Richmond, Fairfax and perhaps a few others. Change can be good. I look forward to working with the new leadership in these areas.

Through our chapters and the affiliate, we are growing leaders who are more diverse, more engaged, and who represent the interests of all blind and low vision Virginians.


The NFB provides a loving, supportive, and encouraging family that shares in the challenges and triumphs of our blind brothers and sisters. Like you, I joined the NFB because I built relationships. I joined the Federation to be part of this Warm Federation community. Today, many of my mentors and friends are in this room. there are many new people attending their first convention. Take the time to make a new friend and welcome these new members into our Federation family.

Hosting National – At our National Convention, we showed Virginia Hospitality and love as Host Affiliate through the following:

  • The Welcome Table organized by Earl Everett
  • The Hospitality Suite organized by Nancy Yeager
  • The Welcome Concert guided by Kathryn Webster
  • The outstanding opening ceremonies where Brian Miller arranged for our Barbershop Connections and my true friend and advisor, Joe Hobson, helped me with my remarks.

So many of you volunteered throughout the convention to show warmth and friendship to all.

Relationships are important in our Federation Family. All of you have made this year possible but I need to highlight a few.

Kathryn Webster led or helped to organize student, youth track, career and parent programming.

Joe Orozco has upped our game through convention operations, the newsletter and the chapter leadership institute.

Sandy Halverson is the best Vice President I could ask for and she tells me when I am full of baloney.

Joe Hobson is my closest counselor and friend.

Mark Roane has been busier this year than any other year in his years as affiliate treasurer. He keeps us in line and ensures our bills are paid. I am exceedingly grateful for his friendship and his fantastic work on behalf of our affiliate. Did I mention everyone in Richmond thinks Mark is our paid lobbyist?

I would not be able to do this role without the fantastic support of my family. Sharon Soforenko has been instrumental throughout the year. She helped with the agenda, the food in the presidential suite, editing, and keeping me grounded. My daughters Jessica and Rebecca are my technical support and they were instrumental in the Project RISE video. My family deals with the constantly ringing phone and my commitment to this work because they know I love our work in this Federation.

Our Federation family is built on fostering lasting relationships between our members based on these 6 characteristics: Collective action, respect, courage, full participation, democracy, and love. These relationships, based on mutual trust, support, and commitment to one another, are the covenant that holds our community together.

As we look back on 2018, our 60th year, it is a time to look at our community and decide collectively who we want to be. We are NFB – a band of brothers and sisters. So, let us now begin our future together, as one family, and as one community. I am proud to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia.


Editor’s Note: The important work of the Federation is carried out by resolutions introduced and voted upon by the membership. The following is a list of resolutions passed at our most recent state convention.

Resolution 2018-1: The UEB Versus Nemeth Mathematics Code

WHEREAS, the standard braille codes for teaching mathematics to blind students are either the United English Braille (UEB) or Nemeth codes; and

WHEREAS, the Braille version of the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) Standards of Learning (SOL) mathematics test for elementary school children is only made available using the UEB mathematics code; and

WHEREAS, both students and the teachers of blind students are only now beginning the process of becoming proficient in the use of the UEB mathematics code with a preponderance of teachers and students continuing to rely on the tried and true Nemeth code of Braille mathematics; and

WHEREAS, Virginia is one of seven small states which has adopted the UEB mathematics code while 34 states continue to provide Nemeth code instruction to teach mathematics since proficiency tests and the Nemeth code offer a more compact form of mathematics notation when compared to the UEB code; and

WHEREAS, the regulation to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 at 34 C.F.R.Part 104.35(b)(3) states, “Tests are selected and administered so as best to ensure that, when a test is administered to a student with impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills, the test results accurately reflect the student’s aptitude or achievement level or whatever other factor the test purports to measure, rather than reflecting the student’s impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills (except where those skills are the factors that the test purports to measure)”; and

WHEREAS, Braille tests using a mathematics code not familiar to the student test taker will not measure mastery of the subject matter but reflect the lack of knowledge of the testing Braille code, thus reflecting issues of the student’s blindness and not measuring mathematics competency; and

WHEREAS, there appear to be no certified UEB mathematics Braillists in the commonwealth of Virginia; and

WHEREAS, requiring only the UEB code appears to meet administrative desires and not reflect the requirement that the individualized education plan must be designed to meet the student’s individualized educational needs; and

WHERE AS, THE updated Virginia plan regarding administration of the SOL tests (updated as of September 2017) indicates that new SOL tests will be produced only in UEB; and

WHEREAS, the VDOE plan continues to include the potential relaxation of that standard which may be considered for individual students who require additional support, due to the changes in the braille code, thus acknowledging that students need not take the SOL tests in UEB Math if doing so would not be appropriate for the student: Now therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia in convention assembled this 11th day of November, 2018 in the city of Fredericksburg, Virginia, that this organization demand that the SOL tests be offered to blind students using the preferred Braille code the students customarily use while learning Mathematics; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Virginia Department of Education support the parents’ right to select the appropriate mathematics code for their children to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE); and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Virginia Department of Education communicate this policy to all local education agencies (LEAs), teachers of blind students, and parents of blind students throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Resolution 2018-2: Concerning the recent proposed policy changes to college sponsorship under DBVI’s direction

WHEREAS, The National Federation of the Blind of Virginia (NFBV) is committed to the education and the informed choice of blind students across the Commonwealth; and

WHEREAS, The NFBV values our partnership and continued collaboration with the Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired and seek to ensure that its college sponsorship policy fully embraces the potential of our students; and

WHEREAS, the proposed policy restricts and limits the options of institutions of higher education for blind and low vision students to the lowest cost; and

WHEREAS, the policy does not offer financial support for the cost of boarding until after the first two years, unless an extenuating circumstance arises; and

WHEREAS, This policy strictly prevents students from independently exploring their educational options, encouraging ambitious students to minimize their goals due to the financial implications posed by the state; and

WHEREAS, The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, specifies that an eligible individual must be able to exercise informed choice in the selection of service providers, including institutions of higher education; and

WHEREAS, This policy explicitly thwarts the law’s requirement that each individual must have the opportunity to exercise informed choice on their own merit; and

WHEREAS, The primary reason given by DBVI for this proposed policy is to reduce cost at the expense of blind students, given the recent budget implications, and thus, impeding their eventual employment outcomes; and

WHEREAS, Rather than throwing the blind under the bus as a cost-cutting means, DBVI should join with NFBV to advocate for increased funding for higher education and vocational rehabilitation to ensure the future of blind professionals is thought of proactively, rather than retroactively; and

WHEREAS, by encouraging students to reach their true potential, DBVI will have the ability to take initiative from the start and witness our blind and low vision students fuel the economy as they rightfully should: Now therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia in convention assembled this 11th day of November, 2018 in the city of Fredericksburg, Virginia, that the NFBV take a strong stance in opposing the DBVI draft higher education proposal in its current form; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization advocate for increased vocational rehabilitation funding through their continued mission of supporting the blind and vision impaired of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Resolution 2018-3: Commending the Fredericksburg Area Chapter, NFBV Leadership and Membership for a Job Well Done

WHEREAS, our National Federation of the Blind of Virginia (NFBV) conventions continue to grow and administration of the convention becomes more complex; and

WHEREAS, in 2018 , our Fredericksburg Area Chapter took on the opportunities and challenges of hosting the historic 60th state convention; and

WHEREAS, our 2018 state affiliate convention operated efficiently and smoothly: Now therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia in convention assembled this 11th day of November, 2018 in the city of Fredericksburg, Virginia that we , as a NFB Affiliate of the Commonwealth of Virginia , thank our Fredericksburg Chapter for a job well done!

Announcing Braille Readers are Leaders

The National Federation of the Blind of Illinois, in partnership with the NFB Jernigan Institute and The American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, again announces the annual Nation-wide Braille Readers Are Leaders (BRAL) contest for kids. Students must be K-12, and must reside in a state registered for the contest. Entrants compete to read the most Braille pages, going against other students in similar grades across all participating states. The contest runs for seven weeks, encouraging students to be proud of their Braille reading ability and to work to improve their Braille skills — while possibly winning prizes in the process.

A thumbnail sketch of the contest:

  • For each student who enters, a certifying official (parent, teacher, etc.) must fill out and submit a registration form. This can be done as early as November 1 2018 and as late as January 19 2019.
  • Students enter in one of five grade categories: K-1, 2-3, 4-5, 6-8, & 9-12.
  • Participants record Braille pages read between December 1 2018 and January 19 2019 on a reading log.
  • The certifying official must submit the completed reading log form by February 2 2019.
  • Prizes in each grade category are: first, $25; second, $15; third, $10.
  • Every contestant, whether a winner or not, will receive a gift bag of Braille-related items at the end of the contest.
  • To get the complete contest rules, registration form, and the reading log form, visit the website,
  • Both the registration form and the reading log form can be submitted by email as attachments to Deborah Stein at Please put Nationwide BRAL plus the contestant’s name in the subject line, or call 773-203-1394. Alternatively, you can mail to: Deborah Stein, 5817 N. Nina Ave., Chicago, IL 60631
  • In addition to awards in the five grade categories, Kelly Doty Awards of $25 will be given to students who have met unusual challenges in order to learn and read Braille. Such challenges include, but are not limited to, having other disabilities in addition to blindness or being an English language learner.

Harnessing Up with VAGDU

The Virginia Association of Dog Guide Users (VAGDU) is alive and harnessing up for some work!

The division met during the state convention. WE had twelve persons in attendance and we didn’t count the number of dogs. WE held elections and set out our list of issues on which we want to focus over the next twelve months, and likely beyond.

We elected the following officers:

President: Brittany Fraer
Vice-president: Terri Nettles
Treasurer: Bob Hartt
Secretary: Jackie Larrauri
Board Member: Jeff Lucas
Board Member: Joy Relton

We will be holding quarterly conference calls. Our first will be in January. Please stay tuned for the call details.

Below is the list of issues to which we will be giving our attention in some manner.

  • Ride share–reporting bad and good experiences
  • Educating community, officials such as cab drivers, police, hospitals about: techniques in using, rights, and policies
  • Airlines and air travel
  • Choosing a school
  • Travel on cruises with dogs–health requirements, laws, rights, concerns, requirements dog left in room or cabins unattended, relieving areas
  • Law enforcement: educate about rights dogs in stores, restaurants, ambulances, emergency shelters, Ensure dogs needs going to bath room laws, techniques
  • Training how to relieve on ships and other situations
  • Toileting harness
  • Clicker training
  • Using GPS with dogs

For more information please join the VAGDU email list.


Joy Relton, Board Member

Party with the Potomac Chapter

Hello Colleagues,

Save the date, Potomac Chapter Holiday Party

Date: Thursday, December 13, 2018

Location: Bone Fish Grill

Address: 1101 South Joyce Street, Arlington, Virginia 22202

Time: 6:00 PM until 10:00 PM

Cost: $30 includes tip and tax

RSVP: to Sarah Blumberg by December 11

Phone: 202-427-4814


Now, to the most important part. The menu is below.


House Salad
Our salad mix tossed with a citrus herb Vinaigrette, grape tomatoes, Kalamata olives, hearts of palm and topped with pepita seeds

Classic Caesar Salad
Romaine lettuce tossed with our house-made Caesar dressing and croutons


6oz ATLANTIC SALMON* Served with your choice of Mango Salsa or Lemon Butter sauce

LILY’S CHICKEN Sautéed spinach, goat cheese and artichoke hearts topped with lemon basil butter

PECAN PARMESAN-CRUSTED RAINBOW TROUT Artichoke hearts, fresh basil and lemon butter

VEGETARIAN PASTA Cavatappi pasta, mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, and asparagus tossed in a creamy pesto sauce


Garlic Whipped Potatoes Potatoes Au Gratin
Jasmine Rice French Green Beans

Key Lime Pie with roasted pecan crust
Jen’s Jamaican Coconut Pie Creamy coconut custard, Myer’s Rum sauce and fresh whipped cream
Macadamia Nut Brownie Flourless brownie, raspberry sauce, vanilla ice cream, sprinkled with macadamia nuts

I hope to see everyone at this festive event. Happy holidays!

John Halverson, Ph.D., President
Potomac Chapter

And Then Party with Greater Alexandria

I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving holiday! No doubt you exhausted yourself with food, family, and turkey-related fun, but take a nap and get some rest, because the season is just getting underway!

You won’t want to miss the second annual Greater Alexandria Chapter holiday party, scheduled for Saturday, December 15, beginning at 6:00pm, at the lovely home of Bonnie O’Day and Robert Hart. There will be hot food provided by a caterer, so a contribution of $20 is requested. Financial assistance is available upon request – no one should miss this party because they do not have the fiscal resources.

The address of the O’Day/Hart home is:

4005 Ellicott St.
Alexandria, VA 22304

Bring your holiday cheer, your elf shoes, reindeer noses, and bring a friend! Bring two friends! Feel free to bring your favorite holiday beverage as well.

Please RSVP by December 11 to Bonnie O’day at so that we can give the caterer a head count.

I look forward to seeing all of you there!

Brian R. Miller, Ph.D.
Greater Alexandria Chapter

The Greater Alexandria Chapter Plays A Role in Community Action That Advances the Blind Agenda
By Jeremy Grandstaff

On October 25, the Greater Alexandria Chapter adopted its official strategic plan which included a reaffirmed commitment to engaging in direct action to make our community safer for blind people. This is a continuation of the chapter’s already started efforts in the past years and has the potential to raise our level of credibility within the city.

In fact, our members have already been playing key roles in advocating for safer streets for people who bike and walk. Two members of the chapter sit on the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee and have been vocal in advocating for the city to pass a Vision Zero Policy and Complete Streets policy. Vision Zero is a public commitment from the city that no lost lives or people injured are ever an acceptable result of a traffic crash. Complete streets ensure that when the city makes transportation-related decisions, they will ensure that streets are designed for all users. Together, these policies create a priority that pedestrians, blind people, are protected and assured safer and more accessible paths while walking.

In addition to representing the blind community on city committees, NFBV Greater Alexandria also played a key role in helping launch a new advocacy organization in July 2017 committed to telling the impactful stories of people who have been crashed into by a car. Alexandria’s Families for Safe Streets is committed to creating safer places for people to walk to their destinations; and we’re honored to be helping to steer that organization as it tackles its strategy over the coming years. We even showed up to city council to tell the stories of personal injury that resulted from car crashes while walking. Check out the videos on the AFSS Facebook page and see if you can find a member you know that testified.
Whether members take concerns to city council, call the city to report unsafe intersections, or play more key roles in advancing pedestrian advocacy, this helps to raise the credibility of the chapter, as it demonstrates the competence and confidence that blind people bring to steering the city to be safer and more accessible for our community.

The Future of the NFB of Virginia

Editor’s Note: The following remarks were delivered by Tracy Soforenko to the state convention on Sunday, November 11.

Extra Extra Read All About It, Historical news is being Made!

The Newspaper Headline would be NFBV Building on Success

From my high school English class, Newspaper articles tell who, what, how, where, and when.
I will use that model for our conversation on Building Our Future.

Who are We? Now and Tomorrow

We are more diverse than ever. Reflecting the mosaic of the Commonwealth, we are taking steps to ensure we are welcoming.
Where there is singing, there is someone who is horribly off key. It hurts to hear them sing. You have someone in mind.

At the banquet, with our fabulous Federation singers, you probably thought it was me.

Our growing strength comes from that diversity. However, this diversity means you will have more interactions with people who are quite different from you.
Race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, politics, economics and other factors.

In our society today, there are pressures to just connect with the people who are like you. We need to fight that pressure to connect with people who are different from us. If we are going to grow to reach our full potential as a truly inclusive federation family, we need to embrace that diversity.

What 1: Becoming A Member Should Mean Something

I’d like to share my personal story.

After my first meeting, it took multiple calls from Larry Povinelli and other Potomac chapter members to get me to come to a second meeting. Billie Ruth Schlank put me to work at that second meeting.

Then, I was invited to Sandy and John Halverson’s to discuss NFB Philosophy. I had very different views and they were all patient with me.

We must teach them our NFB Philosophy. It is not enough to take their 5 bucks and hope they figure it out on their own. These people will have a different perspective and views on blindness. Accept people where they are. They may not share all our views. They may not do things the way you do them. They may not always use their cane. Here’s the thing though: If we want to grow and be an inclusive community, we need to accept people where they are.

We must implement formal training on our philosophy to help people really understand how we work and how they work the NFB network. Otherwise, we are just a social club.

What 2: Change with Changing Times

I was listening to a couple talking about their experience with a non-profit organization. “People don’t want to join. We held a brunch, had a speaker, and we had the usual people. We even served lox. Why won’t this next generation participate. All they want to do is take.”
Were they talking about millennials? No, it was my parents talking about college students when I was a college student. I walked in and used my best Tevya voice, Tradition! We have always done it that way.
No college student wants to attend a 9:00 AM weekend brunch.
Millennial’s want to participate in hands on programming that is exciting and lets them connect with others. So does everyone else.
People want service projects, training classes, and other ways where people can interact outside of a chapter meeting and get a direct benefit.

What 3: Building on Our Success with Services

Throughout the convention, we have been talking about the connections made through our 2 week Braille Enrichmond for Literacy and Learning (BELL) Academies. This 2 week day camp is very successful, but the day camp model is hard on parents who need to commute long distances for their children. Following the approach used in 7 other states, we will pilot a 1-week residential program in the Summer of 2019. If this is interesting to you, find Sandy Halverson, Beth Sellers or Nancy Yeager.

One year ago, Project RISE was just a concept. Our target was at least 10 students in the Northern Virginia pilot program. By the end of the pilot over the Summer, we had 16 students. Now, we have 32 students in a program that has expanded state wide. We will look to identify new approaches to teach resilience, develop programs with other NFB Career Mentoring programs across the country and activities across the Commonwealth.

How: Working Differently – What we Do is Changing.

The change seems great until the way you have always done it changes.

We need to transform Our chapters.

1. invite them to come leveraging all our resources and contacts
2. Entice them with great programming. No one wants to go to a boring meeting. Change things up.
3. Work Them; by giving everyone a job
4. Love them into our Federation Family by building a valued relationship that helps us retain new people

Virginia Chapter Leadership Institute

We need to build a new generation of chapter and affiliate leaders who are:

1. Trained – Trained in our philosophy
2. Innovate – Able to bring innovation to our chapters
3. Experiment – Willing to experiment and
Supported – Supported by resources across the state
4. Wacky – – These leaders will come back with wacky ideas. Only some will work. We will help each other achieve them.


We can’t be everywhere, but we need to grow our presence west of the Blue Ridge and in other parts of the state.

We need to increase the participation in our great At Large chapter.

Finally, we need to form an At Large Chapter in Spanish. Language should not be a barrier to connecting with positive blind role models and developing your own NFB philosophy.

When – this depends on you?

We will use our board meetings, visits to chapters, and the CLI program to move these ideas forward. The pace of change will be driven by the willingness of our membership to step beyond the comfort zone.

If we want change, we need to be the change. The ideas that move forward will have a champion from our membership.

Join Mr. Off Key in song, We are the champions, no time for losers, cuz we are the Champions … of the World.

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.