The Vigilant: May/June 2019

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

Joe Orozco, Editor

From the President’s Desk

Our national convention is fast approaching and the convention agenda is really impressive. We hope you are planning to join us at our national family reunion.

Virginia Caucus

If you have had the opportunity to glance at the agenda, you know that we have a packed week planned. However, I want to bring your attention to an annual event.

Please plan to join us at the Virginia Caucus on Monday, July 8 at 10:00 PM in Tradewinds D.

Come meet our McDonald Fellowship and Jernigan Scholarship finalists as well as our National Scholarship finalists. Participate in our banquet exchange. Learn about the happenings across our various affiliate programs and enjoy fellowship with other Virginians and guests from across the country

Visit the Presidential Suite at National Convention

On behalf of President Riccobono, I want everyone to know that they are welcome and encouraged to visit the Presidential Suite during our national convention. While the room number is not yet listed, please make certain to visit the suite where you will find snacks, leaders from across the country and sometimes president Riccobono. If you would like to schedule a time to meet with President Riccobono, please contact the suite and request an appointment. Due to the hotel security, you will need someone to help you get to the floor where the Presidential Suite is located. There will be people assigned to work the elevator to help people get to the suite. For example, I am working the suite on Sunday, July 7 from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM. I would be glad to escort you to the suite and help you get a snack. However, there will be defined team members who will be assisting our members to the suite throughout convention. Make us work and visit the Presidential Suite.

Membership Coins

I have just received the Virginia affiliates order of special NFB Member Coins. We will be holding a special event in Virginia to honor our members and distribute the coins at our state convention. This decision, made at our May board meeting, might mean that you might not have a coin if challenged at national convention. We will have a few coins at the Virginia Caucus to pass around but we want to make receiving the coins meaningful.

Fundraising at the Virginia Table

Earl Everett is organizing our Virginia Table in the exhibit hall. The table is D2. We need your help working at the table and helping to sell our exciting products.

  • NFB Coin Holders – As I am certain you have heard, all NFB members will be receiving a new NFB Member Coin in 2019. This year, we will be selling special coin holders so you can attach your coin to a necklace or key chain and wear your coin proudly. The coin holders, made of stainless steel, are custom made and specifically sized for the NFB Member Coin.
  • Virginia Peanuts
  • Maxell Ear Buds using a 3.5-millimeter connector

However, to sell these products, we need people actively selling our products in the hallways and at the Virginia table. To sign up for a shift, please contact Earl Everett,,, (804) 252-8998.

Earl has asked people to provide your preferred times by June 24.

New Website

We are working hard to revamp with a new design a new content. The new site uses a new technology platform which will allow us to expand our web presence and leverage new tools. We hope to use the web site for new web forms and more exciting web content. Our goal is to have a fully built out web site as we start to market our state convention in August. We will be eager for your feedback and are grateful for the collaboration between Communication Committee Chair Sarah Patnaude, Joe Orozco and Cathy Schroeder. Please thank them for this good work and feel free to share your suggestions.

August 17 NFB Board of Directors Meeting in Arlington

As agreed at our May 2019 board meeting, our Summer Board of Directors meeting will be held during the afternoon of Saturday, August 17 in Arlington. While the meeting will include a focus on planning our state convention, we will be joined by a national leader. It is important for our members to connect with our national leadership so we want you to plan to attend. Concurrent to our board of directors meeting, there will be sessions next door for the students attending the Southeast Regional Student Seminar. If people wish to stay overnight, we will have a negotiated room rate with the hotel. More details to follow shortly.

We are quickly approaching the peak season of our work in the Federation. Please do not feel left out. Reach out and talk to your chapter leadership, or talk to me. You should always feel welcomed and needed. There is plenty of work for all.

I very much look forward to seeing some of you in Las Vegas. I look forward to seeing others in Northern Virginia in August. Please know I am very grateful for what you do. Thank you for working alongside us in building the Federation.

Sincerely yours,

Tracy Soforenko, President
National Federation of the Blind of Virginia

This Month’s Words of Inspiration

“Let the word go out from this place and this moment that the torch has been passed to a new generation of blind Americans, a generation born in this century and fully belonging to it, a generation committed to the belief that all men (seeing or blind) are capable of independence and self-direction, of attaining equality and pursuing happiness in their own way, of serving each other and helping themselves of walking alone and marching together.”–President Kenneth Jernigan, 1968 Banquet: Milestones and Millstones

Year 2: Reflections on RISE
By Kathryn Webster

Our second year of Project RISE was a resounding success! During the 2018-2019 academic year, 32 students from across the Commonwealth joined us in confidence building, personal and professional development, mentorship, and constant engagement. We continued the program in Northern Virginia initiated last year, with monthly Saturday sessions where students led and participated in activities, including cooking, arts and crafts, independent travel, and sports. We also executed quarterly weekend sessions, where our Northern Virginia students were joined by students from Richmond, Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, Charlottesville, and Williamsburg. Even more exciting, our Virginia RISE participants got a special opportunity to learn and grow alongside transition-aged students in Mississippi and Nebraska by way of our National Mentor Program.

From day 1 to the culmination, we witness our Project RISE students developing newfound skills and confidence in their comfort with blindness and career readiness. Moreover, we are thrilled to welcome several of our students into our local NFB chapters and the Virginia Association of Blind Students (VABS), and thus our greater movement. In fact, five of our Project RISE students were elected to the VABS board this year. Our members welcome the Project RISE students into our Federation family with open arms, and our state leaders admire their initiative, ambition, and fresh perspective as we work to build our affiliate.

This year’s success would not have been possible without the patience, dedication to youth, and hard work of our mentors: Joe Orozco, John Bailey, Evelyn Valdez, Marc Canamaso, Jeremy Grandstaff, Jimmy Morris, and Sarah Patnaude! We deeply appreciate all of our volunteers across the state, who offered their time, resources, energy, and assistance during our programming. Overall, the success is evident and we are enthused to dive into year 3 as we challenge misconceptions, break down barriers, and invigorate our youth to make the impossible…possible.

As we gear up for another year of Project RISE, we continue leaning on our members and leaders for shared resources and knowledge. If you are interested in mentoring, volunteering, or providing ideas or suggestions to our programs, please contact us at Mentor applications are open from June 15 to July 15, 2019, with student applications already being accepted. Let’s transform dreams into reality; and let’s start with our Virginia youth!

Project RISE: From Low Expectations to High Impacts
By Lizzy Schoen

Resilience, Independence, Self-Advocacy, Employment: that is what the RISE in Project RISE stands for. Going into the program, I had low expectations; everything I had done so far had not prepared me for what I got. The power of Project RISE is not in the curriculum, though it is extremely beneficial, it is in the people who you meet and the lives the mentors are willing to share with you and teach you to attain.

From a young age, a blind person is taught two universal truths that, though probably not said out loud, are said by actions:

  • Your blindness is something to be ashamed of and
  • We don’t have faith in your ability to succeed.

These messages were things I latched onto and I still find myself fighting them. With these messages in my head, I still worked hard. I did my school work and participated in extracurricular activities and when I was told an accommodation was unreasonable, it didn’t happen whether my grades suffered or not. I smiled, waved, never showed that I was suffering from the pressure of being perfect and normal and not blind anything but blind.

That lack of acceptance was growing and becoming more of an issue now that I wanted to be independent. I wanted to take the bus, but I couldn’t see the bus numbers, and from the times of 8am to 7pm I couldn’t travel outside alone. Then, right when my frustration was beginning to boil to the surface and my friends got their driver’s license: I got my cane.

Well… I got my cane in middle school, but I didn’t use it until Project RISE because when I got there I saw adults who went to school and lived alone and had office jobs. I learned that Braille might be, something to pursue and I met some of the most influential people in my life today.

The mentors helped me realize that what I was thinking wasn’t productive or healthy. They helped me realize just because I could see minimally doesn’t mean I could see well, or I should act like I can. It has been almost a year since I started using my cane and 6 months since I was elected Vice President of the Virginia Association of Blind Students. I am still learning, I am still growing and still realizing that not everything is my fault.

None of this would have happened without the help of my mentors and friends. People like Kathryn Webster, who has encouraged me and pushed me since day 1. She teaches me that whatever stage you are at you can still pull yourself up by the bootstraps and make it through, both successfully and resiliently. Evelyn Valdez encourages me to be myself and not let anyone push me around. Jeremy Grandstaff and his infectious personality and love of pep-talks that don’t only inflate your ego but help teach problem solving techniques. None of this would have happened without the support of the NFBV, and with the support of thousands of blind people I know that my future may not be certain, but it is bright.

First Annual Amy Barns Scholarship Recipient

The Winchester chapter is pleased to announce that we have awarded the Amy Barns scholarship in the amount of $600 for a student who is attending Mary Baldwin university in the Shanadoah valley area.

The scholarship committee interviewed the student and she is majoring in public health policy. She is going into her senior year and we wished her well in her future endeavors and to live the life she wants!

Congratulations to the student. She will be joining us at our state convention in November.

Calling All Blind Parents!
By Jessica Reed, Coordinator, NFBV Blind Parents Group

The next blind parents conference call will be held on June 30 at 8:30 PM. Details follow:

Dial: (218) 339-0926.

Pass Code: 2019#

Recently I came across a meme on Facebook that said “Being a parent is hearing a noise at 3:00 am and hoping it’s an intruder and not your kid waking up.” This quote couldn’t be more true! Parenthood can be exhausting, and mentally and physically draining. It taps into one’s reserve they never knew they had. At times parenting is staring uncertainty and fear in the face and plowing it over. It is no secret that the pressure on blind parents is magnified exponentially by both societies assumption that the blind cannot safely raise children and blind parents believing they can, but just not knowing how.

Nationally, as well as on the state level, the NFB is making significant strides in bridging the gap by both educating blind parents with practical alternative techniques related to blind parenting.
Beginning in February, “The Nation’s Blind” podcast has devoted its episodes to blind parents. Those of us with small children know that we just have no time to sit and do a google search or research “How does a blind person feed their child?” A podcast allows for multi-tasking. The most recent episode addresses the alternative techniques on just this issue. They are short 30 minute podcasts where blind parents can receive a number different strategies to help with the very specific alternative techniques blind parents use daily.

On a state level, I highly encourage readers to spread the word in their chapters about the Virginia blind parenting group, which holds monthly conference calls to discuss blind parenting issues specific to our state. This is a brand-new initiative to address and support the blind parents of Virginia. We are working towards holding “How to” events, brainstorming ideas for the legislative committee on finally getting past protection of blind parents in child custody cases, and connecting blind parents with other blind parents in their area. We invite parents, as well as any perspective parents and childcare providers and anyone interested in learning more to join both our Facebook group NFBV BlindParents2, as well as subscribe to our email list. With this fast paced and rapidly changing world the NFB is evolving to meet the need of blind parents and getting out the information that can help in easing the unknown of blind parenting. It is a travesty that in 2019 blind parents have the very real fear of having their children taken from them by child protective workers who simply are not aware of how we as blind parents perform the mundane daily childcare tasks. The resources above also aim to begin a productive conversation between blind parents and social workers, who both want nothing more than safe and loving homes.

Remember, the call is next Sunday, June 30. Dial in using the information above. Hope to talk to you then!

Volunteers Needed for Research Study

Women with Disabilities Needed as Volunteers for
“The Rural Safety and Resilience Study” (The RSRS)

You qualify to participate if:

  • You are at least 21 years old
  • You experienced abuse or violence at least one or more years ago while living outside a major metropolitan area. Abuse includes physical, sexual, or emotional threats to your personal safety
  • You had the disability before the experience of violence
  • Your disability makes a difference in how you see, hear, learn, understand, or move around

This study involves an interview to gather information about women with disabilities who have experienced violence and abuse, while living outside a major metropolitan community. The goal of this research is to learn more about how women with disabilities who have experienced violence learn about, select, and access help when they live outside a major urban area. This research will also highlight strategies women with disabilities use to keep going, or build resilience. Information from interviews will help create awareness of this problem, and will lead to important recommendations for organizations that provide services to other survivors with disabilities.

You will receive a small payment for your time and participation in this study.

Please call or text Kimberly Aguillard (Principal Investigator) at (713) 487-7640 or email her at to learn more. Please write RSRS in the subject line.

* Note: Kimberly will be available at the phone number above during the national convention if eligible participants are willing to be interviewed then.

This research study has the approval of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Institutional Review Board.

Are You Following Someone Else’s Dream?
By Joe Orozco

Too many young people wind up in jobs they hate because they followed someone else’s advice about how to use their talents. You would think that after a certain age we would be capable of making major choices independent of the influence of family, friends, or career guides, but too often we allow someone else’s well-intentioned promptings to steer us in directions we would never have chosen for ourselves.

As a child my father thought I would make a good concert pianist. I love the piano and will one day master it, because it is equal parts challenging and relaxing, but playing the piano is fun for me so long as it remains a hobby.

That’s the first lesson: Learn to separate your passion from your leisure. Your passion usually wants to satisfy others, whereas your leisure only has to satisfy you. I love to write, and one day I hope to publish books to inform and entertain you. Other people may enjoy writing but are content to preserve their thoughts in a journal. I also love music, but I would never want to join a band and tour the world.

Later in my young adult years my friends and teachers thought I would go into the legal profession. I went to a magnet high school for law enforcement and legal professions where I began doing well in mock trial tournaments. At my senior prom I was voted Most Likely to Become an Attorney, and in college I kept up the momentum by competing in speech and debate. I love the art of persuasion, but I confess to having felt intimidated by the sheer volume of lawyers competing for the few positions that could justify the enormous student debt, especially at the height of the recession in 2008.

The first advice I would offer from my own experience is that you should not let the economy rule your passion. Sometimes we can blame circumstances for taking the first offer that presents itself. A single parent, for example, would be less likely to quibble about job satisfaction when the survival of their family depends on their paycheck, but we should never stop setting goals. While today’s excuse for a mediocre job is putting a meal on the table, tomorrow’s excuse may simply be a fear of change. In my case, the legal competition may be fierce, but in a real competition you cannot deprive other people of the freedom to reject you.

The second piece of advice I would offer is that you need to take a holistic view of the career you think you want to enter. My love of debate does not mean I would love a career in law. There are human beings behind every argument, and I was never capable of reconciling my feelings on guilt or innocence after reading Seymour Wishman’s Confessions of a Criminal Lawyer. Anything short of criminal litigation seemed dull to me, but it took many years for me to realize that the reason I still wanted to be a lawyer was to please everyone else’s expectations of what I should be.

How many college graduates are you aware of who studied one field and are now working in another”? I know a lady who studied biology as an undergrad and is now a vocational rehabilitation counselor. I know a guy who studied music and is now working in the health industry. I myself studied public policy and spent several years working in nonprofit development. These inconsistencies speak to a larger question about how we invest our time and money, but for the purposes of the current discussion, did we stray away from our original college interests because those interests were uninformed or because they were never really our interests to start?

Sometimes you can shove your passion into a career path and make it work. For several years grant writing satisfied my drive for persuasion. After all, grant writing is nothing more than a fierce competition for winning money for a cause, but I have long since given up plans to be someone else’s vice-president of development. The point is, managing a store is not the same as owning it. Playing a video game will not get you closer to designing one. Anything less than the job you dream is just a wish.

Dr. Daniel Levitin, a neurologist, once wrote that it takes a combined 10,000 hours to master a task. If what he says is true, then it would take you 250 work weeks to master a task. Do you really want to spend almost five years practicing to become great at something you’re not emotionally invested in?

Learn to take command of your own future. Just because you enjoyed shooting hoops in high school does not mean you need to carry the game into professional sports. Just because a teacher complemented your drawing does not mean you have to be the next Picasso. You were born with a certain set of talents to help the world, but when you come home, you need something else to help recharge your spirit.

Are you pursuing your own passion? If you caught yourself just in time, where were you previously using your energy, and what made you make the switch? Whatever else you may take away from this post, remember life is too short and expensive to harvest someone else’s dream. It’s never too late to make a change.

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.