Future Reflections        Summer 2013

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Strive for Independence

by Rena Smith

From the Editor: Rena (pronounced Renee) Smith serves as president of the NFB of Nevada. In this article she explains how Nevada hosted a regional conference for blind students.

Rena SmithOn the weekend of March 22-24, 2013, the National Federation of the Blind of Nevada hosted our first regional student seminar. Ron Gardner of Utah suggested the idea when he attended our Nevada state convention as our national representative. For a while Ron and I talked about working on a seminar together. However, he became very busy with activities assigned to him by the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore. By that time I was fully committed to the project, and I made up my mind to move it forward.

The seminar grew out of a year of careful planning. I assembled a committee in Nevada, and we took part in several meetings with staff at the National Center. Members of the Center staff gave us their total support. We also held teleconference meetings with students from Nevada and surrounding states. Darian Smith, our regional coordinator from the National Association of Blind Students (NABS), provided tremendous help.

One day as I was sorting through my email, I discovered a message from NFB President Marc Maurer, letting me know that he would attend the seminar. I was so shocked that I didn't quite believe what I read. I emailed Dr. Maurer and asked him if he was serious. He was, and I felt as though I was in heaven! Dr. Maurer had not been to an NFB event in Nevada since 1997.

As school and personal obligations mounted, many of our Nevada students became less involved in the planning process. Shaetonna Jackson and I wound up carrying most of the responsibility. After countless telephone calls and emails on the listservs, we secured commitments from a set of excellent presenters. We held a series of meetings with the Fortune Inn Hotel to negotiate guest room rates, conference rooms, and a banquet menu.

After all this work was done, we started recruiting students to attend the conference. At that point my stress level really went up. Would students actually come? How many would attend? Our count was low, and of course I stressed and stressed about it--but the show had to go on!

Our opening day, March 22, started with our Meet and Greet event. We served finger foods, soft drinks, coffee, and water. We made new friends and reunited with old ones. Many members enjoyed the opportunity to sit and talk to Dr. and Mrs. Maurer.

Because this seminar was geared to students, we included the following session topics:

The seminar generated a lot of information sharing and led to some positive outcomes. Nevada formed an actual NABS chapter and elected officers. We also formed a POBC division. Nevada is on the move! Did I forget to mention that our seminar was available to people across the country via live streaming?

I hope that student seminars will be held in our region every year. In fact, I have received calls and emails from Arizona, California, and Colorado, expressing an interest in hosting the seminar in 2014. I will enjoy helping any state that wants to coordinate a seminar next year and in the years to come.

It's always helpful to review what worked well and what could have gone better. What would I do differently next time? First, I think I would choose a different venue. Secondly, I would like to see more participation by students from Nevada. I would like to see other states triple the number of students in attendance.

I wish to thank the following presenters: Dr. and Mrs. Marc Maurer, National Federation of the Blind; Natalie Shaheen, NFB Jernigan Institute; Brent Batron and Antonio, Colorado Center for the Blind; Carol Castellano, Parents of Blind Children of New Jersey; Elaine Robertson and Joan Rachmel, Bureau of Services for the Blind of Las Vegas; and Anita Franz, Law and Advocacy, Las Vegas. I also would like to thank all the students from Utah, Arizona, California, Colorado, and Nevada who took part in the seminar, and every parent who attended. Special thanks go to Shaetonna Jackson for all her hard work and for putting up with me and my stress.

Congratulations Nevada!

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