Greetings, fellow Federationists. Today is Thursday, January 2, 2020 and this is Presidential Release Number 490. Happy New Year to all of my Federation family across the country. I hope everybody had a great, successful, safe set of holidays and rang in the New Year with style. I know I am ready for a fantastic year with all of the wonderful things ahead of us and we brought in the New Year in really great style in December. We had a number of great events here. I talked about some of those on the last release. They were coming up at that time. We opened up our new space and we had some holiday gatherings and some gatherings also with the family, so I'm ready for a fantastic 2020 and it’s coming up very fast.
We got World Braille Day coming up in just two days, but after that our Washington Seminar will be here before we know it. This release is my last opportunity to urge you to make your plans for the Washington Seminar. Hopefully you already have by the time you listen to this release. We will have our great gathering and kickoff at 5:00PM on Monday, February 10th. I always look forward to that mid-year gathering of Federationists. It's always one of the highest energy events we have in our organization and we get a ton of work done at the Washington Seminar. This year will be no exception.
I do want to encourage you to come to the Congressional Reception on Tuesday evening of the Washington Seminar if you’re there. And if you’re coming to the Washington Seminar and you have not toured our national office, by somewhat long standing tradition we are again offering a bus that leaves from the Capital Holiday Inn at 8:00 on Monday morning, February 10th, and it will bring you to the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute for a tour. It's a great year to come with our new space opening. I would encourage you to come. It is first come, first serve. We have one bus, so if you want to get on board I would suggest getting there early, but I’d love for you to come visit our national office and check out some of the new stuff, as well as some of the stuff that we have had in place for a while.
If you have questions about the Washington Seminar your affiliate needs a little assistance in planning or would like to do a little additional, extra preparation for tackling the seminar issues, I encourage you to call John Pare. He can be reached at extension 2218. You’ll know that our number is (410) 659-9314, or you can send him an e-mail at JPare@NFB.org. If you need some support in planning for the Washington Seminar, call John Para. He’ll help you out or connect you with another member of the team who can get you what you need.
I should mention on this release that we do have the issues for our 2020 Washington Seminar where we will be bringing the 2020 view on blindness to Congress. Our three issues this year will be, number one, the Access, Technology, Affordability Act, which of course, you’ll be familiar with. Number two is our GAIN Act; that’s Greater Access and Information through Nonvisual Access Technology Act. That’s our number two issue. And our number three issue this year will be the Access to Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act; AIM High we like to call it and as a matter of fact, our AIM High legislation got a boost in December. We had a bill already in the House of Representatives, but in the United States Senate Senator Warren about the middle of the month introduced S3095, so we now have a Bill in each of the branches there, so we have amongst those three issues five Bill numbers to talk about and chase during the Washington Seminar. Our fact sheets will be available the week of January 6th, so next week you can look for those, get up on the issues, and even if you’re not coming to the Washington Seminar you can still help reinforce the messaging by calling about our issues and urging your representatives and senators to support the priorities of the organized blind movement. I look forward to being with many of you at our Washington Seminar.
I look forward to being with more of you at our 2020 National Convention and it’s not too early to start planning. In fact, many people jumped on the telephones yesterday and started making their room reservations for our headquarters hotel. Now, we haven’t been to Houston since 1971 and so I know a number of people are looking forward to being in Houston for the Convention. I'm certain that our President in Texas, Norma Crosby, is looking forward to it. She assures me that this will be our biggest and best National Convention and I believe Norma. I'm looking forward to it. You should think about making your reservation soon for the Hilton America’s Houston Hotel, which is located at 1600 Lamar Street in Houston, Texas; 77010 is the zip code. You can make your room reservations now. They opened up yesterday. The Hilton Americas is a great hotel. It's smack dab in the middle of downtown Houston. It's across from the convention center. A lot of people have asked whether we’re using the convention center. We do not have any meetings planned in the convention center. It will all be in the Hilton. At least at the moment we don’t. If we really get to be the biggest, biggest, biggest convention ever we might have to think about it. The Hilton Americas is across the street from a beautiful, 12-acre Discovery Green Park, so some nice open spaces there and you will find a lot of interest in downtown Houston and in many of the surrounding neighborhoods.
In contrast to our 2019 Convention, which was great, but was very, very, very, very, very spread out, the 2020 Convention hotel has ballrooms, breakout spaces, and sleeping rooms all stacked neatly on one city square block, so you’ll find it much more streamlined in terms of where you need to go and in terms of navigation. So I think you’re going to like us being in this hotel. It's probably the most streamlined setup we’ve had maybe in a decade, because even the Orlando hotels were very spread out compared to the Hilton Americas. You’re going to love it and in addition to the dining available at the Hilton Americas there is a ton of awesome dining in Houston right outside the doors and I guarantee you you will eat well in Houston.
The Hilton Americas’ room rate includes in-room internet, which is complimentary, as well as a fitness center and pool on the 23rd floor of the hotel. There is many other amenities. You can read about the hotel and also our overflow hotel, which is the Marriott, which if you prefer that it’s just three blocks away or across the park, or you can actually walk through the convention center indoors, so you can check out the Marriott, but if you want to be right in the center of the action, as close as possible, I encourage you to be at the Hilton and you should make your room reservations as soon as possible before rooms run out in the Hilton. The Convention room rate for 2020 at the Hilton Americas is $105.00 per night for singles, doubles, triples, and quads. In addition, the sales tax rate is 8.25 percent, and the hotel occupancy tax rate is 17 percent. You can book your room at the Hilton by calling 1-800-236-2905; that number again, 1-800-236-2905. Again, you can find all of this information in the Braille Monitor for December of last year. When you call to book your room the hotel will take a deposit of the first night’s room charge and taxes and will require a credit card or a personal check, and you can consult the Braille Monitor for the details on what happens if you have to somehow withdraw your reservation and after which date the money is not refundable and all of that, so consult the Monitor, but most importantly, come be with me in Houston for our best Convention ever.
A final note to chapters: We do want door prizes for our Houston Convention. The NFB of Texas would be pleased to receive them in advance if you want to send them. I'm going to be interested to see maybe which chapter can send the most interesting, innovative, coolest door prize to our 2020 Convention. We are seeking door prizes for the general session, so please send them along to our NFB of Texas affiliate or bring them to the Convention. Let’s have our best Convention yet.
As long as we’re looking ahead at things happening in the Federation year, I got to thinking, as I have now on many of these January releases about our goals and priorities for this year and it will come as no surprise to you that I felt like our goals and priorities are still very much in line with our strategic plan, which we published in the Monitor at the beginning of last year. You’ll remember that those goals organized around some pillars, principally membership, education, and employment, advocacy, and outreach. I'm not going to go through all of the various things in our strategic plan and all of those areas, and what we’ve achieved in the last year, and what we still have yet to do, but I wanted to call your attention to at least two important things that I think really speak to the work that happens at all levels of our organization and why the dynamic organization we have and the relationship between the levels is so important.
Threaded throughout each of those pillars and priorities is our work to educate the public about blindness. It continues to be one of the most important things that we do on a daily basis and we’ve made some great laws. We’ve created some great regulations. We’ve helped to change technology, but public education and creating awareness about the capacity of blind people, sharing our 2020 view on blindness, is really the most important and powerful thing that we do on a daily basis, helping people understand what we do about the capacity of blind people.
Now, of course, that means we need to start by making sure that we really believe, in our heads and our hearts the understanding about blindness that’s found in the Federation philosophy. So as we start 2020 I encourage our chapters to redouble your efforts in talking about the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind, what it means, how we implement it, how we continue to evolve it, and how we grow into it. As blind people I think it’s hard for us to explain in a real way to the general public the capacity of blind people if we don’t believe it for ourselves, if we haven’t made the effort to really explore it and make it actionable in our own lives.
It seems appropriate also to encourage our chapters to continue to find innovative ways to engage the general public in having that understanding about blindness and we need to find ways to share those innovative ideas across chapters. So I would encourage each of our chapters to find something you’re doing and figure out a way to share it with other chapters across the country, whether it’s on the Chapter President’s List Serve, or writing an article for the Braille Monitor, or holding a conference call, or all of the above, or something else. We need to continue to find ways to innovate and share those innovations across chapters, across affiliates so that we can all be better from the work that we do together.
The second thing that comes to mind, and it really also is embedded in each of these four pillar areas is our effort to gather enough resources together to build our capacity and a big part of that is raising money. We simply could not do the things that we do and have the effectiveness that we have without raising dollars and it starts with the dollars that we put in as individual members to support the work of the organization. I’ve been mentioning on these Presidential Releases our Dream Maker Circle, which is a future commitment to make a contribution to the national organization upon your death and that can take many forms, but then there’s the current way to contribute, which is what we call our Pre-Authorized Contribution Program, or the PAC Plan. That program allows you to make a monthly contribution and I have heard from many people over the past year, who have been contributing to the program since its very beginning, and that means their $5.00, $10.00 a month or whatever it has grown to be, their monthly contribution has added up over time to allow us to have the flexibility with those dollars to be in all of the places we need to for blind people. When your Chapter goes out and raises money for the National Federation of the Blind, to support our mission, and makes contributions to the state affiliate supporting the state-level organization and the state-level organization takes some of those dollars and contributes it to the national organization. Those dollars, when they reach the national level, are much more effectively used to build the movement, because every dollar that comes to our national organization impacts so many more people than it does at the local level. So when you’re thinking about what you’re going to do as a Chapter for fundraising this year I encourage you to remember that those dollars, when they come to the national organization, have a huge impact, probably bigger than, well, really any of us recognizes.
What are some of the things we do with those dollars at the national level? I get that question a lot. It seems obvious to me, but maybe it’s not obvious to folks that aren’t thinking about it every day like I do. Well, the first is those dollars allow us to coordinate the work that we do across the country, whether it’s putting together the logistics for our Washington Seminar, helping to plan meetings on the Hill, being on the Hill, not just during Washington Seminar, but every other week of the year to make sure that when blindness comes up the name National Federation of the Blind is in front of the policy and decision makers, and our priorities and perspective are at the table.
We put together a lot of resources for advocacy that are used in our affiliates and we provide a lot of technical assistance. All of that takes the resources of staff, documents that we put together, research, and the dollars that get put into the national treasury help make that happen.
There’s a lot of other information sharing that happens. Of course, our website, which is increasingly more complex and dynamic. We’re coming up to having 80 years’ worth of material on our website and keeping it fresh, organizing it in a way that it can be found, integrating the latest web tools, supporting that with our connections database, publishing the Braille Monitor, our podcast, the tool kits that we put online and distribute in hard copy, all of those things take dollars and the best dollars come from the local level when you go out and raise them and acknowledge how important it is that we’re part of this movement together by making contributions through the affiliate to the national organization.
At the national level we put together a lot of capacity building tools that we scale across the organization, so we make available in print and Braille, brochures that Chapters can get to use in public outreach efforts. We’re putting together a project this year to support every affiliate website to make sure that the local presence is fresh, up-to-date, and on point with our brand. Late last year we put some infrastructure together to allow every affiliate that wants to stream its Convention to do so on a common platform. The list goes on and on of things that we do. We support each of our affiliates in the financial management of the affiliate, making sure that the right state filings get made and that the financial records are in good order so that when the Treasurer shows up to the state Convention to give a report you can have the confidence that that report also reflects the support of the national organization in terms of making sure that the numbers are right and things are coded in a way that they can be accurately reported. And there’s dozens of other things that happen in the background. Well, for that matter, the recording of this Release is made possible from those dollars that have been sent here to this office. We have a lot of expertise that we put together and so when you have a question about blindness we have a way of answering it or at least getting you to the right resource. That’s made possible from the dollars that you help to send to our national organization. And then just the broad resource network we have. You all are doing great work to assist blind people at the local level, but you come across things that you’re not familiar with or you have questions about and you can call upon our national office team and you also can take advantage of, to help build connections locally, free programs we offer, like the free White Cane Program, or the Slate and Stylus free Slate and Stylus Program, putting real tools in the hands of blind people, they’re free to the blind people. We had to pay for them. We had to pay to ship them, to package them, to do the work on the technology side for the database. All of that take efforts and we make that happen through the dollars that are contributed to our national organization.
So when we think about our goals for 2020 we need to remember that it’s these two underlying elements that help us get to those goals and achieve those goals along with the individual effort that each and every one of you makes at the local level, at the affiliate level, and at the national level to fuel our organization. We are volunteer driven. The majority of our work is done by volunteers. Our best work is done by volunteers, because even our paid staff spend considerable time volunteering as members of our organization.
The dollars that are contributed to the national level, especially by members are critical as well for another reason. When we go out and we talk to people who are not in the center of the organization, they’re not members, about supporting our work they look at two factors. One, how are you spending your money, and we do spend our money and we write about it all of the time. We save money where we can and our investments, like many others last year, had a great year, so we do save money, but we also spend a lot of money on programs and our financial reports, if you look at them, we don’t spend money on hiring high-paid fundraising groups to go out and raise money for us. We spend our money on program to change the landscape in America for blind people, to create opportunities.
The second thing that people look at is how many of your own members, your own board members, your own staff are contributing to the organization, and hands down, we have great news to report there all of the time, not just the PAC Plan, but many other avenues we have for contributing to the organization and that’s why a lot of folks who are not close to our organization love to give to us, because they recognize that our own members feel so strongly about it and recognize that the work is so important that they’re contributing their dollars and many of you who are out there listening to this, who are contributing, don’t have a lot of dollars to give and so we treat every dollar with respect and that our donors recognize that those dollars come from members who have a real commitment encourages them to make bigger contributions. All of that allows us to pursue our public education efforts, not just talking to people, which we can do for free, but the more dynamic things that allow us to expand our reach so that when you come across somebody in the local community you’re reinforcing a message that we’ve delivered somewhere else.
That’s what comes to mind for me when I think about our goals for 2020. I hope that your Chapter is developing goals consistent with supporting our national organization, supporting the work in our state affiliate. We’re successful because we align at all levels around our priorities and so I would encourage you to consider what you’re going to do in the Chapter this year, how you’re going to share some of your innovative ideas, and how we together are going to achieve not just our legislative priorities, but also our program and public education priorities.
Well, since I mentioned them earlier I should mention again our Dream Maker Circle and welcome to our Dream Maker Circle Diane McGeorge of Colorado. We just opened the Diane and Ray McGeorge Living Room here last month, so thanks to Diane for continuing her commitment by being part of our Dream Maker Circle. In the last month we also added John and Heather Fritz of Wisconsin, and Susie Stansel from Kansas. Thank you for being the newest members of our Dream Maker Circle. If you have questions about the Dream Maker Circle, please reach out to Patti Chang here at the national office, extension 2422.
Also, we, in June, finished up acknowledging all of the Chapters and affiliates who were contributing to the PAC Plan, but we had some new ones join, so I'm going to quickly acknowledge the Chapters and affiliates that joined since the June release was made and thank you to each and every one of you and your local Chapters that are contributing to the PAC Plan. Again, it gives us those dollars. They’re not tied to any particular restrictions, allows us to do what we need to as an organization. Thank you to the National Federation of the Blind of Arkansas At Large Chapter, the National Federation of the Blind of California Central Valley Chapter, and the Inland Empire Chapter, to the National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut Southwest Chapter, the National Federation of the Blind of Indiana Indianapolis Chapter, the National Federation of the Blind of Kansas Johnson County Chapter, the National Federation of the Blind of North Carolina Coastal Carolina Chapter, the NFB of South Carolina to the Spartanburg Chapter, the National Federation of the Blind of Tennessee Memphis Chapter, the NFB of Texas Dallas Chapter, and finally, to the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin. Thank you to each of you for joining up new on the PAC Program since June of last year.
Finally, I do have a few Federation family notes to share with you here to start off the year. We lost a number of Federationists during the month of December that I would ask you keep in your thoughts and prayers as well as their families. Ronza Offman from Maryland reports that Randy Green, a member of the NFB of Maryland Sligo Creek and National Harbor Chapters, passed away after a long illness. Donna Sexton of California passed away in late December. Many of Donna’s children continue to be active members of the National Federation of the Blind. You may know Brooke, or B.J., or Amber, or David and I urge you to keep them in your thoughts and prayers. Kyle Kiper from Arkansas reports the passing of Joe Sexson, a law enforcement professional and Emergency Medical Technician. Joe was somebody who sacrificed through his work. He made the commitment to go to the salvage and recovery efforts after the terrorist bombing on 9/11 at Ground Zero and it was after that that he went blind and ended up with many of the health conditions and now passing away that resulted from being exposed to being in the Ground Zero environment. Joe was just one of many fallen heroes that have had this experience, but he is a member of the Federation family and we lost him last month, so encourage you to keep him and his family in your thoughts and prayers. And while we’re on the topic of those that served with Joe at Ground Zero, I'm sure he would appreciate that as well. Finally, close to the end of the year Harry Gaywith of Idaho passed away. Harry has a long-time member of the Federation. He, for 40-some years, served as the Treasurer of the Idaho affiliate. He believed in the capacity of blind people and took on many tasks around the Federation. If you won a door prize at the National Convention, Harry might have very well delivered it to you. He was a door prize runner for many, many, many years as well, so please keep Harry and all of these others in your thoughts and prayers as well as others that I may not be aware of.
I'm looking forward to a great 2020 and while we’re going to experience some new things this year, get into some new adventures, be at a new convention spot with a new convention hotel, some things stay the same and that’s a good thing. So in honor of staying the same and consistency, let me offer you some of the customary endings to close the January 2020 Presidential Release. Let’s go build the National Federation of the Blind.