Future Reflections         Convention Report 2008

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Our First Convention
Impressions from the Parent Leadership Program Class of 2008

Started three years ago under the auspices of the NFB Affiliate Action department, the Parent Leadership Program (PLP) is thriving. In this program, the NFB provides the funding to provide specialized training over a two-year period to a select group of potential parent leaders who have committed to helping establish or strengthen an NFB-affiliated parents division in their states. The PLP class attends and participates in special workshops at the NFB annual convention in July and the national Washington, D.C., seminar in January. Members of the 2008 PLP class attending the convention were: Cynthia Conley, OH; Alice and Darrold Engel, ND; Nelly Gamino, IL; Esther Huggins, D.C.; Brenda Johnson, MN; Mary Kluczkowski, CA; Brandon Lane and Sarah Sims, ID; Lenora Martin, FL; Claudia Martinez, NM; Trudy Pickrel, MD; Tammy Robar, HI; Carrie Thomson, IA; and Laura Weber, TX. Eleven of the fifteen participants were attending the convention for the first time. Here are some impressions from three of these convention first-timers:

Emilia with her dad, Brandon, at the Braillewriter.Brandon Lane, Idaho:
I cannot begin to explain how much this past week meant to Sarah, our daughters, and me. The experience surpassed my expectations to a degree not imaginable prior to the conference. Simply being around so many blind people who are not in denial and who are empowered to grab what life has to offer was like a breath of fresh air. I believe it was Annee Hartzel who said in her IEP workshop, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions--and low expectations.” I think that sums it up nicely. I have not yet figured out how to gently redirect the misplaced pity or low expectations of those who encounter Emilia (and her cane), but I am now determined to do so at every opportunity. They must come to understand that Emilia and others like her are can-do kids. As you know, there is so much to be done.

Trudy and her son, Brandon, at the 2008 March for Independence. Photo courtesy of Bobby CunninghamTrudy Pickrel, Maryland:
The best thing was meeting other mothers and discovering that they often feel as overwhelmed as I do. And I carried away lots of good literature that I was able to absorb later at a quieter time. But the biggest benefit was that my husband was finally able to get a feel for what our son’s life is like as a blind child, and what it will be like for him as an adult. I must admit that the Parent Leadership Program made me feel almost paralyzed as I realized all that needs to be done. But as a “get-it-done” type of person, I know that the way to deal with overwhelming tasks is to start with one thing at a time, day-by-day. I know I can make a difference, but I realize it is not going to come overnight. I want to go next year to the convention in Detroit, but in the meantime, I am going to focus on what I can do for our local [Maryland] parent group.

Carrie and Lauren Thomson browsing the Braille Book Flea Market.Carrie Thomson, Iowa:
I think the main thing that I will remember about the convention is what Lauren (our daughter) said as we were leaving: “I’m really going to miss all of the tapping canes!” This pretty much summed up the five days that we (our family) were there. The parent meetings were great and informative--the people were wonderful--but we were there for Lauren, and she loved it. As with most of our kids, they don’t know many blind people and to be around so many is just a wonderful experience.

Nelly Gamino, Illinois:
This year I had the opportunity to attend the NFB National Convention in Dallas, Texas. I didn’t know what to expect; I was afraid I would not retain all that I wanted to learn, and at the same time I didn’t even know what I should ask. Alex is six and he goes to a school with an established VI program so we have not experienced many of the struggles that other parents go through to obtain services.  Luckily for me, a fellow Illinois parent contacted me a couple of days before the trip and we planned on meeting the day of our arrival. Beth and her family have gone through much to obtain their services. Listening to her and other parents talk about their experiences made me realize how much there is to do to obtain fair services for all our children. So far we have been lucky, but that’s not a reason to neglect preparing or educating ourselves about what our son and other children need.

Alexander Gamino with his cane at the conventionAttending the convention also helped me become more assertive. We had been told by our school professionals that Alex could have a cane, but he shouldn’t bring it to school. That made sense to me; I mean he has enough vision to get around well enough, right? But attending the convention made me realize that the less he uses his cane now, the less he will want to use it when he gets older; he needs to see the cane as part of himself. We had made it an option not a requirement and therefore he was always forgetting it. After a couple of days at the convention, the first thing he grabbed when we exited the hotel room was his cane. When he started school this Fall, we sent him with the cane. At first he didn’t want to carry it because he had been told last year not to take it to school, but I assured him that there would be no problem. He has been taking his cane to school ever since. 

I came back to Illinois with the full intention of reaching out to other parents, even those who, like me, think that their children’s educational program is working well. Since the convention, I and a team of volunteers have called, mailed, and e-mailed over 350 people in our contact list. It is invigorating to know that we are doing something to motivate parents to open themselves up to the learning opportunities the NFB offers.

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