And Two Shall Become One, by Kathy Brockman

No, this article is not about a wedding. But it is about two organizations that serve people who are blind and visually impaired. In January 2010 the Badger Association of the Blind and Visually Impaired and the Center for Blind and Visually Impaired Children merged into one new organization.

About five years ago I wrote about our new apartment building, which continues to provide quality housing in the Milwaukee area for people who are blind or visually impaired. Now we are going through a process that is similar to a marriage – integrating two organizations into one. In a tight economy, non-profit organizations are being encouraged to merge operations to streamline costs and provide better service in the community. Foundations are showing great interest in funding these projects.

The foundation for this merger was built in 2000 when executive directors from Milwaukee-based organizations that serve people with sensory impairments first began meeting. The original idea was to expand the Badger Association's existing facility to become the home base for this alliance. Although this venture never came to pass, the idea of offering services under one roof remained an attractive concept to many people.

A committee composed of staff, senior leadership and representatives from the board of directors of each organization helped to guide the exploration process. The committee was aided in its yearlong efforts by experienced consultants. After the committee explored potential partnership scenarios, the two organizations' boards of directors ultimately determined a full merger would be the best option.

On Jan. 1, 2010, the new organization began operating under the name of the Badger Association of the Blind and Visually Impaired. Both facilities will continue to operate on separate locations until sufficient funds are raised to renovate a wing of the Badger Association's current facility to accommodate the children's programming.

Currently children up to age six are served on an ongoing basis. As with similar programs these days, many of these children have other disabilities in addition to vision loss. Staff members ably address their unique needs and challenges. Currently research is under way to determine the best practices. I was very impressed when touring the Foundation for Blind Children in Phoenix.

In the past there has been some limited programming for school-age children; we hope to expand this in the future. Many of us did not have access to specialized services until we entered school. With little or no vision, childhood development can be affected. In many cases services extend to families so they can encourage and motivate their visually impaired children to become as independent as possible. Mitch's article on schooling for blind children (August 2010) and ensuing discussions on the ACB listserv went into much more detail on the current trends and challenges we face.

We are excited about the possibilities for children's programs in the future. Some ideas include having children interact with visually impaired adults who have been successful. One possibility may be a grandparent-grandchild relationship. Some members have expressed an interest in working more directly with children. Of course, these ideas and others will be developed by professional staff.

We also hope older students may become interested and become involved in organizations serving people who are blind or visually impaired. Declining membership is a topic most of us have discussed on many occasions.

These organizations believe that their merger will provide great value to the community by providing a central location where children and adults experiencing vision loss and their families can gain access to a wide network of services. Future services for school-age children will help meet the needs of mainstreamed students who are blind or visually impaired. The Badger Association staff and membership look forward to the next chapter in our 90-year history.