Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: Celebrating 70 Years of Advocacy
by Winifred Downing

The California Council of the Blind recently celebrated its 70th anniversary at its fall convention, held October 28-31, 2004 at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott. CCB adopted the above-mentioned theme to honor the 70 years in which it has shared in the development of services for the blind and visually impaired in the state. This year's convention had the largest registration in recent memory -- 294 -- as well as the largest banquet, with more than 230 attending.

In the words of Jeff Thom, CCB president: "The 70th anniversary convention of the California Council of the Blind may have ended on Sunday, October 31, but it will be remembered by all who attended for a long, long time. ... We took the time to celebrate past accomplishments and learn about those who have fought so hard for us, but we also examined ways to make our organization more responsive not only to its members but to all blind and visually impaired Californians. I hope the momentum gained from this incredible gathering will be used to make the California Council of the Blind an even better organization in the years to come. If we all work together, we will certainly accomplish this goal."

On Thursday afternoon, there were workshops on technology and rehabilitation services, a meeting concerning Damar Travel cruises, a Welcome to Los Angeles party, and board meetings by several affiliates. That evening, the CCB board of directors met -- the gathering attended by all who wanted overall knowledge of the business and activities of the state -- followed by a session for public comment and reaction to the information provided. Then folks adjourned to the hospitality room for refreshment and socialization that lasted past midnight.

"Up and at 'em" early Friday morning for meetings of committees and special-interest affiliates: constitution and bylaws, credentials, resolutions, access and transportation, blind students, the Braille Revival League, multicultural concerns, library users, and Citizens with Low Vision. Several of these groups sponsored luncheons featuring speakers or opportunities for members to recount their views, like books they recommend and readers they enjoy.

The first general session was held on Friday afternoon, introduced by an invocation, presentation of the colors, and the Pledge of Allegiance. We heard about the history of the California Council of the Blind from a panel consisting of Catherine Skivers, immediate past president of CCB, whose history precedes even the organization's membership in the NFB; Mitch Pomerantz; and Al Gil. The next panel was "Access Financial Services," with panelists Roger Petersen; Frank Welte, quality assurance analyst on web access at Bank of America; and Joann Mar, project manager, Assistant Vice President, ATM Banking/Distribution Strategies, Wells Fargo Bank. They shared with us the quest for accessible ATMs and the current status of working with a variety of banks to make all components of their services accessible.

The afternoon's final panel concerned the history of the Blind Students of California. Panelists were Eugene Lozano Jr., a member of the CCB board and one of the pioneers of the student group; Margie Donovan, who was active in the group in the 1980s; and Gabe Griffith, the group's current president.

Friday's evening session featured Jeff Thom's report; an address by Chris Gray; and remarks by the neighboring state affiliate presidents in attendance, Cindy Burgett, Washington Council of the Blind; Bob Johnson, Oregon Council of the Blind; and Warren Toyama, Hawaii Association of the Blind. Election of officers and board members followed.

A variety of committees and affiliates met on Saturday morning, including the education committee, alumni of the California School for the Blind, Guide Dog Users of California, and the Committee on the Senior Blind. The California Orientation Center sponsored a luncheon. The afternoon session focused on audio description. It offered us an opportunity to speak our minds in an open forum, and included information presented by the Department of Rehabilitation.

The high point of the convention was Saturday evening's banquet, emceed by Mitch Pomerantz. Scholarship winners were presented with grants totaling some $35,000; winners were drawn in various raffles and drawings; and our neighboring affiliate presidents were re-introduced. The keynote address was presented by Paul Edwards, immediate past president of ACB and president of the Florida Council of the Blind. A distinguished guest at the head table was state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, to whom we presented our Legislator of the Year Award. She called CCB her "Organization of the Year."

After the devotional service on Sunday morning, we had the convention's main business meeting with reports by officers and committee chairs and the presentation of resolutions, all of which were passed. Adjournment came just before 12 o'clock with the promise to meet again in Sacramento in the spring.

Something to YAP About:
Georgia Discovers the Fountain of Youth in Bainbridge
by Penny Zibula and Rita Harrison

(Reprinted with permission from "The GCB Digest," fall 2004.)

The 2004 GCB state convention in Bainbridge saw the inauguration of a new program designed to encourage Georgia middle- and high-school students to get involved with GCB. The Youth Awareness Program (YAP) involved five visually impaired and five sighted students competing individually and in teams as they tested their skills in public speaking, completing research projects, problem solving and communication. The Yappers came from various chapters across Georgia and ranged in age from 13 to 17.

Although neither of us is a member of GCB or any other consumer organization, we managed to find ourselves acting as chaperones and facilitators for YAP from August 5-8. How did this unique situation come about? Well, it began when four members of the STARS Mentoring Program at the Center for the Visually Impaired in Atlanta, including our own mentees, were selected to participate in the first ever YAP event. Our initial intent was to attend the convention in order to cheer our mentees and the other STARS on. It then followed that since we were going to Bainbridge anyway, we were asked to chaperone all four girls. The next thing we knew, we were facilitating the entire competition phase of the program for all 10 Yappers, which turned out to be one of the most rewarding, enjoyable and exhausting experiences of our lives!

The individual aspect of the competition involved each of the teens preparing and presenting a speech to the convention at the YAP-Off on Friday evening. The five students who were blind or visually impaired spoke about their lives, challenges and aspirations. Two of the sighted students told of their experiences as children of visually impaired parents, while the three others related what they had learned through their involvement with GCB members who had had an impact on their lives. All of the presentations were poignant, amusing and well thought out, and we were extremely grateful not to have been charged with the difficult task of judging the speeches and having to select one blind and one sighted winner. Sheenika Campbell, a 17- year-old rising senior from Tucker High School in Atlanta, and one of the STARS mentees, and D.J. Grenevitch, a 14-year-old home-schooled daughter of a blind mother, were declared the winners of the first annual YAP-Off. Sheenika and D.J. will go on to give their presentations to an even larger crowd at the Touch the Future Conference in Augusta in October.

The team competition consisted of 10 tasks which two teams of Yappers had to complete by Saturday evening. Each team was made up of a mix of both blind and sighted Yappers. Rita's team included David Brenner, Patricia Cox, Alicia Morris, Grecia Ramirez (Rita's mentee) and Alexandria Watkins. Penny's team included Sheenika Campbell, D.J. Grenevitch, Abigail Jones, Elizabeth Jones and Ashley Whitley (Penny's mentee). Their assignments included listing eye disorders, their causes and cures, writing an essay on transportation issues and listing all the GCB chapters. The teams also had assignments which required mingling with GCB adults, such as asking members to record a message for Alva (Bubba) Anchors, who was being honored at the banquet, engaging at least 25 GCB members in conversation, finding out to which chapter they belonged and coming up with a sentence about each individual, as well as selling raffle tickets. Other assignments dealt with the teens' impressions of the first YAP event and how it could be improved. The teams requested that they be permitted to present the results of these assignments together. The Yappers were very frank regarding what they liked about the experience and what changes they would like to see. Their comments were honest, fair and constructive.

Each of the assignments was worth 100 points, for a possible total of 1,000. We had requested that the teams make their presentations before Saturday's banquet, so that the teens could enjoy some well-deserved down time. That way, the judges had plenty of time to reach a decision. However, Saturday night became Sunday morning, and still no word. Finally, at the start of Sunday's general session, the judges threw in the towel and declared it a tie. Both teams completed all the assignments, each had full participation from its members, and each team made an impressive presentation to the judges. Even though Penny's team encountered a techno- tragedy when Ashley's files mysteriously disappeared from her Voice Note at the last minute, the team came through with all members pitching in and reciting everything they had compiled on the recalcitrant piece of equipment.

The Yappers worked hard all weekend, so Saturday night was strictly their time to have fun. Some of the teens swam and splashed in the hotel pool under the watchful eye of Becca Bartels, a certified lifeguard, while others watched TV, listened to CDs and hung out with friends. We gave them the luxury of sleeping in until 8:30 on Sunday morning.

During the convention, we functioned at a hectic pace, making sure that the Yappers were where they were supposed to be when they were supposed to be there, providing encouragement and assistance as they worked on their team assignments and generally keeping track of them. It was not until Saturday evening when we, too, had some time to relax and catch our breath that we really became aware of what had been happening for the past three days. We saw 10 youngsters from different backgrounds and areas of the state join together to accomplish something truly wonderful -- the birth of YAP. We watched strangers become friends, support and look out for each other and work together to achieve their goals. Even though the teams were determined to earn the maximum 1,000 points, each team was also rooting for the other. The Yappers showed themselves to be caring, intelligent and gregarious young people who, by their very presence, added a new and refreshing dimension to the weekend. We cannot count the number of GCB members who told us how much they enjoyed the teens and what wonderful young people they all were. Of course, we had to agree. After all, they gave us no trouble and were a pleasure to be around. We developed an even greater appreciation of the teens we knew and delighted in getting to know the others. What made the weekend even more special, if such a thing was possible, was when the Yappers told us we were "cool." Coming from adolescents, there is no higher praise!

Having lived through our own teen years with visual impairments, we realize that being a part of a program like YAP might have made our adolescence less intimidating and more productive. The changes that all teens go through on their way to adulthood can be even more confusing and frightening to someone with a disability. Blindness or visual impairment compounds already existing feelings of isolation and inadequacy. GCB's YAP gives youngsters with vision impairments an opportunity to interact and learn from positive, successful role models which are a critical element in elevating the self-esteem of these teens. For their part, the Yappers can bring new energy and perspective to GCB and insure its future as a viable consumer organization. To us, GCB and YAP are a definite win-win situation.

Thanks to Jim Sparks and Ann Sims, as well as countless others, for making us welcome at the convention, giving us guidance and providing us with a safe haven in which to vent when we needed it. Thanks to GCB and all the Yappers, we had an amazing experience that will not be soon forgotten. The Youth Awareness Program is a golden opportunity to involve young people in GCB and give them a sense of belonging in an organization that makes a difference in the lives of people who are blind and visually impaired. It is our fervent hope that GCB will support and nurture YAP, so that it can grow into a stronger and even more dynamic aspect of the affiliate. In embracing these 10 outstanding Yappers at this year's convention, GCB embraced its future.

E-mail this page to a friend

Printer-Friendly Version

Previous Article

Next Article

Return to Table of Contents

Return to the Braille Forum Index