[Nfbc-info] An article from the November Braille Monitor

Darian Smith dsmithnfb at gmail.com
Fri Dec 4 19:51:43 UTC 2015

Hi all,
 I just saw this great article from jeannie Massay and I wanted to share it with you fine folks.
 It also gives a mention to our very own LisaMaria Martinez!
The Foundation of Our Federation

by Jeannie Massay

From the Editor: Jeannie Massay is a member of the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors, the state president of the National Federation of the Blind of Oklahoma, and she works as a Licensed Professional Counselor in her newly established private practice, addressing mental health and behavioral concerns. In this article she writes in her capacity as the chairman of the National Federation of the Blind Membership Committee, and here is what she says:

What did you think of when you read the title of this article? Perhaps you thought of one or more of our leaders in the organized blind movement who have been visibly active over the years. I too think of President Riccobono, Dr. Maurer, Dr. Jernigan, Barbara Pierce, Joanne Wilson, Dianne McGeorge, and countless others. They are all leaders in our movement and have all played and continue to play vital roles in the Federation today. I believe that the most important decision that they all made as blind people was to join and become active members in the National Federation of the Blind. Without that pivotal decision they would not be the people they have become, nor would our beloved organization, which many of us call family, be the leading force in blindness that it is today. 

You may have heard me or others say that the National Federation of the Blind is a membership-driven organization. What exactly does that mean? In simple terms it means that without our members, without you and without me, the National Federation of the Blind would not have the collective voice to drive change in seeking equality in education and employment, the collective action to facilitate changes in legislation that bring about civil rights equality, the power to make sure that blind parents don’t have their children removed solely on the basis of their being blind—I could go on. Without members there would be no Federation. 

Now let me go back to the title of this article—The Foundation of the Federation. When President Riccobono asked me to chair the membership committee, I accepted the challenge and then began thinking back over the years that I have been a part of the Federation. It occurred to me that no one ever really asked me to join. I paid my dues, and that was that. I then began to think about the many individuals I have invited to local chapter meetings or to our affiliate and national conventions. I had an interesting epiphany: I never really asked any of them to join. 

It has become clear to me that, while we are very passionate about what we do, we are not always focused on finding blind people wherever they may be and then bringing them into the family by actively asking them, “Please join us; we need your help.” I know of many blind people in Oklahoma and across the nation who do not yet understand what the Federation can bring to their lives, so we need to help them discover what being a member of the organization can do for them. We are living the lives that we want, and this is why we boldly affirm and must share what we have learned: that blindness is not the characteristic that defines us and that together we must address those obstacles that stand between us and living the lives we want. The Federation found me where I was and took me to where I could believe in myself again. I fervently want this for every blind person. Don’t you? 

At our national convention held in July of this year, the membership committee held a meeting that was exciting! The room was packed. The meeting was dynamic, interesting, and participants left with real examples of how to bring in new members. Six speakers made presentations about what they have done and are doing to bring the positive message of the Federation to blind people and their families and friends. Beyond bringing the message, they explained how they are working on bringing these men and women into the Federation family.

The speakers (listed here in no particular order) were Amy Porterfield from Arizona, Lisamaria Martinez from California, Shawn Callaway from the District of Columbia, Jimmy Boehm from Tennessee, Mary Jo Hartle from Maryland, and Jedi Moerke from Oklahoma. Each speaker enthusiastically came to share his or her secrets about how they are growing our Federation family. 

Lisamaria told us about an event called “Discover You” where NFB of California members spoke about and demonstrated technology, discussed employment, promoted sports and recreation, and shared tips and tricks about being blind parents. The event brought in more than one hundred attendees from all over the Bay area. Members from several chapters came together to telephone every name on any list they could get and to visit agencies who regularly work with blind people. This really paid off. She said, “We partnered with the Lighthouse to use their facility. They also helped out by adding to our list of presenters and by chipping in for the meals.” Another comment was that the California affiliate board’s decision to help members get to the state convention was a tremendous benefit in bringing them to the transformative experience a convention can represent. The NFBCA Board voted to charter buses from different parts of the state to encourage and make financially feasible the opportunity to attend. The newly found members were encouraged to attend a national convention. We all know how important this gathering can be in showing new people the big picture through highlighting all we do, but what is sometimes overlooked is how much stronger we become by spending time together.

The idea of getting new members to attend state affiliate and national conventions seems to be a solid strategy that is shared by many affiliates and for good reason. Amy Porterfield from Arizona spoke about the Membership Recruitment and Engagement Committee for the affiliate. Amy said, “We aim to bring in new members and help find a lasting role for them in an area where they both bring and feel value. We have a very diverse spectrum of members on our committee, including members from each chapter and division. We also include members with a range of experience in the Federation and with a wide range of interests.” In order to bring this concept to all chapters in the affiliate the NFBA Membership Recruitment and Engagement committee developed a traveling road show that visited all local chapters in Arizona. Every meeting included a philosophy/membership training session that allowed new members to learn about us, while encouraging our more established membership to welcome and mentor new members. Amy’s final remark about membership recruitment and engagement was this, “The NFBA affiliate relies heavily on all the branding and messaging that is provided by our national office and board. We find that the one-minute message is a vital element in educating others as well as our other tools. The value statement is foundational and reminds us about why we are spreading the Federation philosophy.” 

Shawn Callaway, president of the National Federation of the Blind of the District of Columbia delivered a similar message. He stressed how important it is that we create opportunities to meet blind people who can use the information we possess about the adjustment to blindness and who have not had the opportunity to meet us and hear our message of hope. The DC Affiliate planned an event in cooperation with the DC Independent Living Council. This event, as did ones mentioned earlier, brought in many new faces. Shawn proudly announced that the DC chapter would soon surpass one hundred dues-paying members. 

Jimmy Boehm, membership chair in the Tennessee affiliate, also spoke passionately on the necessity of finding blind people where they are and bringing the message of the Federation to them. Jimmy and others in the Tennessee affiliate have begun efforts at finding blind college students by organizing a chapter on campus and having official chapter meetings by applying to be a campus-recognized organization. By doing so, the chapter was able to secure funding for members to attend the Tennessee affiliate convention and funding to assist members in attending the national convention this year. 

“Growing our movement requires that we not only meet people where they are, but that we provide them needed information enabling them to move forward on their journeys toward living the lives they want,” said Jedi Moerke, president of the T-Town Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Oklahoma. She went on to describe an event planned and executed by the chapter. “Last October our chapter held a seminar for local vocational rehabilitation consumers. The half-day seminar covered a variety of important topics including the value of blindness training featuring high expectations and an empowering curriculum; a variety of everyday jobs blind people do; the steps to the rehabilitation process; advocacy in the rehabilitation process; and an opportunity to hear from executive agency leadership regarding available services and the direction in which our agency is headed. They heard from real blind people who went to training, got jobs, and are leading fulfilling lives. We expected at least twenty-five participants. We had double that number in our audience! Some participants joined our chapter, and others continue to remain in contact with us. Many attended our most recent state convention.”

No report of our convention meeting would be complete without mentioning the comments of Mary Jo Hartle during her presentation. She is the president of the newly formed chapter in the Greater Baltimore area. Mary Jo said, “Our chapter meets on a weekday evening closer to the area that we live in. We were coming to the National Center for the Blind for the chapter meetings on Saturdays, but it took us over an hour one way to get to the meeting and another to get back home. With kids it just wasn’t making sense for us. We decided to organize a second chapter so that members would have a choice of meeting days, times, and locations. Things have worked out really well. Our chapter is growing, and our original chapter in Baltimore has not diminished in size. This presents a growth opportunity that we need to look into wherever we have chapters in large cities. We can find many more people in this manner.” 

In all of the presentations summarized above, you will note a shared theme: that we must find people where they are. We then love them into the Federation family by educating and helping them to discover that blindness is not what holds them back. They can live the lives they want and we, the members of their new family, are standing beside them every step of the way. We continue the forward momentum of the Federation by finding blind people and asking them to join our family. To help perspective members learn more about us, tell them about our new member homepage at <www.nfb.org/how-join <https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/bm/bm15/bm1510/www.nfb.org/how-join>>, but always remember that no webpage or piece of literature can substitute for the personal contact of a friend, mentor, and Federation family member.

Wherever we find new members to grow the Federation, we must begin and keep the momentum going. Let’s go build the Federation!


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