[nFBMI-Talk] Inspired By The Words of The NFB

Elizabeth Mohnke lizmohnke at hotmail.com
Fri Dec 28 17:29:03 UTC 2018

Hello All,

I attended the state convention in Virginia after the weekend of the state convention here in Michigan as a means to do something fun and enjoyable for my birthday. While I was there, I heard the state affiliate President give the following Presidential report. As I was listening to it I could not help but wonder how the Michigan affiliate could do more to celebrate the achievements of its members and do more to work collaboratively as a state affiliate. I thought I would post the speech here with the hope that it might inspire others in the same way it inspired me. I hope you enjoy reading it.

Warm regards,

Presidential Report

Editor's Note: The following was delivered to the NFB of Virginia convention on the morning of Saturday, November 10 by our affiliate president, Tracy Soforenko. Here is the text of that inspirational presentation.

Good Morning Virginia Federation family!

The NFB knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future.
Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back.

I love our 1-minute message.

What are the characteristics that define you?

The characteristics that define me are: Husband, Father, Community and synagogue leader, technology geek, Fed, Member of the National Federation of the Blind.

My blindness does not define me.

What are the characteristics that define the NFB of VA?

I would propose there are six characteristics that define our movement in Virginia and around the country: collective Action, respect, courage, full Participation, democracy, and love.

In 2018, we have embodied these characteristics.

Collective Action

At the core of our movement, we come together to achieve results we could not achieve alone.
Here are this year's examples.

Vision Zero - In Alexandria, bob Hartt and Jeremy Grandstaff helped to make a plan for safer streets through the adoption of a vision Zero plan and greater access to public transit.

Williamsburg Housing and Transport - In Williamsburg, the late Elsie Castleman worked with the Mayor to make housing and transit more accessible for blind people.

Meet the Blind - In Fredericksburg, Richmond, Woodbridge, Winchester and Arlington, our meet the blind programs have educated the public about the capabilities of blind people to live full and active lives.

Statewide - At a statewide level, our legislative advocacy, led by Derek Manners, moved our legislative priorities forward:
* ADA Rights - We defeated legislation to weaken the Virginians with Disabilities Act by itemizing all the harm caused by this ill-conceived legislation.
* Blind Parents - We moved forward our legislation to secure greater rights for blind parents. The House committee agreed that there is a problem but we were not able to agree on the remedy. Our partnership of disability advocates was unable to defeat the Virginia Bar and Virginia's most prestigious lobbyist. We have ideas on new ways to advance the fight in the coming years. True change takes time and commitment. We will not be deterred and we will not accept useless band-aids that simply state Don't discriminate. Valuable civil rights legislation requires processes and supports, not just a kind statement. Disabled parents in Virginia deserve rights, not window dressing.
* Education of Blind and Low Vision Students - Throughout the Fall and Winter, Derek Manners and Fred Schroeder partnered with AER (the Association for the Education and rehabilitation of the Blind) to prepare legislation that we all could be proud of. No more fighting between advocates for blind and low vision kids. We stood united. Unfortunately, local jurisdictions recognize that providing an equal education might cost the schools more and fought back. We will look to build broader partnerships in the coming years to improve legislation for Virginia's students.

However, our advocacy for students doesn't stop in the legislature.
* To ensure a quality education, we are committed to helping students and their parents in IEP meetings and in the courts.
* Chincoteague, Ashburn, Clark County, Stafford, Springfield, Chesapeake, Tazewell and Harrisonburg-Sandy Halverson, Nancy Yeager, Chris Walker, Fred Schroeder, and Patrick Johnson have crisscrossed the Commonwealth helping
* We have assisted with legal representation for Maddie Martin to try to secure a quality education in Loudoun County and Kim Pfifer Snow to get access to the PowerSchool educational platform in Chesterfield.
* Blind and low vision students deserve a quality education and we will not settle for less.


We believe in the capability and dignity of blind people and know that society's low expectations are false.

There are at least three women who set high expectations thanks to the support of their Federation family.

Evelyn Valdez fought both society's low expectations, her own doubts, and injuries to run her first Summer Sprint triathlon this July, placing first in her age bracket.

Naomi O'Toole- Chesapeake Bay Chapter member Naomi O'Toole was a participant in the Virginia Beach BELL Academy. Naomi uses braille as part of her academic and extracurricular work including a very stellar vocal talent. Naomi just signed a gospel recording concert where a portion of the funds profit will go to the NFB. Next month, Naomi will bring her talent to the Christian Broadcasting Network's 700 Club.

Jody Silverberg started a new business, Little Herbs Bakery in Fredericksburg. This month, at the Marine Corps University cafeteria in Quantico, you can purchase items from her bakery at Leon Anderson's dining facility.

Our members show that high expectations set within our Federation community can help us achieve greatness.


Fighting for freedom takes perseverance and unwavering commitment.

Today, I am going to highlight some of the challenges faced by blind parents.

I have some yes or No questions where I am seeking a response:

- All successful blind parents have stellar blindness skills?

- Blind parents cannot successfully raise a child with special needs?

- Going away for blindness skills training means you are abandoning your kids?

If you think these are absurd questions, welcome to my world.

Edward Tweed is a blind father in Virginia Beach. Edward's son lived with the mother and had some challenging behavioral issues
. In 2016, The son was moved to live with Edward and his new wife Sheena.
In 2017, after living with Edward and Shena for nine months, Edward's son was removed from their home and placed in foster care. The courts and child protection system were not convinced that disabled parents could address the needs of children with special needs.

In 2018, the City was seeking to terminate Edward's parental rights and put the son up for adoption. We stepped in to provide Edward solid representation and connect him with positive blind role models. Our Chesapeake Bay Chapter has welcomed the Tweeds, offered to help get Edward the mentoring from other blind parents, and ensure that the city respects the rights of blind people to parent. Based on our work together this Summer, the city has suspended its decision to pursue termination of parental rights and added family reunification as its focus.

This is a travesty. Can you imagine 2 years without your child? Edward and his wife Shena are here with us today. By next year, I hope their son is home with them and with us at our next convention.

Asia Hurtado is a newly blind Woodbridge Mom who sought blindness skills training at the VRCBVI. She is also trying to retain custody of her children. Lawyers told her that Virginia courts would view her efforts to leave her kids at home so she could get great blindness training as abandonment of her children. Have you ever heard something so absurd? But, our rights to be parents are not clear and the legal system is not in our favor. Don't believe the doubters.

As you herd this morning, she did attend VRCBVI and has developed strong blindness skills to both work and raise her family. She is making us proud.

Discrimination happens in Virginia. Don't believe the doubters.

In addition to the many resources for blind parents found at blind parents .org, we just established the Virginia Blind Parents List serve as a tool to help blind parents here in VA.

Our federation family grows with new Moms like Jessica Reed, Brittany Ingram, and CJ Fish.

Full Participation

Blind people have the right to live fully and equally in society.

Before highlighting a few of our students, please know that starting something new is really, really hard. Kathryn Webster and Arielle Silverman have invested love, hope and determination to make Project RISE a success.

Our mentors are: Sarah Patnaude, Marc Canamaso, Evelyn Valdez, Jeremy Grandstaff, John Bailey, Derek Manners, and Suzy D'Mello. They have built lasting relationships with our students.
I suspect that when you include this weekend, nearly 100 positive blind role models have volunteered their time to invest in our Project RISE students.

For example, we had a Spanish speaking falls Church high School student who had difficulty with communication and big goals but no idea how to achieve these goals. Through mentoring, he has been transformed. His English Language skill went from pre-K to 6th grade. He now uses his cane, communicates with peers, and had a work experience. Before Project RISE, he dreamed of becoming a baker, but he had never baked. At our first event, he helped bake cookies. By this Summer, he had a job at a bakery.

One of our Stafford High School Graduates would describe himself as timid, genuine and thoughtful but he had difficulty making friends. Through Project RISE, he built lasting friendships and was eager to share his love of music and desire to edit, mix and DJ. He secured a great job at a music store in Culpeper. This experience culminated with and electronic dance music (EDM) show with his friends, colleagues and family.

Both students will be back for year 2.


We are a democratic organization representing the needs of our members.

The NFB was instrumental in ensuring an independent private ability to vote through the Help America Vote Act. Now, we seek to remove additional barriers to voting. In the past month, we partnered with LYFT to provide blind Virginians with vouchers to use this service to get to the polls. Each time a blind person votes, we share in democracy and increase our power as Americans and as a movement. Sarah Patnaude was instrumental on this front in our affiliate.

Our new Chapter Leadership Institute will grow leaders and help invigorate our chapters to put everyone to work in our chapters. We'll talk more about this tomorrow.

Visiting Chapters is an important role of my job. I have visited Chesapeake Bay, Peninsula, Tidewater, Greater Williamsburg, Prince William County, Fairfax, Greater Alexandria, and Potomac. I have some chapters to visit in the coming year, so please tell me as your chapter plans events, especially on weekends. Some chapters are changing the Guard, including: At Large, Winchester, Richmond, Fairfax and perhaps a few others. Change can be good. I look forward to working with the new leadership in these areas.

Through our chapters and the affiliate, we are growing leaders who are more diverse, more engaged, and who represent the interests of all blind and low vision Virginians.


The NFB provides a loving, supportive, and encouraging family that shares in the challenges and triumphs of our blind brothers and sisters. Like you, I joined the NFB because I built relationships. I joined the Federation to be part of this Warm Federation community. Today, many of my mentors and friends are in this room. there are many new people attending their first convention. Take the time to make a new friend and welcome these new members into our Federation family.

Hosting National - At our National Convention, we showed Virginia Hospitality and love as Host Affiliate through the following:
* The Welcome Table organized by Earl Everett
* The Hospitality Suite organized by Nancy Yeager
* The Welcome Concert guided by Kathryn Webster
* The outstanding opening ceremonies where Brian Miller arranged for our Barbershop Connections and my true friend and advisor, Joe Hobson, helped me with my remarks.

So many of you volunteered throughout the convention to show warmth and friendship to all.

Relationships are important in our Federation Family. All of you have made this year possible but I need to highlight a few.

Kathryn Webster led or helped to organize student, youth track, career and parent programming.

Joe Orozco has upped our game through convention operations, the newsletter and the chapter leadership institute.

Sandy Halverson is the best Vice President I could ask for and she tells me when I am full of baloney.

Joe Hobson is my closest counselor and friend.

Mark Roane has been busier this year than any other year in his years as affiliate treasurer. He keeps us in line and ensures our bills are paid. I am exceedingly grateful for his friendship and his fantastic work on behalf of our affiliate. Did I mention everyone in Richmond thinks Mark is our paid lobbyist?

I would not be able to do this role without the fantastic support of my family. Sharon Soforenko has been instrumental throughout the year. She helped with the agenda, the food in the presidential suite, editing, and keeping me grounded. My daughters Jessica and Rebecca are my technical support and they were instrumental in the Project RISE video. My family deals with the constantly ringing phone and my commitment to this work because they know I love our work in this Federation.

Our Federation family is built on fostering lasting relationships between our members based on these 6 characteristics: Collective action, respect, courage, full participation, democracy, and love. These relationships, based on mutual trust, support, and commitment to one another, are the covenant that holds our community together.

As we look back on 2018, our 60th year, it is a time to look at our community and decide collectively who we want to be. We are NFB - a band of brothers and sisters. So, let us now begin our future together, as one family, and as one community. I am proud to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia.

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