Thanks to Wells Fargo for hosting its volunteer fair at the Wells Fargo Center at 17th and Broadway yesterday. Wayne Marshall and I represented the Center, and there were over 40 other nonprofits in attendance.
Wells Fargo gives each employee 16 hours a year to be away from their jobs in order to volunteer in the community. The purpose of the fair was to give their employees a chance to learn about nonprofits in the Denver Metro area who could use their time, talent and interest.
And they are serious about volunteering. We learned that there are several volunteer groups, including the Denver group, Diversabilities and Women’s groups.
For Wayne and I it was a chance to pitch our programs serving from youth to seniors to folks who were interested in making a difference in the community and in the lives of others. It was also a great opportunity to do a little networking with other nonprofits!
Kudos to Wells Fargo and its great employee volunteers!
The days are hot, but the mornings increasingly cool, almost chilly, and the hot air stirs in the evening. The sound of those breezes, the sound of the leaves, has changed, though – just another tick toward fall.
So we started up art classes with Ann Cunningham again on Monday afternoons and martial arts with Littleton Martial Arts Academy on Tuesday afternoons.
We still have gardening on Tuesday mornings with the Arapahoe County Master Gardeners – it’s all about harvesting now!
Tuesday mornings we have Seniors and NFB of Colorado President Scott LaBarre is here to chat with them, and to hold a philosophy class with our ITP students.
What else? Alex went on his first independent travel route to Romancing the Bean at the Littleton Downtown Light Rail Station.
“The coffee was good,” he said. But really, he was pretty excited about this first step into independent travel.
And Haylee went out on a support drop. She couldn’t tell us where she and her instructor Steve were left off, but she easily described how she got back. And she was a little mad …
“I wouldn’t have even used my question, except the (RTD light rail) F Line’s announcements weren’t working.”
That competitive streak is also what makes her an 85-pound terror on the goal ball court.
It was a magical evening. May 15 marked the end to a long career at the Colorado Center for the Blind for Tom Anderson. More than 150 people came to send Tom and Linda off to Kansas after 27 years teaching Braille – and several other duties. We fed them, and gave the tribute to Tom and Linda that we felt they deserved. And we did it without electricity.
That Friday was a generally mild spring day. Sure there were sprinkles and rumbling thunder in early afternoon as the Center’s Board of Directors met in our new conference room, but all that passed over us.
The magic came in the form of a power outage around noon, and it didn’t strike us as magical at first. More than 150 people had sent us an RSVP saying they were coming to Tom’s retirement party, and we’d promised them all Tom’s favorite – dinner – a nice Italian sausage sandwich with grilled onions and peppers, along with pasta salad and other sides. The food had to be cooked.
Then there was the matter of the program. We had the gym set up with all the chairs and the sound system. Ah yes, the sound system that would carry the voices of our presenters from one end of the gym over the heads of 150 people to the other end. It didn’t run on batteries, even if we’d had enough DoubleAs to make it carry for over an hour.
What’s more, there wasn’t any light in the gym. We only had so many canes to pass out to our sighted guests … You see the problem.
The first word from Excel Energy was that the power would likely come back on line about 3:30 in the afternoon. That was later revised to 8:50 p.m. It turned out that an entire utility pole had burned up, leaving the Colorado Center for the Blind and 500 other residential and commercial customers without power.
The Colorado Center for the Blind is part of the National Federation of the Blind – the oldest and most effective organization “of” the blind in the history of the human race. We believe in the capacity of blind people, we teach our students to believe in their own capacities and – most significantly – we have faith in our collective capacity as an organization.
So this is a good place to remind everyone of our tag line at the Center: “Take Charge with Confidence and Self-reliance.”
So here’s what we did …
Kimberly and her hand-picked crew of assistants had begun the prep work on Thursday afternoon and started some of the cooking on Friday morning. When the power went out though, there were still dozens of Italian sausages, gallons of pasta for pasta salad and onions and peppers to grill. They switched everything to the two gas stoves. The gas oven didn’t work because the controls are digital, and therefore electric. Our volunteer Madeline ferried The hand-made bacon-wrapped jalapeño poppers to our apartments two miles away to use the ovens there, then brought them back. Everything was kept warm in serving pans heated by sterno to wait for the 5 p.m. serving time. It was a fine meal under any circumstances!
At 4 o’clock, Duncan and another volunteer Mike grabbed canes (I had mine already) and the three of us scurried down the dark stairs to assess the situation in the gym. Mike got an impromptu cane lesson on the way. We propped open all three doors to the outside on the north side of the gym. It was adequate lighting for our sighted guests, and Mike felt he had just enough light to run the video camera on battery – as long as the program didn’t run too long or too late in the evening.
As guests started streaming in before five, they typed up Braille messages to Tom and Linda in the lobby, got a drink and went in to be served in the meeting room. Guests filled the tables in the meeting room and the picnic tables outside. It was a gorgeous evening!
By 6:45 the gym chairs were full and Director Julie Deden kicked it off. Members of our Board of Directors had come from all across the country, as had members of Tom’s family and former students. The program started with a congratulatory speech from special guest Dr. Marc Maurer, Immediate Past President of the National Federation of the Blind, and from Mrs. Patricia Maurer. Dr. Maurer described the framework for the need and success of NFB training centers, including the Colorado Center for the Blind, and the role Tom Anderson has played in our efforts for all of its first 27 years.
“We said that blind people are normal human beings, we said that rehabilitation would help blind people live normal lives, and the California orientation center in 1953 was the first experiment to put this philosophy into practice.”
Dr. Maurer went on to say that in 1958 Dr. Jernigan left California to expand the work in Iowa. When in 1988 Diane opened the doors of the Colorado Center for the Blind she was furthering the Federation’s work of transforming rehabilitation services for the blind.
“A friend of mine who came into the Federation 2 ears after I did came here to be part of the faculty,” Dr. Maurer told the crowd. “Tom has many generous characteristics and on behalf of the Maurers we are proud to be here to congratulate you Tom and to be part of your celebration.”
We played a prerecorded message from NFB President Mark A. Riccobono using a Victor Stream and a battery-powered portable speaker. President Riccobono is a CCB alum and one of Tom’s former students.
Listen to NFB President Mark A. Riccobono’s audio message to Tom:
Our founder, Diane McGeorge and the Center’s first two staff members Duncan Larson and Tom took the stage next and reminisced about those difficult but heady first days of the Center.
“The three of us were the staff when we started the Center,” said Diane, “we had no money but we had a lot of hope and, most important, we had a belief. And we had the support of the entire NFB”
Diane recounted being asked if she ever felt like she was dancing on the deck of a sinking ship in those early, difficult days, Diane said she replied, “I never felt discouraged – I knew we needed the Center with the philosophy the NFB. When the power failed today did the question come up should we cancel – no way, we never cancel anything in the NFB! We’re going to give Tom a send-off he’ll never forget.”
Before the three of them got into stories, Duncan felt compelled to make a comment.
“I was thinking tom,” Duncan said, “that on the day the Center opened there was a blizzard, and now when you’re leaving there’s a power outage.”
As the laughter died down, the Reverend Anderson replied in his booming preacher’s voice, “It just shows that though The power may be out, the power is within us!”
Tom and Linda served as the first residential managers, and Tom taught typing as well as Braille at first. There were of course a number of stories about the early days of the Center and of Tom. There was the first-day blizzard story and the tornado story. Tom told about how he wasn’t thrilled at first about going rock climbing, but that he went anyway because he enjoyed his job. Diane told about Tom and his trumpet.
“If a student didn’t want to get up in the morning,” Diane said, “Tom blew that trumpet!”
“You have brought such patience to your work,” Duncan said. “And you really have helped change hundreds of lives.”
“Tom did everything we ever asked of him,” Diane concluded. “And Linda, God bless you, you have been right beside Tom every step of the way. We love you and we’re going to miss you both!”
Students Salem Rosales, Olivia Aviera and Jessica Rojas came up to sing two songs, Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” and John Lennon’s “Imagine.” They, like everyone else, had planned on a sound system for their voices and playing the instrumental tracks from the sound board. Improvising, one of them played the tracks from her iPhone as they sang. From the fifth row back the melodies and harmonies were virtually a cappella as their voices reverberated through the gym.
Tom introduced his family members who had traveled from afar to attend the event. His sister Susan and twin sister Toni both traveled from Minnesota, and Toni’s daughter Melanie came from Illinois. Tom’s cousins drove down from Longmont, including Mark, Judy, Ann and Helen.
“We’ve been having a little family reunion,” Tom said. “And I’m so glad that my family has been able to get to know my Colorado and national family in the National Federation of the Blind, and that my NFB family has been able to get to know my family.”
CCB Student Association Board officers Jenny Callahan and Ahimsa Wiznieski engaged in a peppery and humorous exchange focusing on the songs Tom has always sung to students in honor of some achievement in his Braille classes.
“I never got a song,” Ahimsa complained.
“You only get a song when you do something ‘g-r-t’ GREAT!” Jenny retorted.
Tom jumped into the fray singing one of his patented songs, “Ahimsa is great, working on the slate …” and the crowd joined in with hand-clapping accompaniment.
Jenny and Ahimsa then presented Tom with a plaque from the current student body made by students in the wood shop.
NFB of Colorado President Scott LaBarre said: “when I think about what NFB means, what we can do, and when I think of a person emblematic of living the life you want, I can think of no person better than Tom Anderson. Tom has the capacity to change lives, in his own unique method, his own way.”
Scott presented Tom with an honorary diploma, which read as follows:
Upon his completion of all necessary coursework and twenty-seven years of outstanding instruction and service to the Colorado Center for the Blind,
The Regents and Faculty of NFBCO University hereby confer upon
Miles Thomas Anderson a Doctor of Legendum Tactilis Degree.<br
Now and for all time, Anderson shall be known lovingly as Dr. Toasty Dots!
“May 15, 2015
Julie Deden, Executive Director of the Center since 1999 shared an early memory of Tom and Linda. In those days Julie was a VR Counselor, but was part of the work and excitement in the NFB of Colorado as plans progressed to open the Center.
“I had tom and Linda over for dinner before the Center ever opened,” she told us. “As I looked at the two of them together I thought: ‘What a wonderful gift we have in Tom and Linda to help us start the Colorado Center for the Blind.'”
Julie echoed Diane’s assurance that Tom did everything ever asked of him, and also cited Tom’s compassion and love for his students, particularly for those who were having a difficult time for one reason or another, and how his gentle spirit was so helpful to them.
“One of the things that I’m always so honored to do for our graduating students at the Center is to present them with the ‘Bell of Freedom” which they’ve earned, for which they have worked so hard to earn. Tom and Linda, you have worked so hard for 27 years that I know that you also have become more free as blind people. As we say at graduations, when one blind person becomes free, we all gain more freedom as blind people. It is my honor to present the Bell of Freedom to Tom and Linda. It has the Center’s logo and says:
Colorado Center for the Blind
1988 – 2015
The Dots Await Your Fingers!
As he rang the bell, the gym exploded with cheers and applause.
“It’s been an honor to work with wonderful staff, my colleagues to work together to change what it means to be blind,” Tom said.
He showed his emotion as he said the following words.
I want to tell you that I’m thankful for Linda, when we started it was hard for Linda to move from our home (in Kansas) to a small one-bedroom apartment… Linda has laid down her life for me, so it’s time to give back in moving to Kansas.”
Tom went on to say that they’ll come back of course. “You’ll always be part of our hearts.”
We’ve learned inner toughness and we’ve learned to draw on the inner strength that God has given to us.
This is a time of transition, but the center will continue to move forward because we’re about meeting new challenges.
… sometimes people are willing to step forward and meet a challenge with vigor and courage, and that is what the Center is about… Let’s press forward!
Linda shared that she and Tom will be married for 39 years on July 24, 2015.
“If you knew him like i do you would surely love him,” she said.
“Diane was such a mentor to us,” Linda continued. Many of you students and past students know me as your Colorado Mom. It’s been a beautiful experience, and I loved being the Colorado Mom for those students who needed one.”
By this time the joy and gratitude and excitement of those present was rising. Diane gave a summation.
part of the reason we’ve survived is because of Tom and Linda,” she said. “I want to thank the students for singing “Imagine. This is what we do. We in the NFB imagine what we can do for blind people, we imagine a time when blind people are not looked upon as second-class. We imagined the Center, and Tom has been a big part of our success – he has been there every step of the way.”
“Tom,” said Julie, “I want to say that all these people who came tonight shows how much we all love you.”
Then Tom rang his Freedom Bell one more time.
it was all accomplished with the naked human voice, though the hushed crowd of course broke in with cheers and laughter at appropriate times, The program wrapped up shortly after eight, still enough light for the camera and battery to spare. Ten minutes after the show ended, the power rolled on again throughout the Center. The timing was perfect – any earlier and the spell would have been broken!
(Editor’s Note: Marie was one of our Summer Youth 2015 students. She read this poem as part of the talent show on July 29. This week, she headed back to high school.)
My heads spinning like a crashing airplane.
My voice is broken like an old record.
My courage is shattered like a dropped mirror.
How can I help myself?
How can someone help me?
How can anybody help me?
How do I live life like this???
A friend is all it takes to stop my dizziness.
An advocate is what I need to regain my voice.
A leader is here to give me courage.
And I am here to do my part.
At first I may have been lost but I have discovered so much more!
The more I explore, the more I learn, and the more I try the better I become.
The world can be a dark and frightening place, so the CCB has helped me find my way.
So, where are you headed next?
It’s the last week of July, and at the Colorado Center for the Blind we’re fighting the feeling that summer is almost over. We know that there are still weeks of hot weather, lovely warm Colorado evenings to enjoy.
But that vague anxiety is fueled as the last week of July saw our 22 summer students graduating on Wednesday, cleaning and packing on Thursday and leaving on Friday. Many of them are starting school in the first week of August. For them, summer truly is about over.
It was a big week, and a big summer. Eighteen students flew out from DIA Friday, and these Face Book posts give a sense of the momentousness of the last week of July – and the last two months:
From Shay: Here at the airport, waiting to go home. Thinking about this summer, and how great it was. I met a lot of really amazing people this summer that have really help me and challenge me to do the best that I could. I am leaving here with so much. New friendships, amazing memories, and The ability to do more than I ever thought I could. I will never forget the memories or the people I met this summer. hope to come back next summer and to see all of you sometime again.
From Sami: So I got on that plane and had to say a temporary goodbye to some of the greatest individuals I’ve ever met. It was the hardest thing i could’ve done. You guys have changed my life and taught me so much. Thank you for everything.
More Summer Highlights
In their last week, the 17 Earn & Learn students picked up their last paychecks. For many of these students, these were their first paychecks ever!
Three students worked at The Right Step, feeding horses,hauling sand to level the riding arena, and lots more. Sure they got paid, and then on Tuesday they also got a riding lesson!
The students finished up by cooking a meal Wednesday for the entire Center and guests, which included family members and employers for some of the kids in the Earn & Learn Program. They cooked a delicious baked ziti for more than 100 and then many performed in the talent show.
Their departure left a void, and the Center was pretty quiet without them on Friday. One of our nine awesome summer counselors posted on Face Book, tagging the two students she lived with, taught and came to love this summer:
“I don’t know what to do with myself!” she posted Friday evening.
As you can tell, more than just skills happen, even more than just the confidence and self-reliance of our tag line.
And yet, …
The Center wasn’t quiet this week for our other programs either. On Friday the Seniors made a trip to Golden and the Coors Brewery for a tour. RTD’s W and C Lines provided the designated drivers.
There were three dinner parties given at the apartments by Independence Training Program students – Marcus, Gwendolyn and J.J. all cooked and served great meals to five or more guests.
On Friday Curtis had his mini-meal – a meal for 15 guests, and served a delicious and abundant meal of homemade macaroni and cheese with barbecued chicken and green beans from our garden.
There were two Monster Routes on Friday – Carolyn and Sarah both completed the requirement of visiting four places they had never been before in four different cities in the Denver Metro area – all in one day. The real challenge of this grad requirement in cane travel is in the planning it takes to pull it off. Both are scheduled to graduate next week.
And another of our “summer” students finished up on Friday. Robin House came with the summer youth and left about the same time. She is a past NFB Scholarship winner and a school counselor in the St. Louis area, and spent her summer vacation under sleepshades during the week. On her own time, she hiked and biked and even climbed a 14er!
On Friday night a dozen of her classmates and six staff members sent her off with a dinner of Thai food… and a lot of love.
“I planned for the skills, but this …” Robin told the group, meaning the connections, friendships and support that grow between students and staff, “this was something I simply could not have anticipated.”
Now at the start of August, we have two graduations this week, and another student, J.J. finishes another “summer” ITP program before heading back to CSU for her junior year.
Then comes Littleton’s Western Welcome Week. The Center is offering interactive tours to the community, we’ll walk in the parade on Saturday, August 15 and many of us will help out with the Denver Chapter’s booth that day in the arts and craft fair.