As students near the end of their program, they must plan and execute a “Monster Route.” Listen to Vika talk about hers. She graduates in a week!
“I knew you would flourish here,” Julie Deden said to Marcus at his bell ceremony on February 5. “When you came down from Montana for a tour with your Dad, you were so interested and excited about everything.”
Marcus worked as a journeyman electrician in Montana before becoming blind two years ago. He operated his own business with his Dad Chris after that, making custom furniture. A practical problem-solver, he knew he needed more skills as ablind person and so came to the Center in 2015 on the recommendation of his VR Counselor.
Naturally, he was especially interested in learning nonvisual techniques in the woodshop. In fact, he appeared on 9News in the woodshop for Colorado Gives Day in December where he explained to Gregg Moss how to use the table saw. On live TV that morning, Gregggg made a successful cut on the table saw under Marcus’ tutelage.
Quiet and unassuming by nature, Marcus was a steady role model and friend to other students. He took part in all the required challenge rec activities of course, but also all the extra-curricular fitness offerings as well. His final project was to build and install a bracket for a speed bag in the gym.
Though he’d never been much of a cook, he excelled in the kitchen. To finish up he served 60 guests a meal of baked ziti with garlic and rum cake for dessert. His Dad came from Montana, his step-dad from California, a high school friend from the east coast and her mom from Montana all made the trip for the celebration.
Marcus plans to stay in the Denver area, noting that public transportation in the Metro area gives him independence not available in the small, western Montana town he’s from. He’s currently looking for a shop to rent so he can resume his furniture business.
Basically, the plan is to continue to flourish as an independent blind person, and there’s no doubt in our minds that Marcus will!
She didn’t mean just the number of guests Daniel served – there were 80 in all – but because he cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner for those 80 guests.
The guests included family members such as his Mom and Step-dad, brother, Grandma and Pops (all live in the Denver area) and his Dad and brother who traveled from Mississippi to Colorado for the occasion, as well as close friends from church. That’s not all though – there were a dozen students from Rice University and their faculty advisor who were at the Center as part of their Alternate Spring Break, several recent grads from the Denver area, as well as our Tech Instructor Chris Parsons and her one-month-old son Jackson (Chris is on maternity leave). Of course, there were all the current students and staff.
Daniel had everyone place their order in advance so he could calculate portions, and started cooking on Monday for the Friday meal. For breakfast he served a wonderful egg casserole and homemade cinnamon rolls. Lunch was pork patties and scalloped potatoes and dinner was chicken and dumplings. The dessert table was laden with oatmeal and pecan cookies, oatmeal and coconut cookies for those with nut allergies, cherry pie and two large pans of peach cobbler. Let’s not forget the gallons of both sweetened and unsweetened tea. And he brought the entire feast in under his budgeted amount.
Daniel raised the bar in other ways too. Already a good hand with tools, his woodshop project was a large display for his brother’s man cave showing all the years Alabama has won the national NCAA football championship. Daniel routed out each numeral and painted them before attaching to the display board. No need to google it – Alabama has won 16 championships. Multiply that by four numerals … Well, you can do the math!
After years of struggling as his vision declined, Daniel came to the center with the determination to become the best blind person he could be. His fellow students cited that example as motivation for success in their own programs.
“I’ve only been here since Monday,” said one, “and you’ve really inspired me to be the best blind person I can be, too.”
More than one student thanked him for his leadership.
“You were the first person I met when I got here,” said one. “You came over to my apartment and introduced yourself.”
Daniel’s plans now include returning to college to finish a bachelor’s degree, then maybe grad school to become a travel instructor. His journey is now at a new starting point.
James and I talked on the phone for months and months before he came to the Center,” Julie Deden told the 60-plus guests at James’ graduation ceremony on February 12. “And one thing we all know about you now James is that once you have your mind made up you go for it and make it happen.”
James came from Tennessee after a lengthy struggle to get funding to attend the Center. Blind for only a few years as a result of an accident, James’ gentle spirit and signature drawl combined to endear him to all. No one was asked more often to help other students serve their mini-meals or graduation meals. It’s impossible not to love the guy.
Julie recalled his first day in late June. “It was pretty chaotic (when we brought you in), and pretty intimidating. But look how far you’ve come – you can travel anywhere and what about this wonderful meal with a Southern flair!”
“I’ll never forget your speech James, when you That meal featured his mother’s own recipe for pot roast, along with rice and, not surprisingly, sweet tea.
Fittingly, James’ Mom Elizabeth came from Tennessee, along with his sister Laura and her fiance Chad, and James’ nephews Tyler and Carl. James’ new roommates were also present. He is staying in Colorado to look for work.
“James has earned his bell of freedom,” Julie told the audience. “He can now move forward with his life!”
That was Julie Deden’s remark on January 20 as she prepared to present Jenny with her Freedom Bell. It’s very true, because it was elicited by the fact that Jenny had just served us all Brussels sprouts. Even more astonishing – we liked them!
“I know you’ll be able to do anything you put your mind to,” continued Julie.
Jenny became blind overnight about a year before coming to the Center for training. She felt lost, wondering what it meant to be a blind person and where her life could go.
“I couldn’t even think if I’d ever met a blind person,” she said.
A lawyer, she characteristically didn’t wait for answers to come to her, but started researching and reached out to the National Federation of the Blind of Kansas weeks after becoming blind. She soon met many blind people, among them Diane Hemphill, who offered her information, support and advice.
She didn’t feel like she was in a strange world anymore with Diane. “She has such a presence – a professional, a mom and a grandmother …”
Indeed, Diane made the trip from Kansas for Jenny’s celebration. So did all of Jenny’s sisters and her brother.
“It’s ridiculous how many people support me,’ she said. “People flew here from both coasts.”
That’s appropriate. “Graduation is not a small thing” Julie pointed out, “it’s a big, big accomplishment.’ Jenny’s now ready to take on the world as a blind person.
After thanking her siblings and Diane, she thanked her teachers. Then she offered a word to her fellow students.
“This was not just a long journey … it was an opportunity to become a whole person. On the one hand I was really irritated, but I had the chance to work on other things to become the person i want to be – as well as the best blind person I could be.
One of the outcomes of that work?
“I realize how much I have in my life that is really positive.”
“Vicki’s coming out of this ready to go,” observed Robert at Vicki’s graduation on Januray 8, “and the rest of you are going to have to work to keep up.”
He was right about that. Vicki came with the intention of squeezing out every last drop of opportunity and learning.
“This was a long time coming,” commented Vicki when her bell had sounded her chimes of freedom. “I had wanted this for a long time, and I knew almost immediately this was the right place to be.”
Vicki came to the Center from Oklahoma, and her Mom and sister and brother-in-law and more came for her celebration.
“I came to my future,” Vicki said, “I came to the next chapter in my life and it felt like home almost since I came here.”
Vicki made it her home in many ways, the home in which she was surrogate momfor many younger students away from homes and families for the first time. (In fact, that was the subject of her speech in the Public speaking class.) So naturally, she had some advice for them all:
“You’re going to realize you’re going to gain lifelong friends. Stick with it, I had moments when I didn’t think I could finish, but did because of that support and those friendships.”
Vicki has ben working part-time during 2016 Colorado General Assembly session for Rep. Jim Wilson, who has been impressed with her work and said so in at least one committee hearing at the Capitol.
“I have so much to look forward to and I am just ready to go,” Vicki confirmed.
Step aside Vicki’s still on her way to her future!
Penny received the first Freedom Bell awarded in 2016 on January 7. The first thing she did after ringing it loud and proud was to thank her husband Rick.
“You encouraged me and you wouldn’t give up on me,” she said after serving her grad meal to 60 guests, which included other family members and close friends from church, along with all the staff and students at the Center.
“It was a tough road,” she said of starting as a part-time student, then transitioning into full-time and living in our apartments on the south end of the Denver Metro area during the week, returning home to be with Rick on the north side of the Metro area on weekends.
“I know I needed it though,” she said on graduation day.
On her first visit to the Center with Rick, they met with Duncan Larsen.
“I didn’t like what I heard,” Penny said with a laugh, ” because “I wasn’t blind … Not me!”
Penny gradually began to pull herself out of that place where so many of us find themselves – afraid to acknowledge our blindness, but unable to do the simplest things independently. She first attended a weekly senior group with Rick, though she could hardly have qualified as a senior. Then she started in the Independence Training Program a couple of days a week. Eventually, she wanted more of the skills and confidence she was gaining part-time, and decided to become a full-time student to finish her program.
She threw herself into her training, coming in every day with a smile and a laugh and an attitude that drew others to her for guidance in encouragement. But on Friday afternoon, she headed back north for the weekend. In the very beginning, Rick came to get her. Gradually though, she made the trip all the way home on light rail and bus, flexing her independence and self-reliance. It was part of the process that led her to earning her Freedom Bell. She thanked and praised her teachers and her fellow students for all she had learned, but the biggest appreciation wass for her husband..
“I couldn’t have done this without your support,” she told Rick as she clutched her bell. “I love you so much!”
Richie’s been at the Center in our Independence Training Program for a couple of months now. A former student in our summer youth program, he hit the ground running in January. Here are two videos . The first about his gift to Locks of Love. In the second, he’s on the slopes at Lake Eldora, the footage captured by his skit guide with the Center’s GoPro camera.
Monday afternoons our art class meets with our long-time teacher and friend Ann Cunningham to make tactile are pieces from stone, clay, paper or whatever creative fancy strives to take flight.
Shelby will graduate next month, and she’s been a fixture in art class since last fall. Here she is `with her latest art project, titled “Beacon”. She started out to make the two maroon ducks sitting on their lime green nest, but along the way got the idea of a kind of lamp, its light shining from one of their mouths. So after she fired and lazed the piece, she went out to the hardware store to get the wiring and put it all together. Creativity, we may observe, is a process.
And so, it is a beacon!
Be sure to visit Ann’s Sensational Books Blog for lots of cool videos and articles about tactile art!
Alyssa recently finished her mini-meal. Let her tell you about it.