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From Summer Counselor to Operations Trainer

Robert receiving his certificate of completion from Sabrina, a BISM Senior ITR Instructors.
Robert Powel SAIL Certificate

How an Associate’s Summer Shaped the Trajectory of Their Career

Let’s Meet Johnna Harrison!

It’s Summer 2000 and it’s the first day of BISM’s summer program and the room is full of nervous, yet excited teenagers ready to kick off the summer festivities. As the group begins learning about the various summer activities that lay ahead, there are expressions of mixed emotions. It was one student’s displeasure that became a vocal proclamation. “I will never get on a boat. I’m afraid of falling in the water. And besides, I am Blind! How am I supposed to get on a boat and go sailing?”

Johnna Harrison, one of our BISM staff members at the time, knew this was nothing but fear and was determined to show this student that being Blind didn’t mean she couldn’t participate in “normal” activities.

Johnna became a member of the BISM team that summer of 2000 when she was first hired to work as a counselor for our summer youth program. In her role, she had the chance to work with a group of teenagers between the ages of 16 – 21. It was during this time she learned how important these programs were to shape a teenager’s perception about their blindness. She noticed during the first half of that summer the students were full of “ I can’t” and “ I won’t, but by the end of the program, students had more confidence and stronger sense of independence. Even the student who swore she would not go sailing, boarded a boat, and had the experience of a lifetime.

Following the summer program, Johnna found permanent employment at BISM and began her BISM journey in a variety of positions and roles. She served as a job coach and youth program coordinator in the Independence Training and Rehabilitation Department, spent time as an administrator in the Human Resources Department, and most recently worked diligently up the ranks to become BISM’s Operations Trainer in our Sewing Department. Through all these differing roles, Johnna has continued encouraging others to push beyond their comfort level, which has caused her to also push past her own comfort level. As an Operations Trainer, Johnna encounters Associates who sometimes don’t believe they can complete a task due to their blindness. She knows this is not the case and it has been her mission to help shift these perceptions and teach them that they can do it.

In her current role, Johnna also works to explore new and innovative ways to make the process of sewing more accessible for all Associates. Her belief that everyone should be trained in all parts of the process despite their blindness is necessary to shattering barriers around negative perceptions about a person’s capabilities. Johnna is not afraid to explore new techniques or make mistakes. And most importantly she keeps a positive attitude and open mind until she gets the results she’s looking for.

Reflecting on her time at BISM, Johnna owes a huge part of her success to that one summer in 2000. She has experienced first-hand the impact the youth program has had, not only on the participants who go through the program, but the counselors as well. As a counselor, it was her job to teach her students, but she also left learning just as much as they did. These are lessons she has continued to revisit throughout her career. Lessons that reshape and transform as she encounters new challenges. Through it all though, one lesson has stayed consistent throughout her tenure here at BISM and that being Blind shouldn’t be a reason why you can’t do something.