BISM Quarterly Newsletter - Fall 2023
As I celebrate my first year as President of BISM, I'm drawn to a single, powerful word: transformation.
Throughout this year, we've set about reframing the many operations we conduct at BISM into a unified, impactful narrative. Our challenges often lie in communicating the breadth and depth of our activities to the public. However, we have taken steps towards overcoming this by introducing a theme - OneBISM - aimed at fostering collaboration among departments, leadership levels, and various skills within our organization. This initiative, accompanied by a refreshing of our brand and logo, has enabled us to leave a more notable footprint in Maryland and beyond.
The OneBISM theme truly shined during our inaugural year of the STAR program, steered by our dedicated Transition Youth Coordinator. It was truly heartening sight to witness Associates across the organization come together to turn this life-altering program into a reality.
Our mission at BISM is to not merely provide employment for the Blind community but to carve a path for career advancement. BISM is not about transient jobs; we're about long-term, fulfilling careers. This year, we've seen numerous of our Blind Associates ascend to new professional heights, demonstrating their remarkable skills and eagerness to grow.
As we look ahead, my commitment as President is to further enhance the work we are doing. We aim to make accessibility our cornerstone, with the goal of ensuring that there are no roles our Associates, be they blind or sighted, cannot perform at BISM.
As we embark on the next year of transformation, I invite you to join us in our endeavor to uplift and empower the Blind community through education, employment, and training. Your support will make a world of difference.Let's continue this journey of growth and transformation together.
Summer was bright here at BISM as we had a new camp start - one that aimed to empower high school blind students. Introducing the STAR (Students Training in Advocacy and Responsibility) Program, an immersive four-week residential experience that ignited the passion for career exploration among nine high school students. This unique opportunity provided blind students with a chance to dive into career fields they might not have encountered before: Education, Engineering, Hospitality, and Business.
In the first two weeks, the students embarked on a journey in Education and Engineering. Their adventures led them first to Catonsville Community College of Essex, where they met a Blind Chemistry professor who demonstrated the art of teaching in a college setting. Next, they visited Johns Hopkins University, where they explored the world of mechanical engineering by creating water bottle rockets under the guidance of professors and students. Then lastly, they spent some time at Hartford Community College, further enriching their experiences as they were introduced to the world of 3D printing. It was during this time that students got the opportunity to print cane and luggage identifiers that would come in handy as they would be traveling to Houston.
Week three had the students travel to Houston, Texas, as they participated in a blindness conference and at the same time learned about the hospitality industry. At the conference, they networked with like-minded individuals, absorbed valuable insights from accomplished professionals, and used their cane traveling skills to navigate their way through a new town.
Upon their return, they started their final week learning about starting a business. They had to form teams and create business ideas. Each team then put together a business plan and presented their concepts with a video advertisement and presentation to their friends and families at the concluding program.
Students worked hard throughout the four-week program but also had lots of fun. Although this was not your typical summer camp, Students still had time to engage in a variety of confidence-building activities. Students spent one afternoon at I Fly, flying in the sky as they were introduced to indoor skydiving while another time, they had an opportunity to test their agility and stamina as they completed a physically challenging indoor obstacle course. Most importantly, there was time for great creating strong friendships and conversations as they were living together.
The STAR program culminated with a graduation ceremony, upon which students presented their business plans and video to an audience of family members and summer mentors. After the presentations, everyone enjoyed a delicious lunch, and the students were presented with star-shaped awards - a fitting tribute to the new stars they had become during their time in the STAR program.
Our very own Jaeah Fortune, Director of Human Resources recently participated in Leadership Baltimore County’s 2023 Cohort.
Upon graduation, she was interviewed and asked how the program impacted her but how she sees her role now in Baltimore County and as a civic leader.
Below is Jaeah's interview taken from the Leadership Baltimore County website.
What do you feel is the greatest challenge in Baltimore County and how does it impact you and your work?
Baltimore County has such a wide-spanning demographic, varying in levels of education, economic stability and opportunity, and access. We have communities steeped in great wealth and prosperity, and others struggling under the weight of abject poverty. We also have an incredible number of public and private companies, non-profit organizations, and government services with the means to provide resources to help alleviate the challenges experienced in our county. The greatest challenge is a gap between resource providers and those in need. There can be limited knowledge of and access to resources that would otherwise serve to support deficits in the community. Resource accessibility issues can include transportation, lack of disability consideration, or just general lack of knowledge of what’s available. Within my organization I’m very invested in working with our Senior Leadership team to expand employment and professional development opportunities for our internal talent, focusing not on an associate’s disability, but on their abilities, their skills, their potential, and their motivation to succeed. My HR team also works to stay connected to available resources and to assist with access for our Associates.
What do you see as LBC’s greatest strength as developed over its 40-year history?
LBC acts as a conduit in Baltimore County, drawing top leaders and civic-minded individuals to learn more about the region’s struggles and needs, while giving organizations who are working to serve the needs of the community a platform to convey their needs to a captive, engaged audience. This uniquely positions these organizations along with the LBC participants to address current opportunities in a relevant way. LBC also works hard to create a safe space for courageous authenticity, allowing for challenging conversations and working through difficult issues in a solutions-oriented environment. These nuances of the program create the ideal circumstances for making impactful connections and truly working toward change.
How does your work as a civic leader impact your work at the BISM?
As the Director of Human Resources for BISM, my work revolves greatly around creating and supporting employment opportunities and growth for all our Associates including those experiencing blindness. I am very intentional about training and development, performance management, and overall accessibility. I’m grateful for an opportunity to be a part of an organization that is so instrumental in the advancement and progression of blind rehabilitation and employment. My personal civic leadership gives me a chance to offer my time and skills in similar support to other causes with which I feel personally aligned. While my professional journey with BISM and my personal civic engagement journey exist on 2 different roads, both roads lead to the common goal of increased access to necessary and impactful resources and improved outcomes for members of marginalized communities in our region.
How did the LBC experience shape you?
My LBC Experience did change me and I believe I’ll be discovering residual impact in my career and civic engagement for years to come. LBC increased my sense of responsibility to the challenges in my community. I no longer have the false sense that “someone else will fix it.” This program elevated my level of personal accountability to be a driving force for the changes I want to see. LBC has also amplified my voice through my network and the LBC platform. I am excited to continue to grow in my civic engagement and look forward to years of continued engagement with this program.
What life experience has most shaped who you are as a leader?
Mentorship – At every critical juncture in my life, I can identify the person whose mentorship made my progression possible. Some mentorship was intentional, and I am grateful for those who sought me out or to whom I reached out, who were willing to share their gifts and time with me. Others have mentored me without meaning to, leading by example, and giving me a guide to follow. In some cases, it was singing my praises in front of others, or giving me difficult feedback about myself to help me grow. I wouldn’t be the leader I am today without mentorship, and I am intent on paying in forward.
In your opinion, what personal trait is most important to being a good leader and why?
I know that the higher you advance in leadership, the fewer people there are who are in a position to hold you accountable in the conventional sense. This is why personal accountability is one of the most important personal traits for a good leader. Holding yourself to an elevated standard and having the self-awareness to acknowledge when you’ve fallen short of that standard and regroup is paramount to success and to motivating and inspiring others to want to work for you.
Celebrating our Summer and Fall Graduates
As always, we are proud of all our current graduates and what have accomplished in their months of training and exploration. Please meet our most recent graduates:
Debra Parker Jordan completed the SAIL (Seniors Achieving Independent Living) program in July.
Samantha Ashmore completed the CORE (Comprehensive, Orientation, Rehabilitation, and Empowerment) program in August.
Alicia Crosson completed the Core (Comprehensive, Orientation, Rehabilitation, and Empowerment) program in September.
Eunice Hurly completed the SAIL (Seniors Achieving Independent Living) program in September.
Rachel Tippett completed the Core (Comprehensive, Orientation, Rehabilitation, and Empowerment) program in September.
All five graduates experienced challenges along the way that took them out of their comfort zone, but in the end, they graduated with confidence. For Sam, Alicia, and Rachel they are busy applying for jobs and interviewing. Debra Parker-Jordon is spending time with family and busy within her community. Eunice has taken a job here at BISM working in our Sewing department and putting her sewing skills to work.
We can’t wait to follow-up on them and get updates on how their training has impacted their lives and helped move them forward in their independence.