BISM Quarterly Newsletter - Spring 2023
“The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be ignited.” – Plutarch
Here at BISM, we are beginning to plan and prepare for our summer youth programming. As I see our ITR staff hiring the staff and creating the curriculum, I can’t help but reflect on my own time as a blind youth and how important it was to have experiences like my sighted peers. From learning to ride horses at summer camp to getting a summer job, to earning my own money, having the chance to participate in these activities helped me to understand that I had the capabilities to do anything I wanted. Most importantly, it was the relationships cultivated with those around me, my Blind peers and mentors, family, and anyone who offered me an encouraging word or opportunity that helped me form a positive perception about being Blind. It was those experiences that helped to light a fire within me to always aim for the stars.
This is what our youth programs are all about!
Igniting a fire within our students so they can develop the same drive and determination to navigate the world confidently and independently.
In this issue of The Compass you will read about our Salisbury Kids Camp, meet a BISM Associate whose camp experience led to a meaningful career, and learn how the GLIDE program positively impacted one high school student, and more. It is my goal after reading about our youth programs, you too may find that spark and feel inspired to join us as we work to positively change attitudes about blindness.
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A Summer full of Fun and Learning
by Amy Crouse
Ah, the good old days of going to summer camp. Days spent learning to swim, singing your favorite camp songs, making cool and funky crafts, and creating amazing memories. Many of us have had these experiences while growing up but unfortunately many of our Blind youth have not. This is due to others’ misplaced perceptions about what it means to be blind. With the efforts of our Salisbury Independence Training and Rehabilitation team a group of children now have the chance to enjoy summer camp just like their sighted peers.
Every summer, blind elementary and middle school students are invited to attend a week-long summer enrichment program in Salisbury. Over the years, we have coordinated uniquely themed camps. Last year’s theme was centered around the Delmarva peninsula allowing the children to learn about the area in which they live.
Over the past few summers, our Kids Camp has been very exciting and rewarding. We have spent our summers building community as we’ve traveled around the Salisbury area meeting city leaders, shopping, and having picnics. Our students love learning about space, planets, and rockets. We even had the opportunity to visit NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility Visitor Center in Virginia! In addition, we took our kids to the beach and the pool. Horseback riding, kayaking, tandem bike riding, learning about Lacrosse, creating art, music, and poetry have also been a part of our camper’s experiences.
The most unique component of our camp, however, is that not only do they get to have fun, but the campers get to learn important non-visual skills that teach them about becoming more independent. They learn how to read and write braille, use technology, travel with long, white canes, and learn to prepare meals in the kitchen.
What has been the most impactful is their chance to make friends. Peer relationships have been developed and friendships nurtured with each camp session. The campers even get to interact with blind adult role models and learn from other professionals in their communities. Because of the bonds formed, the campers have get-togethers, play games online, and text each other throughout the year. These students and their families look forward to our summer program and we look forward to hosting them each year.
This summer, our theme will be “New Experiences.” We are currently making plans that will continue to engage our wonderful pre-teens to explore our world with many confidence- building adventures. It is our belief that as our middle schoolers continue to mature, they will make the choice to continue and explore our BISM programs for high school and beyond.
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.
Celebrating Our ITR Late Winter and Spring Graduates
As always, we are proud of all our current graduates and what they have accomplished in their months of training and exploration. Please meet this semesters graduates:
Robert Powell completed the SAIL (Seniors Achieving Independent Living) program in February.
David Reichert completed the CORE (Comprehensive Orientation, Rehabilitation and Empowerment) program in February.
Sunny Cefaratti completed the CORE (Comprehensive Orientation, Rehabilitation and Empowerment) program in March.
Margaret Jones completed the SAIL (Seniors Achieving Independent Living) program in April.
All four graduates experienced and met challenges along the way that took them out of their comfort zone, but in the end, they graduated with the confidence to live independently. For David and Sunny, they are busy applying for jobs and interviewing and for Margaret and Robert they are keeping busy within their communities. We can’t wait to get updates on what their next chapter looks like in their independence.
19-year old James Quade, a senior attending the Maryland School for the Blind, takes some time to share about how he first learned about BISM’s GLIDE program and how it has changed his life.
How did you first learn about BISM?
James: Several years ago, I heard some of the kids form my school talking about BISM. They were talking about the different programs they had been a part of and how much fun they were. At the time, I was around twelve or thirteen and really didn’t pay much attention. However, as I got older and realized how important it was to start making connections within the Blind community, I began researching more about BISM and how I could participate in their programs. I visited BISM’s website, along with some other blindness organizations, thinking, okay, this is cool, but BISM’s website seem to stand out from the bunch. I contacted a friend about my interest and didn’t think anything else about it. A few days later, I was contacted by Juhi Narula, BISM’s Youth Manager, and she asked me if I was interested in checking out one of the GLIDE workshops. I said yes and we went from there.
Tell me about your first time attending a GLIDE workshop.
James: Well, I missed the first workshop of the year. I actually had a job interview that day, but I didn’t get the job. No big deal though. I knew GLIDE could help provide me some direction in this area, so I ended up attending the September 2022 workshop and it was cool. I liked everyone’s energetic and cheerful outlook. I also liked how all the activities ran so smoothly and were so engaging. I left the workshop feeling wanting more.
After my experience, I contacted Matt Yanuzzi, ITR Department Manager, to try and learn about the CORE Adult program. After talking to Matt, I came in for a tour of the CORE Program and knew this was the place for me. I then scheduled a two-day tour to get a feel for the program. I got to spend two days participating in classes as a student and was able to get a feel for the program, instructors, and other students. If I join the CORE program I will be taking classes in braille, technology, cane travel, independent living, woodshop, and job readiness.
What was your favorite part about the first GLIDE workshop you attended?
James: Honestly, all of it was my favorite! I just remember being in awe the whole time. After my first workshop, I wanted to make sure I come to all of the other ones. Each workshop focuses on a different topic so, each time we meet it is a different experience, which is really cool
How has becoming a part of the GLIDE program impacted your life so far?
James: I have been Blind my whole life so, this is not new to me. However, I have been nervous about certain things because of being Blind. I have been most nervous about what steps I should take once I graduate in May. GLIDE is giving me the confidence to begin exploring the things I need to learn to be more confident and get over that nervousness. What I am most excited about are the connections I have been making with other Blind people. Before GLIDE, I only knew my friends who go to school with me. Now, I have access to new peers and even Blind professional mentors. I am slowly expanding my support system which is important to me to be successful. Because of BISM and GLIDE, I also had the chance to attend my first state convention, which was overwhelming, but so much fun. I learned a lot and had a great time.
What would you say to someone thinking about coming to a GLIDE workshop?
James: Just do it! You won’t regret it. Building connections with other Blind people and learning new skills to be independent is reason enough to participate in the workshops. Not to mention, the workshops are so much fun. You leave not only learning so much great stuff, but you have fun while doing it. It is truly a cool experience.
In just the short amount of time James has been participating in the GLIDE program, it has left a positive impact on his life. Moving forward, he plans on attending the remaining GLIDE spring workshops. In addition, he will be preparing for school graduation in May. Following graduation, James plans on enjoying his summer break with some relaxation and fun, with the plan to enroll in the CORE program in Fall 2023.
Stay tuned for updates as James embarks on his journey towards gaining his independence!