BISM Quarterly Newsletter - Winter 2023
Imagine you are enrolled in your first Chemistry course in college. From beakers to Bunsen burners, your love for science has you both excited and nervous for the upcoming equations and experiments that lay ahead. However, there is a big obstacle in your way. Your Chemistry professor has expressed her apprehension of having you take the course. Why? Because you are Blind and she does not think you will be able to complete the course successfully. In that moment, you become discouraged, but your belief in your own capabilities motivates you to push forward and prove that you can be successful. By the end of the semester, you are top of your class and the doubts your professor once had are erased.
This was one of many experiences in which I was told I could not achieve certain goals in life due to being Blind. Being diagnosed with Albinism at the age of 5, I had a typical childhood understanding that there were just some things I had to do differently. With a loving and fierce advocate of a mother, high expectations were placed on me to go after my dreams. It was these high expectations that led me down the path of earning my PhD., previously serving as BISM’s Chairman of the Board, Director of Accessibility, Vice-President, and now President.
“We can’t be afraid of change. You may feel very secure in the pond that you are in, but if you never venture out of it, you will never know that there is such a thing as an ocean, a sea.” – C. Joybell C.
This quote speaks so much to what has happened here at BISM over the past 6 months. The most notable being, the retiring of BISM’s long-time President Fred Puente. During this transition, our Associates continue to rise to the occasion. It is with their hard-work, determination, and dedication that our organization continues to find success.
One of my primary goals as President for BISM is to provide people with the tools they need to prepare for the workforce. This includes computer skills, practicing cane travel on public transportation, and job interview techniques.
I continue to believe in the capabilities of Blind and Low-Vision Individuals. Every day, as I walk the halls at work, I see that belief borne out in the accomplishments of our Independence Training students. My door is open, so I invite you to come visit us and see for yourself how BISM is positively changing attitudes about Blindness.
One Person’s journey after the Pandemic
by Rebecca Marsh
The pandemic has been a trial for us all, isolating people, altering life as we know it, and of course suspending Independence training and Rehab programs at BISM. In spite of these obstacles, we have learned new ways to stay in touch and safe ways to operate. We have also started to re-open services to Seniors of the Blind community in Maryland here at BISM.
Eunice Hurley, a first-time student in our SAIL (Seniors Achieving Independent Living) program, had some hardships during the shutdown. A house fire caused her to move in with her family, and the adjustment to a new environment after living by herself was difficult. People with the best intentions helped her navigate around her new surroundings but leaving her house also left a bit of her independence behind as well. On the bright side, conference calls with friends and organizations helped her stay connected and uplifted her throughout all of these changes. Ultimately, her experience encouraged her to think about what was most important which was to be safe, love her family, cherish life and most importantly, regain her ability to be independent.
Eunice was anxious when first beginning training, having never been in the program and not knowing what to expect was scary. Wearing sleep shades, using a straight cane, and learning things non-visually seemed daunting to her at first. She soon realized she was in a safe environment, and it was alright to make mistakes. With her fears set aside, she began to find her own way. Through training, she was able to gain her confidence back.
As Eunice progressed through the program, she truly began to find her stride. So much so, that she felt confident enough to explore the idea of employment. With her new-found confidence and independence, Eunice applied for a position in BISM Baltimore’s sewing department as a Sewing Machine Operator. Enthusiastically, she accepted the position. However, continuing her independence training was still important to her growth. The decision was soon made that Eunice could both work in the sewing department and continue participating in the SAIL classes. Each week Eunice devotes her time and energy to both being a SAIL student and working as an Associate as she continues down the road to regaining her independence she had before.
Just this past month, Eunice was awarded the 2022 NFB of Maryland Anna Cable Award at the NFBMD State Convention. This award is given to a person who lost their vision later in life and demonstrates Anna Cable’s zest for life, including learning Braille. Eunice possesses an amazing spirit that shines in all that she does. Her drive to learning Blindness skills, especially Braille, is admired and motivates others to do their best.
It is students like Eunice Hurly who are a shining example of the positive role our programs play in the community. Eunice now realizes that blindness does not negatively impact her quality of life. Rather, with proper training and skills, her life is enhanced and presents opportunities for her to create a fulfilled life on her own terms.
Eunice wants to learn as much from the program as possible to get a job and be productive in the workforce. Our SAIL program is back, and seniors are busy going out to brunch, or the movies, having talent shows, and sharing cooking recipes and techniques.
We are excited to have the halls buzzing again with students and can’t wait to share in all of their future successes!
Taking a Risk While You Have the Chance
by Jake Schmude*
Have you ever had that one thing you've always wanted to do, but just hadn't gotten around to doing it or never given the opportunity to do? I don’t mean something you had to do because of a job requirement or felt obligated to do? I'm talking about the one thing you have always wanted to do, and never had the chance to do it.
If the past two years have shown us anything, it's that opportunities may not always be there when we want them to be. The world, as we know it, can change on a dime. So recently, I was given the chance to do something I have always wanted to do – Sky Diving!
Sky diving was something I always wanted to do ever since I was eight years old and first learned people could jump out of airplanes and float to the ground. I understood, even at that young age, that it was a risk and dangerous. That didn't matter. I still wanted it.
Recently, I was given that opportunity. We had the chance to sky dive from a plane in Churchville. So, two friends and I headed up to the airfield in Churchville. We jumped (with instructors) out the door of a small plane at ten thousand feet and freefalled for about half that distance.
No words can truly describe the experience but I will do my best to share them with you.
Have you ever doubted your instinct or had that scary feeling…? I mean I know what I have gotten myself into and that I will be getting on a plane and jumping. But even as my friends jumped I still had that weird nervous feeling but at the same time my adrenaline was pumping. And now it’s my turn… I jump! And realize no going back now. It only took 30 seconds to fall five thousand feet but in those 30 seconds of freefalling was something I have and never will experience again in my life. It may have been only 30 seconds but it felt as if I could fall forever. Then it was time to pull the parachute open and fly! I soared like a bird the rest of the way down. From the instant we jumped out of the plane’s door until the chute was opened, I had honestly forgotten that my flight instructor was there with me. It was as if nothing else even existed around me but the sky, the wind and my surroundings.
This experience changed me in a sense. Taking this risk opened my eyes to other things too. Not only had I done something I'd always wanted to do, which is quite the feeling in and of itself, but I began to notice a certain change in myself. Little things that would have otherwise bothered me didn’t anymore. Things I was scared of doing before this experience now seemed trivial. I didn't feel immortal or anything of that nature, but falling from ten thousand feet has a way of putting fear in perspective.
There is a sense of peace that comes from taking a chance, knowing the potential consequences, and choosing to assume that risk yourself. Whether you realize it or not, you take a risk all the time. That's just life. So, I encourage those who are reading this to find that somewhat risky thing you've always wanted to do, and go for it! Trust me when I say it will be the most amazing thing you've ever done and more than likely (just like me) change how your prospective on life.
* While most of Jake’s time at BISM is spent in front of a computer screen as a Solutions Architect in our IT Department, Jake spends his free time living life his best life.
Pat Oaks - 03/30/2022
Congratulations to BISM SAIL student Pat Oats on his graduation from the Seniors Achieving Independent Living Program (SAIL)! Entering our program timid and apprehensive, Pat soon grew in both skill and confidence becoming a leader among his fellow classmates. Pat performed well in all of his classes, but he truly exceled in cane travel and could be found traveling all over the place. Willing to help anyone he encountered, Pat soon took on the role as the Sergeant of Arms for our monthly Senior Support Group and continues to hold this position. Pat, it has been a pleasure watching you grow and flourish throughout your time here and we wish you the best of luck on your future adventures!
David Darden - 06/22/2022
Congrats to CORE student David on graduating from the Comprehensive Orientation Rehabilitation Empowerment Program (CORE)! With newfound skills, confidence, and a modified go-cart woodshop project under his belt, we know he is ready to race off to the next adventure! Looking ahead, David is working to returning to a career in the field of mechanics.
Ahsiyah Abdullah - 08/17/2022
Congratulations to Ahsiyah on her graduation from the CORE Program! With a guest list of over 20 people, staff, students, and guests she shared her emotional and memorable sentiments about her journey towards re-gaining her independence. Ahsiyah’s future plans include working towards employment and earning a degree in Child Psychology. Best wishes to you Ahsiyah! We can’t wait to hear what is next!
Shaniya Harcum - 08/24/2022
Round of applause goes to BISM CORE student Shaniya on her graduation! With her openness for new experiences matched with her bubbly personality, Shaniya earned her keys to independence while leaving a lasting impression on all who met her. Shaniya plans on enrolling to college and working towards earning her undergraduate degree. Congrats to you Shaniya! We are excited for all of your future successes!
by Juhi Narula **
BISM is once again excited to welcome back our GLIDE Program and all our participants!
It’s been a long 2 years, but BISM’s GLIDE Program has finally returned. Gaining Leadership Independence Direction and Engagement is what we do!
BISM’s GLIDE program is designed to provide a series of workshops and an overnight retreat for high school students who are blind or low vision. The retreat and workshops build upon each other with an ultimate focus on Independent Living skills, Advocacy, and Workplace Communication.
Our cohort of students met for the first time on Thursday, August 18th, 2022. 7 GLIDE participants explored how communication and socialization standards are different in the workplace, in social settings, and when out dining.
This specific workshop focused on the differing styles of communicating that are needed throughout various social and professional environments. Students interacted with one another by discussing how to navigate a venue in a professional setting, how to enter a group conversation, and how to represent themselves well to potential employers/coworkers.
Students were given different hypothetical scenarios to work through and provide appropriate and incorrect ways to handle the given situation. The conversation then transitioned to dining etiquette, where participants recognized the difference between multiple eating contexts, appropriate behaviors at each setting, and strategies to lean on in unfamiliar spaces. These skills were then put into practice when students were taken to the Olive Grove restaurant for a mock business lunch to practice what they learned earlier in the day.
Then following August’s meet-up on Saturday, September 17th, 11 GLIDE students explored how they can transform their interests, passions, and goals into a career.
This workshop focused on aiding the participants in determining their personal interests and professional goals for the future. The workshop began with an interactive career exploration activity involving the Holland Code assessment. The Holland Code assessment is a system of questions to classify jobs into different categories, interests and personality environments.
During this session, students learned what work personality environments and job categories are best suited for each of them, along with discovering how their aspirations may align with their personality style. Following the activity, students then reflected on their results and discussed the importance of understanding their options and individual priorities in a career.
This exercise transitioned them into the next activity in which students were able to hear from three different Blind professionals: a lawyer in the PR field, a social media influencer, and an entrepreneur in the IT industry. Students were divided into three groups and received open dialogue time with each speaker individually to learn more about their personal journey.
Once the roundtable discussion was complete, students then participated in a fun workplace “Mystery- Who Did It?” simulation, where they worked in teams to analyze various workplace dynamics and had the opportunity to question employee “suspects” to solve the mystery. This experience gave students the opportunity to view variations of toxicity in the workplace and learn how negative professional relationships can manifest.
One GLIDE student shared “I learned information about jobs as a blind person. It’s super cool how many things we can do!”
Another student following the workshops stated “I learned how to match clothes, how to use the correct manners, and what to do (and not do) when applying for a job.”
For more information about our GLIDE Program and upcoming workshops, contact Juhi Narula at email@example.com.
** Recently joining the BISM team as our ITR Youth Transition Manager, Juhi Narula brings a youthful and fresh energy to the organization. Being introduced to BISM through the GLIDE Program as a high school student, Juhi knows what it means to give back, as she works to positively impact the Blind youth she engages on a daily. .
Director of Development & Communications
Years with BISM: Seven months…
Relevant industry experience/accomplishments: 20+ years in non-profit marketing and fundraising
Did you know? When I am not raising money for BISM I am cooking or running… My two passions besides my kids and hubby.
Years with BISM: 12 years plus
Years Relevant industry experience/accomplishments: 36 years creating and maintaining artwork and print
Did you know? I am Color Blind which is rare for women. Color blindness occurs in only about 1 in 200 women (compared to 1 in 12 men). As a result, approximately 95% of people with color blindness are men.
Years with BISM: Nine years
Relevant industry experience/accomplishments: Eight years working in BISM’s ITR Department serving in a variety of roles. One year working in Communications.
Did you know? I am a mom to 11 plant babies. Nine of my babies are at my home and the other two reside in my office. And yes, I have named them all!