Last month the LightHouse Youth Program traveled with ten participants on the field trip of a lifetime, all the way to Orlando and the six-day National Federation of the Blind (NFB) National Convention.
The group included eight young people between the ages of 19 and 26, all from California. It was the first time on an airplane for some, the first time to travel to the east coast for many and the first time to a national convention for all.
Our primary goal was to introduce this group to opportunities the blind community can provide and for them to learn, with guidance from LightHouse staff, what a blindness convention is like. We were not surprised that the experience made a strong impression on the group – participant Julie Cabrera was “amazed by the forest of [white] canes in the convention hall”.
Here are some highlights of their visit:
• The young people started out the convention by spending a few hours volunteering for Second Harvest Food Bank, organizing and separating donations. They worked side by side with members of the Future Farmers of America, offering the chance to do good while providing positive examples of young blind people at work.
• After their volunteer stint the group went back to the convention hall and began attending various education and recreation themed seminars and break out groups. Right away they got to work, honing their decision-making skills by making their own choices about which seminars they wish to attend.
• LightHouse Red Cross Youth Group representatives Julie Cabrera and Priscilla Jimenez gave a presentation Community Service Division about our clubs’ and the accessible disaster preparedness booklet project.
• Often it is the case that folks who are blind find it challenging to meet others who are blind, so fostering these connections was a key goal for the group. While most of the young people knew each other beforehand, we encouraged them to introduce themselves to as many people at the convention as possible. To that end we facilitated a dinner with a number of convention attendees who had a strong relationship with the LightHouse such as Chemistry Camp leader Hoby Wedler and LightHouse Board members. To make the most of the opportunity, before meals were ordered the youth changed seats every five minutes in order to meet everyone at the table.
• In the evening the young people participated in break-out sessions with youth-oriented groups such as National Association of Blind Students (NABS).
All in all, the group had a wonderful time. It was immeasurably enriching to meet blind people from all around the country and to revel in the atmosphere of such a large meeting place. Said Micah Aveno, “I want to thank you again for giving me the opportunity to attend this year’s NFB Convention. I definitely learned a lot about the Federation, things that are available to the blind and about the blind community in general. I also learned a lot about myself and the different things I would like to pursue. Going to the convention has helped me give more serious thought to my educational and career goals.”