By Suzanne Wilson
We all know that LAB is a busy place, humming with programs for youth and adults and home to the exciting voice program. Sometimes though, we may tend to forget that we’re part of a larger network of services available to the blind and visually impaired community here in Massachusetts. Fortunately, we hosted an event on October 19 that reminded everyone of the numerous resources and opportunities that exist.
On that day, the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, in conjunction with the Regional Advisory Council, sponsored an open house at our Merrimack Street offices. It proved to be a day of information, social networking, and, of course, delicious refreshments. The purpose was to give those who attended a chance to learn about the wide variety of social, technology, and orientation and mobility services provided by the Commission for the Blind. Also available by appointment was the New England Eye On-Sight mobile low vision van.
Before attendees visited the numerous displays and learned about various programs and innovations, everyone listened to a short presentation given by several members of our community who had helped to make this exciting day possible. First to speak was Janet LaBreck, the Massachusetts Commissioner for the Blind. Ms. LaBreck has held this position since August of 2007 after serving as the Regional Administrator for Central Mass. As it happens, she began her career as a consumer advocate. She praised LAB for consistently being willing to partner with the Commission in offering programs and activities for the blind and visually impaired community. In particular, she expressed excitement about our Vocational Opportunities In Communications Education (VOICE) program, which furnishes a way for people who are interested in working in communications or a similar field to obtain tangible experience. “I encourage consumers to come in and take advantage of the programs and services that are offered here,” Ms. LaBreck concluded. We couldn’t have said it better ourselves!
Next up to the podium was Mr. John Oliveira, the Assistant Commissioner for Programs and Services. Over the years, he has also run the Commission’s technology and vending programs, as well as served as the Director of Training. “I get to review all the statements and the documentation that the Lowell Association supplies to me, and . . . to read about all the programs. It’s great to have a community partner,” Mr. Oliveira said with enthusiasm. He also expressed excitement about touring our state-of-the-art radio studio at the conclusion of his speech.
After listening to these Commission luminaries, the audience was given a chance to hear from two people who help to make the LAB the special place we all love and support. First came Ms. Elizabeth Cannon, LAB’s Executive Director, who has given us her committed service and bountiful skills and community connections for the past twelve years. Some of you may not realize that LAB turns 90 years old in 2013, and Elizabeth noted that this event can be viewed as a partial kickoff to the year-long birthday celebration to come. Elizabeth offered her heart-felt thanks to all of the staff, volunteers, and LAB Board of Directors members who had worked together to make this event possible. In conclusion, she offered a warm invitation to everyone in the area: “If you can’t come in and you have a question, we’re a great resource because we do provide a lot of information and referral. . . If you have an issue, we can give you some direction.”
Mr. Brian Leahey, a current member of LAB’s Board of Directors, then underscored what Elizabeth had said. “LAB really appreciates its relationship with the Commonwealth on all aspects, the main office and the regional office, in all that we do.” This partnership makes it possible for us to provide a variety of programs and services to clients of all ages, and that includes making it possible for people to have fun in ways that might otherwise be inaccessible to them. This past summer, for example, our adult program visited Newburyport. “For some people, that was the first time they ever went to the beach. And we all know what a wonderful experience that is between all the sounds and the smells . . . and they just came back from apple-picking.. . It’s the complete life experience,” he added, “and if there is anything we can do to facilitate that, it’s just as rewarding for the Board members as it is for the actual clients.”
Our next presenter was Mr. Robert Cox, who serves as a member of the Regional Advisory Council. This volunteer body is made up of clients, professionals, and other stakeholders in the field of blindness and visual impairment. The Council meets on a monthly basis and is a vital link between the community and the Commission. Mr. Cox eloquently summed up this group’s purpose, as well as the role people can play in its future: “I’m hoping that people like me who, after an active employed life, found that sitting at home was not a good idea and couldn’t do it. . . maybe they would be willing to give some of their time to working with the RAC. . . It would be most appreciated and you would be welcomed. What we do is come up with ideas and pull them off. That’s who we are and that’s what we would like to do.”
Last but not least on the podium was Ms. Thelma Williams, Director of Northeast Region III at the Commission for the Blind. She has been working in this capacity for the past four years, and has been instrumental in helping the Regional Advisory Council to grow in both numbers and commitment. She now says with pride that it is one of the best RAC’s of all. Because our open house was so well attended and such a great success, Ms. Williams expressed the hope that a similar event can be organized in the spring. It will be held in another venue within the Northeast Region in order to give people further away from Lowell a similar opportunity to learn about everything that is available to them through the Commission for the Blind and its cooperating agencies.
After all of the speakers had addressed the crowd, everyone had plenty of time to learn and socialize. Some received low vision testing at the New England Eye Van; others got hands-on experience with technology, met members of the Commission staff, and got a chance to ask any blindness-related questions they may have had. Without a doubt, this open house showed just how beneficial it can be when small and large agencies work together to increase awareness and promote programs and services.