Posted by Carrie Fenn on Apr 22, 2020

4/22/20 CSH Rotary Zoom meeting

In attendance: Bob Sanders, John Hammer, Linda Gilbert, Sam Feitelberg, Ric Flood, Margo Casco, Howard Seaver, Ros Graham, Jonathan Lowell, Joan Lenes, France Leblanc, Linda Barker, Chris Davis, Keith Walsh, Charlie Kofman, Terry Kavanaugh, Nancy Danforth, Annette Hannah, Jessica Brumstead, Jim Donovan, Diana Vachon, Bill Deming, Denis Barton, Susan Grimes, Erik Kolomaznik, Carole Obuchowski, George and Linda Schiavone, Carrie Fenn

President Keith Walsh called the meeting to order promptly at 7:30 am. 

Margo reported that she sent the checks out to Meals and Wheels and our local food shelves for a total of $12,000.

John Pane is joining us today as a potential new member!

Jessica wondered about opening up our meetings to the public so interested parties can enjoy our amazing speakers. Bob noted that opening our meetings could create a security issue, so we are choosing to keep Bob as the gatekeeper with the meeting room. Our Zoom link will be the same every week for our Wednesday meeting and our Friday night happy hour.

Ric would like the Club to consider sending out dues bills so we don’t get stuck trying to track down dues. Annual dues are due July 1. Last year, bills were sent to those who hadn’t paid in the meetings. Ric suggested we send out bills early June. 

Chris Davis reported that there is a $30,000 deficit at the District level and a rise in dues was approved. We have not seen a reimbursement for our Changing of the Guard party, so Keith will follow up with Richard Fox, District Governor. 

John Thomas from the Vermont Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired is with us today. 

VABVI has been officially recognized in Vermont since 1926, and has been operating for 150 years. The group rganized in 1912, and reorganized in 1926 when Hellen Keller toured Vermont. 

VABVI mission statement: Our mission is to enable Vermonters who are blind or visually impaired, to be more independent, cultivate adaptive skills and improve their quality of life.

Services can start at birth and trained professionals start to work with families as soon as the organization hears of a need. Services for children continue to age 22 when the state takes over, then at 55 VABVI comes back to serve older adults.

90% of funds go directly to client services.

Client base increases every year, due to aging of the state. The majority of clients are in adult services.

Children services include direct services, in home assessments, teachers that work in classrooms, offering lots of ways to serve kids. Main admin office is in South Burlington, and there are service  offices in Berlin, Rutland and Brattleboro. VABVI hosts an intensive residential life experience camp that takes place in the summer, bringing kids with visual impairments together for a week with their peers who can share experiences and information. There’s a wide range of technological assistance so kids are able to share information about apps and leave camp with a new toolkit. Kids are interviewed after camp and asked what they liked the most and one of their favorite things is to tell each other blind jokes; kids leave with a whole range of new jokes! They do a lot of app sharing and get to be normal kids instead of “blind kids.”

VABVI works with families when they find out they have a child with a vision impairment, reassuring them that it’s going to be okay, that there’s a path forward. VABVI helps to create a support system, stressing that having a vision impairment is not a dead end. They deliver direction and guidance but also hope.

John wanted to share a picture of 18 kids with vision impairments walking through NYC with their white canes and guide dogs. Last summer, the camp went to the Lion King on Broadway and walked around the city. They were spotted at some point by a journalist, as they fearlessly navigated the crowded city. He followed them around and took pictures and he approached them to find out their story- he captured them in moment walking through the city confidently. The photo is a testament to who VABVI works with and who these kids can become.  Part of the camps is meeting and talking to other people. VABVI offered a camp at Lyndon campus to introduce the kids to a college campus, college students and counselors, so they could experience college life to prepare for that transition. 

A VABVI teacher becomes very close with families. Teachers are skill focused so teachers will change over time as the child develops her skill level. The children’s programs emphasize college and employment. 65% of blind and visually impaired adults are unemployed or underemployed and VABVI programs work to make sure Vermonters with visual impairments don’t fall into that category. 

The majority of the VABVI clients are in the adult services 55+. Services include mobility training, home assessments and adaptive training, intervention to help maximize vision, adaptive technology, support groups (“PALS”)- folks who get together socially for support. Social isolation and depression are big issues for seniors losing their eyesight.

VABVI also offers Smart Device Training, which came out of requests from seniors who wanted to learn technology that everyone else is using. SMT teaches the basics of using technology to access apps, and teaches adults how to navigate through their device and trains them to use apps that help them access financial information, email, news etc. Smartphones are revolutionary for seniors losing sight. 

Because Vermont’s population is so small, VABVI doesn’t get any federal funding. Funds come from fundraising and grants.

Services have needed to be adapted to the current stay at home situation. Services are typically provided one on one, so teachers have switched to phone assessments, and virtual services through Zoom for the children and adult programs. Children’s staff has been doing one on one education via Zoom, with more emphasis on online tools. For adults, orientation and mobility training with cameras on lap tops and GoPro’s have been employed. Overall there’s been an impressive display of adaptation to an online platform. 
VABVI’s biggest fundraising event takes place every year in September.  “Dancing with the Vermont stars” at the Flynn is a fun event where a professional dance teacher pairs up with a local celebrity. The event features 7 dance professional and 7 local celebrities.  Adam Bunting is a celebrity in this year’s event. Unfortunately, the event is on hold right now. The reveal party, when the celebrities and instructors are announced, typically happens in May, and performance is on the Flynn Stage in September. The reveal party has been cancelled and they are considering doing it via Zoom. 

Thanks to John Thomas for an incredible presentation- Vermont is fortunate to have such a dedicated organization. 

Keith presented this week’s question “get to know Rotary members” question: what’s  the furthest you’ve traveled and what’s the most unique place you’ve traveled? 

Friday night happy hours have been moved to 4:30. Use the same Zoom link to access. 

Linda Barker thanked folks who are sending donations to Rotary. 

Bob let us know that Meals on Wheels sent a request for support and Bob was able to let them know we had already approved a request for $2000.

Keith closed out the meeting 8:45.

Be well all!

Respectfully submitted,

Carrie Fenn