Council Presents 2013 Awards for Advocacy, Volunteerism and Excellence in Accommodation
During its annual awards luncheon, the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired recognized and thanked individuals and organizations that have made a difference in the lives of people who have vision loss.
GingeRootz Asian Grille in Appleton received the Community Partnership Award. Restaurant owners Doris and Alice Ng hosted two Dining in the Dark events in April 2013 to raise awareness of and support for the Council’s work on behalf of people who are blind or visually impaired.
The Exceptional Accommodations Award was presented to Walgreen’s Distribution Center in De Forest. Walgreen’s was applauded for working with a visually impaired employee to accommodate her low vision needs and to help her fulfill her job duties.
Senator Dale Schultz, a Republican from Richland Center, accepted the Legislator of the Year Award. He was recognized for his many years of support for the Council’s work and for his help in the passage of the 2012 Instructional Materials Accessibility Act of Wisconsin. Senator Schultz will also sponsor an Omnibus Bill that will be introduced during the 2014 legislative session.
Chris Zenchenko of Evansville was presented with the Louis Seidita Distinguished Service Award. Chris has volunteered with the Council since he was a toddler, stuffing fund raising letters into envelopes. He served as Council President for eight years in addition to being a member of numerous Council committees. A strong spokesperson for the Council on numerous legislative issues, Chris also volunteers for several other organizations in the community.
In her closing remarks, Executive Director Loretta Himmelsbach commented, “As the Council’s award recipients, you have not waited to lose something in order to take action. You see a need and an opportunity, and you are proactive, working in areas that are sacrosanct to you…. I applaud what you have accomplished, and I look forward to what can be accomplished together in the future.”
Closing Remarks by Loretta Himmelsbach
Awards Luncheon, November 16, 2013
A True Story: Gwen has been legally blind for ten years. She cannot see well enough to drive or read large print. However, she moves around the familiar setting of her house with few problems. “After all, I can see something as big as a chair!” “At least most of it.”
Gwen cooks, though she admits she has mistaken salt for sugar at times and chili powder for cinnamon. And there have been times her earrings or her shoes have not matched. Gwen laughs at these mistakes. She even claims that blindness has its advantages.
“I don’t spend nearly as much time worrying about my looks as I used to. I keep my hair cut short so that it’s easy to manage. I rarely wear makeup. When you can’t see yourself, you assume others can’t either,” she says.
“Another advantage to blindness,” Gwen claims, “is it gets you out of some activities you would not want to do anyway. I don’t have to work at the church bazaar, and I get to read while I’m cooking.” She orders loads of audio material from the Talking Books program of the National Library Service.
There are a few disadvantages to blindness, Gwen admits. She can’t work crossword puzzles by herself. Inability to drive keeps her at home more than she’d like. She’s dependent on others to take her to the grocery store and the pharmacy. This means fitting into other people’s schedules.
“I remember the autumn day when I was taking my dog for a walk down a country road near my house. I looked across a lovely field where the grass was growing pale gold. I knew it was what we call a beautiful day. But all I could see was a blur of yellow and a smudge of blue sky. All the detail was washed out.”
She pauses to take a deep breath. “That was the day I said goodbye to beauty.”
Gwen discovered beauty in additional ways—the sounds of a symphony, the aroma of scented candles, the differing textures of her cat’s fur. She discovered more people like you, our award recipients—beautiful people who genuinely care.
As I read the applications for the awards which were conferred today, I was impressed with how Chris Zenchenko, Senator Schultz, Walgreen’s, and GingeRootz all had one thing in common: you all want to make the world a better and beautiful place. From Walgreen’s helping Sue German with making her workplace accessible to Senator Schultz supporting and sponsoring legislation which increases awareness to the population at large about accessibility issues for those who have experienced vision loss or blindness; to GingeRootz wanting to help raise funds in partnership with the Council to Chris Zenchenko who has volunteered with the Council since he was a toddler, stuffing fund raising letters into envelopes, the common thread is that you each care about your community and the people who live in them. You reflect the amazing values that we hold close in our hearts making the world a beautiful place for all.
Now back to Gwen’s story: Every morning when she wakes up, Gwen looks around at familiar objects—her dresser, the overhead fan, a quilt rack—assessing how much she can make out. For the past few years, those objects have retained their misty, truncated shapes. Then Gwen feels a surge of joy. She has learned to value what remaining sight she has, about 5%, her doctor estimates. “It’s true that you never know what you have till you lose it,” Gwen says. “But what I do have makes so many things still possible. Sighted people may treat vision as ordinary, but to me it’s an extraordinary gift.”
As the WCBVI’s award recipients, you have not waited to lose something in order to take action. You see a need and an opportunity and you are proactive, working in areas that are sacrosanct to you. We are honored to have you in our presence today. I applaud what you have accomplished and look forward to what can be accomplished together in the future. You are an extraordinary gift! I thank you for what you do—each of you, in your own way---for creating a world of which we are proud. You make beauty happen!