Adjusting Our Lens

By Sue Lichtenfels, PCB President

Peers, I’ll begin this article with my next installment of “Peers Challenging Beliefs” and then wrap up with an administrative update.

Although totally blind now, as a child, I had some usable vision. To make the most of my sight, I visited optometrists at the Feinbloom Low Vision Center in Philadelphia. During these appointments, the professional would change out the lens options until we found the one which would enable me to see the clearest. With the new glasses, I had a fresh view of the world and could function more successfully. Sometimes in life and in organizations, it’s also vital to adjust the lens we use to view the world. It’s beyond that time for PCB. If we truly want to achieve PCB’s purpose, our organizational culture needs to shift its focus from its membership-centric view to a community-wide perspective.

Everything we do within PCB is done through the membership lens. We give the membership the right to have a say in the priorities of the organization. We communicate our advocacy efforts through membership channels and rely on our membership to do the advocating. We primarily fundraise through activities aimed at, or direct appeals to, the membership. We hold programs such as discussion calls and the annual conference to benefit our membership. We publish a quarterly magazine to inform our membership. We spend tons of administrative time trying to figure out how to activate our membership. We rely on volunteers from our membership to carry out the work of the organization. We judge the organization’s success by the size of the membership we reach annually. We believe engaging and empowering the membership is fulfilling our mission.

For a long time we have allowed this narrow focus on our membership to distort our perception of PCB’s purpose. Our support and resources should be targeted outside of the organization, not inward as we have become too accustomed to doing. Here’s a refresher on what our bylaws state about PCB’s purpose.

“The purpose of the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind is to promote independence for visually impaired persons by:
a. working to improve the economic and social welfare of visually impaired persons;
b. supporting and monitoring educational and rehabilitation programs;
c. actively supporting and broadening vocational opportunities;
d. encouraging all visually impaired persons to realize their potential and to assume their place as valued members of their communities;
e. providing a forum for visually impaired persons throughout the commonwealth;
f. conducting programs of public education designed to improve understanding of the problems unique to sight loss and of the capabilities of visually impaired persons.”

Clearly it is the intent that all of PCB’s efforts are to benefit the community of people who are blind or visually impaired, not just the membership. Sure, as an organization of the blind, the membership, which carries out the purpose, will inherently benefit from its own efforts, but its priority focus in all that it does should be service to the wider community. According to the most recent blindness statistics available from the American Foundation for the Blind (2016 American Communities Study), that community includes 298,935 Pennsylvanians who are blind or visually impaired. We all know from the World Health Organization that those numbers will continue to grow exponentially. With our operating focus on our current membership of 270, the bulk of our efforts is aimed at only 0.09 percent of the people our mission aims to assist. To put it another way, we are reaching less than one-tenth of one percent of individuals in the community of Pennsylvanian’s with vision loss. We don’t even come close to accomplishing our purpose when we are so focused on our membership. It’s even more startling to look at the statistic in reverse and realize that we are missing out on 99.9 percent of our target audience and the potential resources those people could bring to PCB.

Making the adjustment from the membership-centric view to the expansive community perspective certainly won’t happen overnight because it’s an engrained mindset in most of us. We have started moving in the right direction though with early implementation of the peer network concept. We’ve got to retrain our brains to always be thinking “big picture” instead of “micro membership.” Most importantly, we need to address the necessary dissolution of the paid membership model which has separated us from the larger blindness community for too long. It’s important to note that while providing a forum for individuals is included in PCB’s purpose, the practice of enrolling every person we can into a paid membership is not. In my next article, I plan to explore how our organization might function without paid membership.

I’ll wrap up this portion of my article with a vision for a PCB where the focus is on the community of blind and visually impaired people. I hope this description will become reality someday soon.

Everything we do within PCB is done through the community lens. We give the community the right to have a say in the priorities of the organization. We communicate our advocacy efforts through community channels and rely on our community to do the advocating. We primarily fundraise through activities aimed at, or direct appeals to, the community. We hold programs such as discussion calls and the annual conference to benefit our community. We publish a quarterly magazine to inform our community. We spend tons of administrative time trying to figure out how to engage our community. We rely on volunteers from our community to carry out the work of the organization. We judge the organization’s success by the size of the community we reach annually. We believe engaging and empowering the community is fulfilling our mission.

Now, to shift my focus to some administrative matters. If you’ve been reading the monthly calendar, you’ve probably realized two things: it’s September and for several months now an administrative task force has been meeting. With it being September, I have less than four months left as your PCB President. There will be an administrative transition this winter to a new President for which we are planning. We have been taking a close look at Officer duties, team responsibilities, staff roles, organizational processes and the like to find administrative solutions that will help us become more efficient and effective over the coming years. Serving on this task force are PCB Board Members, Mary Ann Grignon and Thomas Reid, along with PCB’s Executive Team: Sue Lichtenfels, Jule Ann Lieberman, Chris Hunsinger, Michael Zaken, Jackie Wissinger, and Tony Swartz.

Regarding another matter, Board Member Suzanne Erb has taken on the compilation of results from our BBVS service trends survey and has drafted the initial summary of findings. Our Executive Team is also giving the data careful consideration for additional points to include in the final report. Once completed, the document will be officially presented to Shannon Austin, Director of OVR, when she comes to present at our conference on Thursday, October 17.

After the conference, the findings document will be distributed to the public on the PCB Information Line at 773-572-6314 within its advocacy section, on the pcb1.org website, and in alternate format by request to the PCB office at 877-617-7407 or pcboffice@pcb1.org.

Also at this year’s conference, we will take another step toward opening our organization to the community by sponsoring SPARK Saturday. We are distributing event flyers throughout the local community to share our great lineup of Saturday morning speakers with the world. The event is free, but registration is requested by visiting pcb1.org/SPARKSat. The announcement with additional details is included later in this issue. Please pass on the invitation far and wide.

On a final note, I extend a heart-felt thank you to the many individuals and groups who work so hard and give so generously to make our annual conference a success. It’s never too late to contribute to our annual conference. Please join me in recognizing the following chapters for their financial sponsorship of specific events at the 2019 PCB Conference and Convention.

Golden Triangle- Friday Morning Entertainment
Hank Bloomberg- Saturday Banquet
Lehigh Valley- First-Timer’s Breakfast
Oil Valley- SPARK Saturday
Philadelphia Metro- Awards Ceremony
Philadelphia Regional- Sunday Breakfast
York- Believe or Bust Trivia

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