Change = Opportunity

By Sue Lichtenfels

As I feel, smell, and hear the winter slowly morphing into spring, I am reminded that change is ever-present and inevitable. Whether it’s in a child growing up; illnesses that challenge our health; co-workers coming and going on the job; or new weekly sales at the grocery store, we experience change constantly. Many of us have become so adept at handling change that once we get over the initial blip on our “something’s not normal here” meters, we seamlessly transition into the new reality. Eventually, we find ourselves wondering, “What did I ever do before…?” or maybe it’s more like, “I can’t believe it’s been so long since… It seems like that happened just last week.” When we exercise our resilience, change can offer us new opportunities and open a world of possibilities.

For PCB, spring traditionally brings about our regional meetings. During the President’s luncheon at last year’s conference though, chapter and PCB leaders agreed to take this year off from organizing those meetings. Some chapter leaders expressed concern over the amount of work that goes into putting together such an event. Smaller chapters have limited members and resources to develop a beneficial program. Yet others shared concerns over transportation and dwindling attendance. It was agreed that chapters would be better served by putting their energy into at least one community outreach activity in their local area this year.

Never fear, time to get together is still near. On Saturday, June 3 from 10 a.m. until Noon, I will host “PCB Perspectives”, a virtual statewide forum. Participants can join the forum from the comfort of home using either the phone or their computer. While we will have some time devoted to PCB-specific discussion, the intent is to lineup four or five presentations that would be of interest to all of us. My hope is since we are virtually gathering, we can attract some speakers from across the country. Please pay attention to the PCB-L listserv and the PCB Announce Line at 773-572-6314 for the connection instructions and program details. And, if you have ideas for speakers or topics, please let me know.

In Washington, the change in administration has certainly charged the political atmosphere. Among our elected officials, finger-pointing, reactionary group-think, and exaggerating the truth have become commonplace from both sides of the aisle. Unfortunately, some of this political tension has found its way into some PCB teams and onto our PCB-L listserv. Allowing room for varying views is a cornerstone of what makes PCB the best blindness consumer organization in the state. However, we need to be respectful of our fellow members and the mission of PCB. Please, share your opinions about public policy, but offer facts, examples of precedence, or expert testimony to back up your position. If you disagree with a public policy position PCB Leadership has taken, I encourage you to take an opportunity to look at the position from PCB’s perspective, that of an organization whose top priority is promoting independence and opportunity for people who are blind or visually impaired. Our work transcends party affiliation and individual self-interest.

Last year, the PCB Board of Directors recognized that change would be not just good for, but was vital to, the future success of the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind. Several leadership teams were tasked with shoring up the weaknesses and threats facing PCB. Thus, our Organizational Development Team continues to collect all organizational documents for archiving and to create leadership development tools. The Finance Team has developed an investment policy that focuses on income generation so that PCB has money to pay the bills without having to divest from our holdings. The Technology Team has implemented a back-up protocol to insure PCB’s office data is secure. The Communications, Membership Development and Executive Teams have been working hard to develop new policies and strategies for addressing PCB’s most serious threat, an ever-shrinking membership.

Yet again this year our membership numbers have dropped and one more chapter, Lackawanna, is dissolving. Clearly, if we are to continue as a viable organization, we need to implement changes that will attract new members to the organization. One method is to redefine membership in PCB so we can welcome more members on their terms. Another strategy in development is the creation of additional opportunities for members to interact and learn from one another through virtual workshops, discussion groups, and mentoring relationships. A third way that we intend to reach new members across a variety of demographic categories is by changing the way we all think about and talk about PCB—our brand. If we all marketed PCB as the precious gem that it is to us, new members would be banging down our door to get in.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “If I could bottle that, I’d sell it and be a millionaire?” Sometimes I say that about my daughter’s boundless energy or her beautiful laugh. Year after year, I feel that same way about the feeling I get from attending a PCB Conference. If I could just bottle that accepting, supportive, accessible atmosphere, I would pass it around to all those people who are unable to attend the conference. A conference in a bottle—guess that’s not too practical.

What is possible though, is to create an organization philosophy that strives to bring that conference atmosphere to its members year-round. Imagine a peer network for all impacted by vision loss whose core values are exactly what you find at a PCB Conference: Vision loss resources, Opportunities for success, Independence-building activities, Connections to others with blindness or vision loss, and Empowerment through group and self-advocacy. All would be welcome regardless of their vision level or how adjusted they are to blindness.

In a nutshell, the Communications Team believes it is important to market that PCB is a peer network of individuals impacted by vision loss that strives for increased independence and opportunities. Our network includes all people impacted by vision loss including those who are losing some vision, people with low vision, individuals who are totally blind, as well as family members and friends of those affected. Network members seek information and resources that help them adapt to life with limited or no sight. They join PCB to feel empowered, respected, and connected. As a part of our network, members meet peers similarly effected by vision loss who provide encouragement, guidance, and friendship. Through our networks publications, events, advocacy activities, and service opportunities, the network empowers members toward an active, independent life regardless of vision level. PCB is unique because we are a network of people who have directly experienced vision loss, working together to improve our lives and the lives of those like us. Since we experience the challenges of living without full sight first-hand, we can provide the most accurate insight into how to best achieve independence, accessibility and inclusion.

Over the next few months you will be hearing more about marketing the PCB brand. You will also be learning how a key attribute of the brand concept, an open network that welcomes all, will potentially change the way we handle membership within PCB. For current members of PCB, the proposed change is good news. The PCB Board of Directors has passed a motion to move from a dues-based membership to a registration-based membership model. If passed by the assembled convention in October, members would no longer need to pay dues for membership in the state organization. Dues would only be collected for chapter and ACB memberships. PCB Leadership will continue to hammer out the logistics of how this new membership model will work, and we will update you in the next issue of The PCB Advocate.

In the meantime, I ask that each of us commit to working on changing our own perception of PCB from an advocacy organization to one of a peer network whose members are a welcoming, supportive resource for all. Each of us has the potential to make a valuable impact. Consider all that you have to offer others: your personal experiences with vision loss or growing up blind; hobbies and activities you enjoy; your past or current work life; familiarity with the use of certain assistive technology or adaptive devices; advice on raising children or maintaining a home; tricks you use for independent living; in-depth knowledge you possess on a certain topic; or the like. Then think about how you can put that information into action in the PCB network. Perhaps you could be a one-on-one mentor, lead a one-time discussion call, teach a virtual class via the phone, give a presentation at a conference, participate on a panel, volunteer on a project, or write an article for the newsletter. When you’ve got some ideas, give me a call or send me an email. I welcome the opportunity to discuss the possibilities with you.

It’s an exciting time to be a member of PCB because with change comes opportunity. Transforming into the peer network we envision means more opportunities to forge new relationships, expand personal development, and individually make a greater impact. Another way of looking at this CHANGE: Can Help A Network Grow Exponentially. Let’s close our eyes, open our minds, and imagine the possibilities!

Finally, it has come to my attention that there are way too many members who are not reading The PCB Advocate. So, I am offering a reward to those who read all of my message and an incentive to read the rest of the newsletter. Somewhere in one of our many wonderful articles is the mention of an animal. Since we have different formats going out at different times, I will offer a $10 Starbucks gift card to the first person from each format pool to call or email me with that animal’s name: 412-429-1727 or Happy reading!

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