By Tony Swartz, PCB President
We have just completed another season of regionals and I thank all the planners and their fellow chapter members who assisted in the organizing and hosting of the meetings. I believe that a healthy organization takes the time and makes the effort to question what we do and why we do it. After attending nearly all of the PCB regional conferences held in the last four years, I would suggest that we take the time as an organization to re-examine the purpose and goals of our regionals. Why do we hold them? In what way could they be more effective? Is it possible to include our members at-large as well as non-PCB members? Could we use technology to reduce the need for travel either by attendees or presenters? Should we broaden or narrow the topics to be covered?
Here is where we begin to find answers. In 2012, the Convention Program and Planning Committee developed the Regional Meeting Planning Guide. Under the section “Why Regional Meetings?” the guide lists six goals:
1. Advocate for local issues
2. Share information specific to their area
3. Hear directly from PCB leadership on statewide issues
4. Increase chapter membership
5. Learn about new information from sources outside of PCB that pertain to people with vision loss
6. Participate in social activities within a comfortable environment.
I believe that planners need to more consciously consider addressing each of these goals in their planning. I ask our board and chapter presidents to give further consideration to the issue of our regional conferences. I will make this one of the topics that we will address during the President’s Luncheon at this year’s state convention.
As many of our members are aware, Heritage for the Blind solicits contributions nationwide through radio commercials and direct mailings, purporting to provide services to those of us who are blind. After many years of having heard solicitation commercials for Heritage for the Blind, and having received numerous inquiries from our membership and the general public as to the charity’s legitimacy, and at the urging of our Advocacy and Governmental Affairs Committee, John Horst and I contacted Heritage for the Blind in an attempt to determine what services the organization provides to Pennsylvanians with vision loss. In response to our requests for direct services, John and I both received by mail a printed listing of service providers for the blind throughout the state. The listing was out of date and for the most part irrelevant to the specific services each of us requested. Heritage’s responses to our requests confirmed that the organization provides no direct services in Pennsylvania. This would appear to challenge their implied claim of providing referral and direct services to individuals with vision loss nationwide.
Why does PCB believe that we need to take action? Consider that rehabilitation services provided by local private agencies for the blind and through the Pennsylvania Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services are significantly underfunded. The funding pool is further depleted when out-of-state charities, which provide services of questionable value to persons with vision loss, are allowed to solicit funds from the public, supposedly for our benefit. As an advocacy organization of the blind, we have no choice but to object to this obvious deceiving of the public and diverting of funding.
Last December, on behalf of the PCB Board of Directors, I wrote to the office of the Pennsylvania Attorney General, urging the Attorney General’s staff to investigate Heritage for the Blind. In April, I was contacted by the Attorney General’s office with its response. While sympathetic to our concerns, the office was of the opinion that there was insufficient evidence to substantiate further investigation unless further evidence could be provided. When investigating the legitimacy of a charity that solicits funds in Pennsylvania, the Office of the Attorney General considers the following five questions:
• What is the exact nature of the solicitation or charitable appeal?
• What is the nature of the program services promised by the organization during the charitable appeal?
• Do the persons on behalf of the organization making a charitable appeal identify themselves as a paid professional fundraiser?
• Do the person or persons making the charitable appeal on behalf of the organization provide, when asked, financial information?
• Other statements, whether verbal or written, which describe the type of work undertaken by the organization that fulfills their charitable mission and encourages donors to support their cause.
If you have had the opportunity to have heard the commercials for Heritage for the Blind, you will have noted that the commercial never mentions specific services. Instead, the commercial allows the listener to draw a conclusion as to how the charity is of benefit, and that is how Heritage for the Blind has managed to avoid further investigation. The charity’s mission statement — “The Heritage for the Blind is committed to helping the blind and visually impaired receive all the benefits, services, education and physical aids they need to lead productive, rewarding and fulfilling lives” — is unspecific as to how the charity will meet its mission, thus avoiding specific service claims. But if you visit the Heritage for the Blind website at www.hftb.org, there you will find more specific claims. As an example, Heritage for the Blind claims to provide free canes to the visually impaired. “Do you need a cane? Call us at 1-800-236-6283 and we will ship you a free cane today,” so I called requesting a cane. At this writing, I am still waiting for a call back from a staff member. According to others, I will be referred to the National Federation of the Blind, who will actually be the provider of the cane.
If you are frustrated each time you hear a Heritage for the Blind commercial, here is your opportunity to turn that frustration into action. Call Heritage for the Blind at 800-236-6283 and request either general services or a specific service such as a cane. Visit the Heritage for the Blind website for more information regarding the services the charity purports to provide. Please keep a log of your call, the time and date, how quickly one of their case workers returns your call, whether Heritage for the Blind was actually the provider of service, and the specific results of your request for service. Also, do not discard mail from the charity whether it is a listing of Pennsylvania providers or a charitable appeal. You may either send your log to the PCB state office, or you can call the office and dictate your log to the PCB administrative secretary. PCB leadership will compile the logs and forward the results to the Office of the Attorney General.
In the last edition of The PCB Advocate, I discussed the benefits of the Marrakesh Treaty. Though PCB has inquired of his office in writing, we still do not know whether Senator Toomey will support the treaty. I am asking again that you contact Senator Toomey’s office and urge the senator to support the treaty when it comes before the Senate. Again, below is Senator Toomey’s contact information.
Senator Patrick J. Toomey
Pittsburgh office: 412-803-3501
Harrisburg office: 717-782-3951
Scranton office: 570-941-3540
Allentown/Lehigh Valley office: 610-434-1444
Philadelphia office: 215-241-1090
Erie office: 814-453-3010
Johnstown office: 814-266-5970
Washington, D.C. office: 202-224-4254
Toll-free in Pennsylvania: 1-855-552-1831