President’s Message (Fall, 2014)
By Tony Swartz
With respect to the administration of PCB, a good deal has transpired since my last message. Changes began on Tuesday, July 2, when the members of the Board of Directors and I received the resignation of both our Executive Director, John Horst, and also that of our Executive Secretary, Christina Heintzelman.
John Horst has served in the capacity of Executive Director of our organization since 1995. As Executive Director, not only has John managed the daily operation of our office, but he has been instrumental in shaping PCB’s public response to many advocacy-related issues, including the organization of state-wide rallies at the Capitol in support of maintaining the state’s Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services (BBVS) as a separate bureau within the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. Administratively, John has overseen the relocation of our office from Philadelphia to Harrisburg and a second relocation to its current site. During his tenure, John has written countless letters to public officials and attended countless meetings throughout the state, representing our various positions. He also serves as our representative on the Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania Association for the Blind.
John began his work in services for the blind as a rehabilitation teacher and eventually worked his way up through the ranks of BBVS. In 1962, he was appointed to be the District Manager of the Northeast District Office of BBVS, serving in that position until his retirement in 1992. Within ACB, most notably, John served as the coordinator and assistant coordinator of ACB’s national conventions from the mid 1980’s through the early 1990’s. John is well known and well respected within the blindness system, by members of the PA state legislature, and by our congressional delegation. Our organization has been very fortunate over the last twenty years to have had John’s dedicated service, certainly far beyond our capacity to have adequately compensated him.
Lest you think, however, that the above is John’s epitaph or final tribute, let me assure you that he will continue to serve PCB. On Friday, August 8, John most generously and graciously accepted a proposal from the PCB Board of Directors to serve in the capacity of PCB’s Director of Community Affairs. This will allow John to continue his service to PCB from his home, enabling him to carry out assignments for which he is most suited: advocacy, membership development and communication, and PCB leadership advisement. With the unexpected resignation of the organization’s Executive Secretary, John has most generously agreed to extend his tenure as Executive Director through the end of October in order to assist with the training and preparation of the organization’s new Administrative Secretary who will be responsible for overseeing the PCB office.
It was with a deep sense of regret that the Board and I accepted the resignation of our Executive Secretary, Christina Heintzelman. Christina joined the staff of PCB in October 2011. Throughout her tenure, Christina contributed greatly in our efforts to technologically streamline and modernize our office, most notably in the areas of membership record keeping, convention registration, and financial management. I’m certain that those who dealt with Christina, on even the most casual basis, found her welcoming and most willing to extend herself in her service both to the organization and to individual members. While we regret Christina’s leaving, we also offer her our best wishes and congratulations as she embarks on an exciting advancement of her career. Christina will move on to become the Executive Director of the Carlisle Learning Arts Center. Given her passionate interest in the arts, her exceptional talent as a photographer, and her superior organizational skills, we have no doubt as to her suitability for the position and her future success.
Of course, with Christina’s resignation, PCB’s Executive Committee needed to quickly assess the future of the position and to carry out a plan accordingly. The Executive Committee determined that Christina would be replaced, but that both the title and scope of the position would change. A search committee was assigned, and together with First Vice President, Sue Lichtenfels, and Treasurer, Michael Zaken, we conducted a search and selection process which was completed by Friday, July 25. I, and the Executive Committee, believe that we are most fortunate to have selected Gail Varney to serve as PCB’s new Administrative Secretary. I can assure you that you will find Gail to be most qualified and very capable of assuming the responsibilities of the position. We members of the Executive Committee have no doubt that PCB will benefit greatly through Gail’s service to the organization. The next time you call into the office, please take a moment to introduce yourself to Gail and welcome her to PCB.
Coordinated by PCB’s Advocacy and Governmental Affairs Committee, PCB conducted its first organized legislative call-in campaign in support of H.R. 4040, the Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act, during the week of July 7-11, 2014. While George Holliday, Chair of the AGAC, will provide a more thorough report on the effort, I want to acknowledge the work of the committee. Most especially, though, I offer my thanks to the members of our organization who took the time to call their congressional legislators in support of this bill which has the potential to transform educational services for children who are blind or have low vision.
Advocacy does not begin and end with a single call to our representative to Congress. As Mr. Holliday has requested, follow up calls are necessary when advocating for any legislation. First, you need to determine whether your initial call has had an influence. Exactly where does your representative to Congress stand on the bill? Don’t be afraid to request the member’s position in writing. Perhaps it will be necessary to attempt to schedule a meeting with your representative to further explain, or more fervently request, his or her support. Call-in days take little time and require no more effort than that you familiarize yourself with the legislative talking points provided by the committee and be prepared to discuss them. As few as five calls to a legislator’s office on a single issue can have a dramatic impact. We succeed as an advocacy organization only when we are all engaged in a mutual effort.