Coming Together on an Island Paradise

by Roy Young and Christina Hitchcock

August 20-23, 2012 is not so far away anymore! The preparation time available to BVA regional group officers, convention delegates, staff, and BVA's general membership planning to be a part of the Association's 67th National Convention is quickly coming to a close.

Galveston Island

 

BVA National Headquarters staff members and the Greater Houston Regional Group membership have teamed up to assure an unforgettable stay on Galveston Island. The experience begins with incomparable room rates that are fully guaranteed and with full access to the adjacent Galveston Convention Center, the latter of which is a first-ever occurrence for a BVA national convention.

This year's convention hotel, the Galveston Island Hilton Resort, is located on the 30-acre San Luis Beachfront Resort on Seawall Boulevard. It is available to convention participants beginning on August 18 and will remain so until August 26 so that those interested may enjoy all that Galveston Island has to offer.

Attendees are certain to feel the soothing breeze off the Gulf of Mexico as they move 250 feet from the hotel to the east entrance of the Convention Center. The breeze should not be any less pleasant during a 100-yard walk from the hotel and across the boulevard to the beach.

Galveston Island is the number one attraction in Texas for out-of-state visitors. Its relaxed tropical island atmosphere is located only 40 minutes south of the Houston Hobby Airport, which is the closest airport to Galveston and the recommended one for travel to the convention hotel. While on the island, convention participants may experience a flight in an authentic World War II aircraft at the Lone Star Flight Museum. They may also work in a bit of water park fun at the fabulous Schlitterbahn. Another option is to mingle with exotic island creatures and tropical plants. Still another is to unravel the mysteries of science in the Moody Gardens Glass Pyramids. Stepping back in time is also possible at any of Galveston's numerous historic attractions.

The Island is a barrier landmass on the Texas Gulf Coast. It is located 50 miles southeast of Houston. During the 19th century, Galveston Island became a major U.S. commercial center and one of the largest ports in the country. "The Strand" is a National Historic Landmark district of largely Victorian era buildings that now house restaurants, antique stores, historical exhibits, museums, and art galleries.

Event Overview

 

The traditional convention layout and schedule is undergoing a major change this year. The official start will be on Monday instead of Tuesday and all official BVA events will end on Thursday evening. Registration will begin early Monday morning in the Hilton's Crystal Ballroom and will continue until 6:00 p.m. The President's Welcome Reception will begin at 7:00. This time-honored tradition includes an opportunity to greet National President Sam Huhn and other National Officers. Registration is required to attend the reception so please plan to check in first.

Meetings begin Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. in the Convention Center with the posting of the colors and an opening address. We have invited VA Secretary Eric Shinseki as well as state and local dignitaries. The business portion of the meeting is expected to start around 10:30.

For family members and other guests who choose not to attend the business meeting, the Exhibit Hall will open for the first time at 10:30 a.m. and remain open until 5:30 p.m. It will follow the same schedule on Wednesday and open for a half-day on Thursday.

The Exhibit Hall offers a unique opportunity to learn about new products and services. It provides a hands-on experience with the latest tools and technologies that have been developed specifically for the blind and visually impaired. 

The BVA Auxiliary Silent Auction is another option for convention attendees seeking activity in and around the hotel. In addition, the host regional group is organizing an auction of its own for Tuesday evening. To donate items for the auction, please contact Convention Chairman Roy Young at 832-693-1556 or at royyoung149@windstream.net before June 15.

All convention attendees are invited to the Wednesday morning BVA Forum. The first session will be a leadership training seminar. The second and third hours will focus on vision research, prosthetics, and new technologies.

The annual Father Thomas J. Carroll Memorial Luncheon will be held this year on Wednesday afternoon. Admission to the event is included in the convention registration. Father Carroll was the first BVA National Chaplain and a pioneer in the field of blind rehabilitation. As always, the event will be highlighted with a speaker and the presentation of BVA Certificates of Appreciation to individuals who have distinguished themselves in service to blinded veterans.
Following the luncheon, each district will meet separately to discuss relevant issues and raise questions with District Directors.

Thursday morning kicks off with the Closing Business Session, which includes voting on the proposed Bylaws and Resolutions, National Officers, and upcoming convention sites. Following the meeting, convention attendees are invited to a legislative briefing presented by Director of Government Relations Tom Zampieri and a second leadership training session.

Thursday evening will feature the grand finale of the BVA 67th National Convention, an hour-long reception followed by the Awards Banquet. Recognitions presented will include the Gold and Silver Gavels and the Major General Melvin J. Maas, Irving Diener, and David L. Schnair Awards.

Hilton Details and Surrounding Area

 

The Hilton Galveston Island Resort offers spacious accommodations with excellent views of the Gulf from private balconies. The Coconuts Pool Bar and Grill presents guests with a variety of frozen concoctions and a light menu fare offered poolside. The Palm Court, another food option, is a full-service restaurant offering a wide array of specialties with "Island Caribbean" flair.

For convention attendees who enjoy traditional Gulf Coast seafood specialties, Landry's Seafood House is located within steps of the hotel. Also within walking distance is the Rainforest Cafe, which also houses Retail Village and the River Adventure Ride as part of its restaurant package. On the same block also is an outlet of the nationally popular International House of Pancakes chain.

Reservations for the hotel can be secured by calling 800-HILTON-7, or 800-445-8667. Individuals making reservations over the phone must remember to indicate their affiliation with the Blinded Veterans Association in order to receive the group rate. Participants are urged to reserve rooms as far in advance as possible with July 20 being the final date to receive the BVA $99 per night room rate. The majority of the guest rooms are being held for the Monday arrival with Friday check out. Early registration is strongly encouraged if additional nights are desired.

Convention attendees wishing to share a room to reduce costs should make their hotel reservations early. Send in the official BVA registration form with arrival and departure dates and a notation regarding roommate restrictions. Individuals will be paired on a first-come, first-served basis. Although good faith efforts will always be made, please note that there are no guarantees that everyone will find a suitable roommate.

Galveston Party Boats

 

Representing one of the oldest fishing fleets on the Gulf Coast, the Galveston Party Boats are an attraction that the average visitor simply cannot pass up. For that reason, the Greater Houston Regional Group has arranged for a party boat experience for interested blinded veterans and their families on August 20 from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Since 1998, the regional group has planned and carried out an annual fishing trip with the boats. Needless to say, the experiences of the group members have been nothing short of a blast. They urge all convention attendees not to skip this activity and thereby "miss the boat."

The Captains and Deck Hands are Coast Guard licensed. Although they are also very versatile and experienced in working with the blind and visually impaired, they know how to provide a good time for entire families and persons of all ages.

The Cavalier, which is regularly inspected by the Coast Guard, is a 78-foot catamaran boat that seats 86 persons for fishing. The vessel also houses an inside café style seating area that includes a snack bar where cold beverages and hot sandwiches can be purchased. There are also two restrooms inside the cabin. An upper deck with seating allows for sightseeing and sunbathing.

Once the patrons reach their final fishing destination, which can range from a few miles to the Galveston Jetties up to 60 miles offshore (depending on the location of the fish and the weather), they exit the air-conditioned cabin through doors either on the port, on the starboard side, or at the stern.

Once outside, they find a bench seat among a row of seats that extends around the perimeter of the vessel, except at the stern. A Deck Hand assists passengers needing to locate their numbered, pre-designated seat. Now in their seats, they find their rod and reel directly in front of them. The Deck Hand returns in order to assist guests with their rod and reel, and with baiting their hook.

The real fun begins as patrons hang their rods directly over the side and flip the lever on the huge Penn reel. The 32-ounce weight takes the bait straight to the bottom, which then requires a few turns of reeling up. All that is left at this point is to await the "Big One" and the ensuing battle as the catch is retrieved. Once the catch is up, Deck Hands are there to take the fish off, ice it down, and bait the hook again in preparation to catch a second one.

No fishing license is required for party boat fishing unless redfish are involved. Cost of the trip is $60 with an additional minimal fee charged by BVA for transportation to and from the pier. Reservations and payments for the trip are being taken directly by Galveston Party Boats, Inc. at 409-763-5423.

Lone Star Flight Museum

 

A great way to get a feel for the importance of aircraft history and science during America's war theaters is to visit the Lone Star Flight Museum. A nonprofit educational museum that receives no federal funding, the museum has more than 40 restored aircraft, most of which are in flight-worthy condition.

Aircraft onsite at the museum include World War II fighters, liaison trainers, executive planes, and bombers. Visitors are taken from flight's humble beginnings to the restored fighter planes on display.

The museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For additional information about displays and admissions, call 409-740-7722. A detailed informational booklet is also available at both the Hilton and the Galveston Convention Center.

War Bird Rides

 

Convention attendees can experience what it was like to be an American aviator if they choose to board one of the Lone Star Flight Museum's historic World War II trainers. It is a boarding pass to history and one of the best ways to fly over Galveston Island.

Passengers may choose between the open-cockpit PT-17 Stearman biplane that will take them back to the barnstorming days of old or the T-6 Texas, known as the "pilot maker" that served as an advanced trainer during World War II.

The trainers were a staple of military aviation in Texas during World War II and continue today as classic aircraft that symbolize the American dream of flight.

Each flight lasts approximately 35 minutes, of which 20-25 minutes will be in the air. Individual prices are $225 for the Stearman and $290 for the T-6. Passengers must be at least 18 years old to fly. Some size restrictions may apply.

For more information and/or to book a flight, call Roy at 832-693-1556 or email him at royyoung149@windstream.net by June 30.

Convention Pre-Registration

 

BVA mailed convention announcements in Mid-May to all members, who must in turn request a registration package or go to the Convention webpage to download the registration form and other information. The registration fee for the convention is $100 per person and includes access to the Exhibit Hall, all official BVA business meetings, and tickets to the President's Reception, the Father Carroll Luncheon, and the Awards Banquet. There will be a price increase after July 20.

Travel discounts and updates are available on the BVA website. Convention attendees can be met at the airport arrival gate by a BVA volunteer upon request only. For such assistance, please email the arrival and departure information to Margarine Beaman, oleo50@gmail.com, or call 512-921-1625 at least three weeks in advance so that sufficient time is allowed to make the arrangements. Every effort possible will be made to meet individuals traveling alone. Please send arrival and departure information to chitchcock@bva.org at least four weeks prior to the convention.

Whenever possible and to reduce confusion, please make ground transportation reservations at the same time flight arrangements are made. For ground transportation from the airport, please call Galveston Limousine at 800-640-4826 or 409-744-5466.

Significant Dates

 

Wednesday, June 20—Early registration deadline for attendees wishing to enter the complimentary hotel room drawing. Those who have registered at the Hilton and who have submitted their BVA convention registration by June 20 will be entered into a drawing for a complimentary four-night stay during the convention. This prize is valued at more than $450. The drawing will be held during the Awards Banquet on August 23.

Friday, July 20—Deadline for submitting registration form and $100 payment per person to BVA National Headquarters. After July 20, the registration fee is $120. Convention registration forms and payments must be sent to BVA National Headquarters. Conditioned on availability, this date is also the final one for securing a discounted hotel room rate.

Friday, July 20—Deadline for BVA members and regional groups to submit announcements and ad pages for the convention program. Please contact Christina at 800-669-7079 for more information about placing an announcement or ad.

Monday, July 30—Deadline for submission of the completed regional group delegate credentials form and the completed official proxy form from non-attending members. The proxy form must be requested in advance from Administrative Director Brigitte Jones. The official national headquarters proxy form and credentials forms shall be the only forms recognized at the national convention.

Thursday, August 2—Deadline for cancellation of pre-registration in order to receive a full refund.