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Davis, Grover Join BVA Staff

 

Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) Executive Director Al Avina has announced the appointment of Wade Davis and Wanda Grover as new National Service Officers to serve in the organization's respective field offices in Houston, Texas, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In their new positions, Wade and Wanda will serve and assist blind and visually impaired veterans in the regions surrounding the two cities in which they are based. Wade, who assumed his duties January 22, is responsible for the Midwest, excluding the Great Lakes states. Grover began serving blinded veterans residing in the Northeast on February 4.

In addition to helping blinded veterans in the VA claims process, they will promote BVA programs, most notably its Volunteer Service Program. They will also assist in developing and strengthening the Association's regional groups and will work cooperatively with VA Visual Impairment Service Team Coordinators and Blind Rehabilitation Center personnel within their regions.

A native of southern Illinois, Wade enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1968. He served in the Army Security Agency and was honorably discharged at the rank of E-5 after serving 3½ years. After his Army service he attended Texas Bible College as a student of theology. He met his wife, Brenda at the college and decided to make Texas his home. He also volunteered as a Sunday School teacher while at the college, an opportunity he says was the first in his lifelong commitment to, through voluntary service, help others improve their lives.

"I am greatly honored to be selected as the National Field Service Officer for Region V," he said.

Wade's strong commitment is to help blinded and visually impaired veterans learn of and receive the benefits that they have earned, including rehabilitation services. He is determined to help BVA expand and become a well-known organization.

Wade is active in volunteering with the BVA Greater Houston Regional Group, having served as treasurer. He is an accredited BVA Volunteer National Service Officer. 

Wade brings an abundance of knowledge and experience in problem solving, leadership, communication, motivation and supervision to BVA from his previous petrochemical work, manufacturing, small business ownership, and volunteer service.

In 1995 Wade was diagnosed with retinoschisis. His ophthalmologist referred him to the Texas Commission for the Blind. The tools and training he received there enabled him to work another 13 years. In 2008, he was declared legally blind. He sought help from the VA and BVA. As a result, Wade attended the Southwestern Blind Rehabilitation Center in Tucson, Arizona, twice, first taking the basic training course and then Computer Access Training.

Throughout Wade's life, he has volunteered in numerous capacities that include baseball coach, youth center volunteer, Sunday School teacher and ten years as Sunday School Administrator. In the latter position, he supervised a volunteer staff of more than 40 persons, implemented a Teacher Certification Training program, and brought in many new programs to spark and hold children's interest. Additionally, Wade led the local church to twice place first in Texas and in the U.S. in fundraising for children's ministries.

A native of Philadelphia, Wanda Grover entered the Army in 1974 as a member of the Women's Army Corps. She trained as a Multichannel Communication Specialist at Fort Gordon, Georgia, and later attained the rank of Sergeant while serving at Fort Stewart, Georgia She was also stationed in Karlsruhe, Germany, and Anchorage, Alaska.

Wanda served on the 1978 Women in the Army Study. She visited bases in Korea, Panama, and Hawaii as part of the study.

Wanda's educational accomplishments include a Bachelor of Science Degree from New York Institute of Technology with a concentration in sociology and social work. She received a Master of Science in Education (teaching students with special needs) from Kaplan University. She attended the VA Eastern Blind Rehabilitation Center in West Haven, Connecticut, for basic rehabilitation, computer training and iPad training. She is a graduate member of The Seeing Eye, Inc., having received two companion guide dogs from the company.

A strong believer in community involvement, Wanda has served as both president and vice president of the Pennsylvania Regional Group. She was appointed by the Pennsylvania governor to the Southeast Veterans Center Advisory Board. She is also a member of the Pennsylvania State Veterans Commission, the War Veterans Council, George T. Cornish Post 292 of the American Legion, and the Philadelphia Blinded Veterans Support Group. She has served as the Directress of the Pennsylvania Veterans Affairs Department of the Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World.

Wanda raised two children in Philadelphia, a son that is now a city police officer and a daughter who earned a Master of Public Health. She has two grandchildren, including "a three-year-old who believes he is my parent."

USBGA Invites BVA To Golf with Purpose

 

Like most nonprofits, the United States Blind Golf Association (USBGA) is constantly looking to help others. One current focus is on organizing, sponsoring, and conducting blind golf clinics in all regions of the country. Another is helping attract media coverage by playing in golf scramble corporate fundraising events to support the tournament hosts' communities and their charities of choice.

USBGA is a national association of just 60 player members, but we have a fantastic time and generally play at a level that surprises even the best of sighted golfers. Volunteers and on-course spectators continually tell us that they had absolutely no idea that blind and vision impaired people could play golf! 

"We know we are breaking stereotypes and feel strongly that we are helping blind and vision impaired people everywhere to become active members of their communities again," said Jim Baker, USBGA President.

Thanks to grants and generous contributions from many sources, our hotel accommodations, greens fees, and banquet costs are covered for each registered player-coach team at all tournaments. The only major cost to each team is ground transportation and round-trip flights. Annual dues to join USBGA are only $25 per year.

Membership is limited to those with a visual acuity of less than 20/200 in both eyes after correction and must be verified in writing by a licensed ophthalmologist or optometrist. 

The 2013 tournament schedule is as follows:
  • April 20-23—USBGA Three-Day Regional; Green Valley, Arizona
  • August 17-22—USBGA Four-Day National Championship and U.S. Open (international event); Portland, Oregon
  • September 21-23—USBGA Three-Day Regional; Lexington, Kentucky
For more information, or to join, please email Membership Chair Sheila Drummond, drumm@ptd.net, or visitwww.usblindgolf.com.

This information was provided by David Meador, a 39-year member of the United States Blind Golf Association and a 2013 Ben Hogan Award recipient.

Guggenheim Officials Visit BVA Headquarters

 

Senior Educational Manager Georgia Krantz and Education Coordinator Olivia Swisher of the Guggenheim Museum paid a visit to BVA National Headquarters on September 24, 2012.

Outside BVA National Headquarters, Georgia Krantz, left, and Olivia Swisher with Tom Zampieri and Al Avina.
Outside BVA National Headquarters, Georgia Krantz, left, and Olivia Swisher with Tom Zampieri and Al Avina.

The two met with Al Avina and Tom Zampieri and were then accompanied by Tom on a three-hour special tour of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, pre-arranged by him. The visit included both the Vision Center of Excellence and the Military Amputee Trauma Care Center, the latter of which is the site rehabilitation and prosthetics training for recent amputees.

"Guggenheim's interest in BVA has its roots in the Museum's special tactile tours and training in the arts for the blind and visually impaired," said Tom. "The interest is especially high in our Operation Peer Support initiative and in the possibility of helping wounded warriors with vision loss enjoy some of the special programs offered by Guggenheim."

Since Guggenheim's visit in early autumn, the museum has launched an application that includes its first-ever audio verbal imaging tour for visitors who are blind or who have low vision. The tour focuses on its upcoming full-rotunda exhibition Gutai: Splendid Playground, with 11 stops guiding visitors from the bottom to the top of the rotunda. It also includes dialogue with a visitor who is blind and an accompanying touch object pack. The application is free and available onsite with museum admission or from iTunes.

Guggenheim's current exhibition No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia will also include a verbal imaging tour of five stops. That show runs until May 22. 

Sperrazza Day Celebrated On North Miami Beach

 

One of the three founding members of the Blinded Veterans Association still living was honored with a proclamation signed by Mayor George Vallejo of North Miami Beach, Florida, on November 7.

The document was also signed by the Vice Mayor and the full City Council.

Accompanied by members of the police force he served for 32 years, Leonard Sperrazza displays proclamation declaring November 7 'his day' on North Miami Beach.
Accompanied by members of the police force he served for 32 years, Leonard Sperrazza displays proclamation declaring November 7 "his day" on North Miami Beach.

Leonard Sperrazza, a BVA member since its humble beginning at an Avon Old Farms Convalescent Hospital (Connecticut) meeting now 68 years ago, took part in a ceremony with other dignitaries and citizens. The event and proclamation recognized Leonard's exceptional acts of volunteerism and dedicated neighborhood service as, ironically, the founder in 1980 of the North Miami Beach Police Department's Citizens Patrol. According to the Proclamation, the 1980 initiative has "empowered like-minded residents to affect change within their own neighborhoods for more than three decades."

November 7 was officially proclaimed "Lenny Sperazza Day," occurring just weeks before Leonard and his wife, Marian moved to Zephyr, Texas, to be closer to family. The couple has seven children.

Leonard was blinded during the invasion of Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944, while saving a wounded fellow soldier. He has been recognized for his volunteerism on state and national levels, having been named Volunteer of the Year in 2002 by the National Association of Citizens on Patrol. He also received its lifetime achievement award in 2012. He was a distinguished recipient of the Governor's Points of Light Award in 2006 and was promoted to the rank of Chief Volunteer in 2011.

"Lenny Sperrazza continues to shine brightly as a beacon of citizenship of whom the City of North Miami Beach can truly be proud," the Proclamation concluded. "The Mayor and Council commend Mr. Sperrazza for more than 30 years of selfless work on behalf of the city's residents."

Louisiana, Connecticut Remember Veterans

 

Time and space constraints put a cap on coverage of Veterans Day in the Autumn issue of the Bulletin and limited it to Arlington National Cemetery and the area near BVA National Headquarters. This does not mean, however, that BVA members in other areas of the country were idle!

Members of the Louisiana Regional Group, for example, participated in a parade held November 11 on the campus of the Alexandria VA Medical Center.

"Despite continuous cool drizzle and wind, we had a wonderful parade and a large turnout," said Bill Gordey, who helped organize BVA's participation in the event with BROS Mary Lasiter.

BVA's float was one of the 30 that braved the elements. Also participating were high school and college bands, Boy Scout troops, the local Sheriff's Department, the Fire Department, first responders, and other Veterans Service Organizations. Several blinded veterans also walked the parade route next to the float while others rode in their electric wheelchairs. Some 2,000 bystanders cheered on the groups.

On November 4, members of the Connecticut Regional Group and students attending the Eastern Blind Rehabilitation Center (EBRC) from the New England and Mid-Atlantic areas participated for the third consecutive year in the 13th Connecticut Veterans Parade. The event is recognized by the Veterans Day National Committee as an official one, taking place in a designated Veterans Day regional site.

The marathon 2½-hour parade kicked off at 12:30 p.m. near the State Capitol in Hartford. There was a moment of silence and tolling of church bells at 1:30.

Regional group participants included Douglas and Lois Reid and Director of District 1 David VanLoan with his wife, Pat. Assisting were EBRC Recreation Director Michael Rose, Instructor Paul Thompson, BRS Veterans Integrated Service Network National Consultant Melissa Suess. Austin Grimshaw, 13-year-old grandson of the VanLoans, carried the flag for the third consecutive year.

Outreach Efforts Highlight Washington RG Activity

 

The Washington Regional Group has recently participated in three labor-intensive activities that have resulted in new BVA members, additional services to blind and visually impaired veterans, and the raising of awareness in communities that are generally underserved.

Coordinated by regional group president Michelle Tuengel and Director of District 4 Bob Mower, the first of the events was an information booth set up by the group for three days at the Puyallup, Western Washington Fair. The booth received visitors in the hundreds over the three-day period. The fair attracts more visitors than any other single event in the state.

Bob also traveled on two different occasions with the VA Puget Sound Health Care System's Mobile Medical Unit. The first of the two trips took him to Swinomish Native American country November 22-26. He was accompanied by American Lake BRC Low-Vision Optometrist Dr. Irene Yang, VIST Coordinator Walt Werkhoven, BROS Don Felthouse, and other VA staff members. The trip resulted in six new BVA members and two future attendees at American Lake. A follow-up trip is scheduled for late April.

Left to right next to Mobile Medical Unit, Dr. Irene Yang, Swinomish Tribal Elder Phil Dan (host of the group), American Lake BROS Don Felthouse, Bob Mower, VIST Coordinator Walt Werkhoven, Minority Affairs Program Coordinator Cathy Davidson, and Health Plan Management Specialist Melinda DePellegrini.
Left to right next to Mobile Medical Unit, Dr. Irene Yang, Swinomish Tribal Elder Phil Dan (host of the group), American Lake BROS Don Felthouse, Bob Mower, VIST Coordinator Walt Werkhoven, Minority Affairs Program Coordinator Cathy Davidson, and Health Plan Management Specialist Melinda DePellegrini.

The second of the two recent trips, this one to the Quinault Tribe January 28-Feburary 1, had a two-fold purpose: first, to bring blind rehabilitation and low-vision services to rural visually impaired veterans who have limited or no access to VA facilities; and second, to reach out to Native Americans in the area, specifically the Quinault and neighboring tribes. 

A total of 43 veterans were served, including 16 new enrollments to VA, three vesting exams, 21 other types of blind rehab services, and three home visits. Bob signed up four new BVA members and sent literature home with an additional blinded veteran. There were five cases in which veterans were tribal members. The team was also able to make a presentation at the Tribal Elders Dinner on January 31.

Future Mobile Medical Unit trips are scheduled for April 22-26 and July 22-26. The spring trip will consist of follow-up efforts with the Swinomish, Nooksack, and neighboring communities. The summer effort will take the team to the S'Klallam Tribe and nearby communities.

Regional Group Manual Now Accessible Online

 

BVA's Regional Group Manual, a guide for local BVA leaders and prospective leaders in both regional groups and chapters, is now live on BVA's website.

The idea for a regional group manual was conceived in the mid-1990s. In 1999, it became available in hard copy format and was distributed in large three-ring binders at leadership training seminars organized and coordinated semi-annually by the late General Weeks. It was also available on cassette and as a Microsoft Word document.

The document has now been updated with many much-needed changes. Because of its greater accessibility with a few clicks of a keyboard, all future updates of the document will be made first to the online version.

BVA Caps and Patches

 

Members of the Blinded Veterans Association can visually represent BVA in their respective communities! According to Keleeba Scott, point of contact at BVA National Headquarters for the ordering of such merchandise, all members are eligible to obtain Garrison Caps, baseball caps, and patches imprinted with the BVA emblem.

"The service caps are significant recognitions that increase the awareness of the Association to the public and to fellow blinded veterans," she said.

The distinguished "Member's Cap" is navy blue with gold trim. It features the BVA seal. The letters B-V-A are present. Other lettering such as a state abbreviation, branch of service, or regional group name can be added at the BVA member's discretion.

"All of these elements combine to provide representation of honorable service and sacrifice during a BVA member's daily activities and travel," said Keleeba.

For more information about caps and patches, contact Keleeba Scott at 202-371-8880, Ext. 323.

Avina, Hitchcock Greet Blinded Vet MOH Recipient

 

Joe M. Jackson, Washington Regional Group, joined the Army Air Corps in March 1941. Three wars and 28 years later in 1969, he received the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Lyndon B. Johnson for a dangerous impromptu rescue operation of three American military personnel during the Battle of Kham Duc in Vietnam.

Now 44 years following his White House honor, Joe was in Washington, DC for inaugural festivities and an AMVETS-hosted Medal of Honor banquet that is a tradition every four years. During the event, invited attendees Al Avina and Christina Hitchcock met up with Joe.

"Both Joe and his wife, Rose, spoke very highly of BVA and how good the BRC is at American Lakes, Washington," said Christina. "He is a prime example of how BVA's efforts over the years have made it possible for blinded veterans who are not service-connected for their vision loss to gain access to VA blind rehab."

Al Avina during visit with Joe and Rose Jackson at Medal of Honor breakfast January 18.
Al Avina during visit with Joe and Rose Jackson at Medal of Honor breakfast January 18.

Rose Jackson said her husband joined BVA and attended the BRC as a result of macular degeneration. "He was three inches taller when he returned from blind rehab," she said.

Joe's restored confidence at 89 years old has allowed him to continue his busy schedule and travel independently as he represents the Medal of Honor Society nationwide.

Massachusetts Vet Reaches 103rd B-Day

 

BVA's oldest known living member, Charles S. Wilson, of East Wareham, Massachusetts, celebrated his 103rd birthday on November 17. He received a call that day from Director of District 1 Dave Van Loan.

"When Charlie turned 101, the VIST Coordinator and the Rhode Island/Southeast Massachusetts Regional Group held a small birthday party for him at his home," said Dave. "He is an amazing person and very upbeat for his age."

DAR Honors Blinded Vet

 

Scott Smiley was the platoon leader of a Stryker Brigade Combat Team with the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry, 5th Infantry Division in Iraq when he was hit by shrapnel from a suicide car bomber. The April 6, 2005 incident left him totally blind and partially paralyzed.

On December 8, Scott received the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Medal of Honor from the Jonas Babcock Chapter in eastern Washington State. He also delivered a speech on one his favorite topics, selfless service, to the members of the Spokane area chapters of DAR, members of the Military Science Department of Gonzaga University, ROTC cadets at Gonzaga, and invited veterans.

BVA supported the event with promotional pens and its 2012/2013 Collector's Edition Calendar.

The DAR Medal of Honor is the most prestigious honor awarded by the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The recipient must be a native-born American who has shown extraordinary qualities of leadership, trustworthiness, service, and patriotism. He/she must have made unusual and lasting contributions to the heritage of America by truly giving of self to community, state, country, and fellowman.

Scott was born in Indiana but spent his formative years in the Tri-Cities area of Washington. He graduated from Pasco High School and captained a state championship football team. He later graduated from West Point in 2003.

Following his injuries and recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, he spent time at the Warriors in Transition Unit at Fort Lewis, Washington. He later transitioned back as the Army's first active-duty blind officer and its first company commander. He was promoted to Captain in 2006.

A recipient of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, Scott is a popular motivational speaker. He taught the core course in leadership at West Point and commanded the Warrior Transition Unit at West Point's Keller Army Medical Center. He has spoken to Olympic teams and church groups.

Since the time of his injuries, Scott has earned a Master of Business Administration Degree from Duke University's School of Business. He has skied in Vail, skydived, climbed Mount Rainer, and completed a triathlon. The Army Times named Scott its Soldier of the Year in 2007, and in 2008 he won an ESPY as the world's Best Outdoor Athlete. He has also received the George VanCleave Military Leadership Award and the Army's prestigious MacArthur Leadership Award.

Information for this report was provided by Rae Anna Victor, 1st Vice Regent of the Jonas Babcock Chapter of DAR.

Gruber, Miller Scholarships To Continue in 2013-14

 

BVA will award seven total scholarships for the 2013-14 academic year, six under the Kathern F. Gruber program umbrella for $2,000 each and one $1,000 scholarship through the newly established Thomas H. Miller program.

The Miller program, now in its second year, requires the same application process and qualifications as the Gruber awards except for an added emphasis on music and fine arts. The scholarship committee will choose seven recipients and three alternates.

Dependent children, grandchildren, and spouses of blinded veterans, and those of active duty blinded service members of the U.S. Armed Forces, are eligible for the scholarships. The veteran must be legally blind and the blindness may either be service-connected or nonservice-connected but need not be a member of the Blinded Veterans Association. 

To be eligible for the scholarship, an applicant must have been accepted for admission, or already be enrolled, as a full-time student in an accredited institution of higher education or business, secretarial, or vocational training school.

BVA began its first scholarship program 30 year ago, The awards are intended to defray a student's educational expenses, including tuition, books, and other academic fees. Scholarship payments will be made by BVA directly to the educational institution.

The scholarships will be awarded on a "most-highly-qualified" basis utilizing the following criteria: answers to questions on the application form; transcripts of high school and/or college records; three letters of reference; and a 300-word essay relating to the applicant's career goals and aspirations as well as past awards and achievements.

Scholarships are awarded for one year only. Applicants are advised that the BVA National Board of Directors has determined that Gruber and Miller scholarship recipients are limited to a total of four scholarships during their college careers.

Applications for the scholarships may be obtained from the Blinded Veterans Association, 477 H Street NW, Washington, DC 20001, at www.bva.org/services (look under section entitled Kathern F. Gruber Scholarships and Thomas H. Miller Awards).

Completed applications and supporting materials must be returned to BVA no later than Friday, April 19, 2013. Due to time constraints related to processing the applications for the scholarship committee's review, applications arriving subsequent to the aforementioned deadline will not be accepted.