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Wanda Grover Addresses New York AIF Gala

 

BVA National Service Officer Wanda Grover was a featured presenter at the 2014 New York City Gala of the American India Foundation (AIF).

The May 2 event at the lavish Pier 60 at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan drew a crowd of 600 guests, including MasterCard President and CEO Ajay Banga; Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, Professor of Economics and Philosophy at Harvard University; and Goldman Sachs Partner Ram Sundaram.

AIF invited Wanda to address the gala to bring knowledge and perspective about blindness in view of the Foundation’s support for its own school for the blind in India.

“The organization is intent on getting more blind individuals into the workforce in India,” said Wanda. “My purpose at the event was to increase awareness and provide information about blind rehabilitation programs in this country, especially with respect to our veterans.”

Attendees of the AIF Gala hold up BVA vision simulator cards to experience momentarily what it is like to be affected by macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, retinitis pigmentosa, cataracts, or total blindness. Photo courtesy of Andrew Bicknell, America Indian Foundation.
Attendees of the AIF Gala hold up BVA vision simulator cards to experience momentarily what it is like to be affected by macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, retinitis pigmentosa, cataracts, or total blindness. Photo courtesy of Andrew Bicknell, America Indian Foundation.

Wanda took the audience through a “Moment in Darkness” by means of an experiential exercise that helped guests of the gala empathize with the visually impaired by looking through vision simulator cards BVA produced last year.

The card allows the user to experience the world around him or her through a lens of visual impairment. Wanda’s presentation was followed by two other presenters, one a former student of the school in India who had successfully integrated into the workforce.

The New York Gala raised more than $1.5 million for AIF’s multiple social service efforts in India.

District Directors Assure Appropriate Honors at Arlington

 

When Directors of Districts 1 and 3, David VanLoan and Pete Davis, respectively, learned that the spouse of a recently deceased blinded veteran residing in New Hampshire was unable to travel to attend funeral services for him at Arlington National Cemetery, they jumped at the opportunity to be of help and support.

Wanda Grover contacted Dave and BVA National Headquarters on June 19 after assisting Brenda Stapleford of Alton, New Hampshire, with Dependency and Indemnity Compensation benefits after the passing of her husband, Frankie, several months before. Wanda had been referred to Brenda by a VIST Coordinator and found out in her work with Brenda that she had a severely broken collarbone and was unable to travel. 

In background at right, Pete and Lottie listen to funeral services for Frankie Stapleford while viewing ceremonial flag unfurling and folding.
In background at right, Pete and Lottie listen to funeral services for Frankie Stapleford while viewing ceremonial flag unfurling and folding.

Frankie Stapleford, Brenda’s husband, was a Navy veteran who served during the Korea and Vietnam eras and later lost his vision. The two first met while he was a trainee and she a volunteer at the Eastern Blind Rehabilitation Center at West Haven.

In the ensuing two weeks before the funeral both Dave and Pete spoke with Brenda at length and assured her that BVA representatives could indeed be at the July 3 services in support. They also spoke about the possibility of providing some photos of the ceremony and receiving the United States flag that is customarily presented to the next of kin.

On July 3, Pete braved the summer Washington, DC, area heat and humidity to attend the funeral and serve as a fill-in for Brenda. As such, he coordinated the function with the funeral home director and ceremony officiators once at the cemetery that morning. He was accompanied by his wife, Lottie, and Manager of Communications Stuart Nelson.

At July 3 service, Pete received folded U.S. flag on behalf of Brenda Stapleford. Pete and Lottie reside in the County of Arlington, Virginia, near the cemetery.
At July 3 service, Pete received folded U.S. flag on behalf of Brenda Stapleford. Pete and Lottie reside in the County of Arlington, Virginia, near the cemetery.

Pete mailed the flag to Brenda later that same day.

“Brenda sent me a very nice thank you note and a basket of flowers,” Wanda reported. “She couldn’t stop talking about how grateful she was that Pete, Lottie, and Stuart were willing and able to be there and to afterward send her the flag and photos.”

Versatility Is Key for Wisconsin President

 

Wisconsin Regional Group President Gary Traynor, right, accepts Silver Gavel from National President Mark Cornell. Gary’s group garnered the highest percentage increase for new members during FY 2014.
Wisconsin Regional Group President Gary Traynor, right, accepts Silver Gavel from National President Mark Cornell. Gary’s group garnered the highest percentage increase for new members during FY 2014.

Anyone acquainted with BVA of Wisconsin Regional Group President Gary Traynor would surely know that he shares his story not for recognition or a pat on the back but to bring hope and optimism to one who may be now experiencing what he has been through.

Gary shared that story with reporter Ruth Erickson of the Chronotype Rice Lake Online Newspaper in Wisconsin more than two years ago.

“I sure hope that this can lead to some inspiration for those with sight loss and other challenges people face in life,” he told Erickson, referring to the article she would subsequently compose and publish.

Erickson led off the article with mention of the Louis Seidita Distinguished Service Award presented to Gary by the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired in November 2011 (see Winter 2012 BVA Bulletin). She then outlined Gary’s life in terms of Plans A through D (Air Force, Social Work, Volunteering, and Hobbies, respectively) and how each plan has been affected by his loss of sight. 

Beyond the work that he is required to do for the regional group to keep it active and functioning effectively, Gary is the Executive Board of Directors’ Vice President and Legislative Committee Chair for the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired. He also serves on the Council’s Vision Store and Recreation Committees and was chosen as BVA of Wisconsin’s regional group delegate to the Council. 

Gary further serves as his regional group’s delegate to the Council on Veterans Programs, which includes leadership from 26 different Veterans Service Organizations in an advisory role to the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary and the Department Board. Gary has also helped establish a collaborative partnership between his regional group and OccuPaws, a guide dog program in the state that has enhanced the lives of several veterans.  

Gary’s Plan D in the article, Hobbies, mentions not only his passion for fishing but his amazing talent and skill for performing such tasks as tying a hook using the tip of his tongue.

A second Gary Traynor passion requiring even more proficiency lies in the area of home improvement projects. Using tools and his sense of touch, for example, Gary has removed flooring, walls, and cabinets, hung sheet rock, installed doors and trim, prepped walls for painting, and stained and varnished doors.

So skillful has he become that he recently moved into a completely remodeled home overlooking Wisconsin’s Rice Lake on which he oversaw all of the construction and performed much of the labor. He is now doing the same with other homes as he purchases them, does a sound remodeling job on them, and then rents them as a business.

SARG Members, BVA Catch Media Attention

 

Three blinded veterans and two guide dogs hailing from Yuma, Arizona, were recently highlighted in both the Yuma Sun and the White Mountain Independent newspapers in Southern Arizona for their Angel Flight West trip from Yuma to the town of Show Low, tourist and commercial hub of the White Mountains of Arizona.

The story also elaborated on their weeklong stay at nearby Camp Tatiyee.

Robert Brown, Raymond Main, and Robert Ybarra, all BVA members, boarded an Angel Flight West plane on a recent July Sunday afternoon. They headed for Tatiyee, a camp nestled in the White Mountains of Arizona that provides individuals with special needs the opportunity to spend a week away from home in an effort to gain additional independence and confidence by trying new activities and challenging their personal limits.

Robert Brown, who served on a U.S. Navy troop transport at the beginning of the Vietnam War, had been to Camp Tatiyee two previous times, but the visit in July was the first time he was flown to Show Low via Angel Flight West.

Robert told reporter Mike Leiby of the White Mountain Independent that his previous trips were in a van with other veterans and that the Angel Flight West trip far outweighed riding about ten hours in a van full of veterans and their luggage on a July day in Arizona.

He also said that the experience at Camp Tatiyee was a much-needed break from home at a location that is filled with other blind veterans who can relate to one another and discuss both their common challenges and the ones that are different from one veteran to the next.

Robert later credited his enjoyment of Camp Tatiyee to both BVA and his experiences at the Southwestern Blind Rehabilitation Center in Tucson, describing the camaraderie of BVA as well as the specific skills he learned in such areas as cane use, mobility training, the marking of appliances, and GPS equipment.

I would also recommend a camp experience like this because of the much-needed break it can provide to devoted but often taken-for-granted spouses and caretakers,” said Robert. “They do so much for us that isn’t recognized and the week of rejuvenation can be a nice break for them as well.”

The two Roberts and Raymond were transported to Show Low by pilot Dennis Phelan, one of some 2,000 pilots who give of themselves to Angel Flight West.

A nonprofit, volunteer-driven organization, Angel Flight West arranges free, non-emergency air travel for children and adults with disabilities.

Friendly Golf Competition To Support OPS

 

A unique memorial benefit golf tournament to be held October 13 in Southern California will donate its proceeds to the Blinded Veterans Association’s Operation Peer Support initiative for the fourth consecutive year.

The friendly, daylong Columbus Day competition, now in its tenth year overall, honors Major Charles R. (Rob) Soltes, Jr., O.D., an Army optometrist who heroically lost his life in Iraq ten years to the day of this year’s benefit tournament. Major Soltes’ vehicle ran over an Improvised Explosive Device on October 13, 2004. The VA BRC in Long Beach, California, also bears Major Soltes’ name.

Sally Dang and Tom Zampieri at 2012 Soltes Memorial Golf Tournament.
Sally Dang and Tom Zampieri at 2012 Soltes Memorial Golf Tournament.

California native Tom Clarke first organized the tournament in 2005. He is a longtime friend of Major Soltes and his wife, Dr. Sally Dang, who also now honors her late husband as a full-time Rehabilitation Counselor at the nearby BRC. Over many years, Clarke’s strong bonds of friendship have also included Sally’s three sons and the couple’s extended families.

The venue for this year’s event will be the Oak Creek Golf Club in Irvine. The day will include an education component beginning at 7:30 a.m. that includes up to eight hours of COPE (Council on Optometric Practitioner Education) approved Continuing Education credit. Golf registration will begin at 11:00 a.m. with the opening of the driving range, silent auction, and blind putting contest. A shotgun tee-off will occur at 1:00 p.m. following lunch.

Evening activities will include a banquet featuring speakers Captain Tim Hornik, Specialist Shianti Lee, and Specialist Mark Wilson, all BVA members who have participated in Operation Peer Support activities in the recent past. Individual registration and participation includes a round of golf, green and cart fees, lunch, dinner, and beverages.

Major Soltes served as a Public Health Commander with the 426th Civil Affairs Battalion, United States Army. On October 13, 2004, while serving in Mosul, Iraq, his convoy was attacked. Major Soltes was the first Army optometrist killed in action while on active duty in the U.S. Army. In addition to Operation Peer Support, contributions will also benefit a scholarship program of Norwich University, Major Soltes’ alma mater.