A Celebration to Remember!
The Colorado Center for the Blind first opened its doors in January of 1988 with three staff members and five students. On September 13 & 14, 2013, the Center held its 25th Anniversary Celebration with an open house and a gala banquet.
Friday, September 13
The rain stopped and the sky cleared for a few hours on Friday, September 13, 2013. It lasted just long enough for the opening ceremony of the 25th Anniversary Celebration, along with tours of the Center, and rides in the National Federation of the Blind’s Blind Driver Challenge car. Guests also enjoyed bratwursts grilled by current Center students.
Distinguished guests at the morning ceremony included Littleton’s Mayor Debbie Brinkman, National Federation of the Blind First Vice President Frederick K. Schroeder, NFB of Colorado President Scott LaBarre and founder and long-time Director at the Center, Diane McGeorge. The ceremony also included the unveiling of Colorado artist Ann Cunningham’s remarkable stone bas relief of the Front Range, the rivers that flow out onto the Great Plains from the mountains, and the cities that stretch from the southern border with New Mexico to the northern boundary with Wyoming.
Acknowledging the devastating rains and flooding all around us, Diane McGeorge recalled that the Front Range experienced a blizzard the night before the Center opened. The new Colorado Center for the Blind staff immediately put the NFB’s can-do philosophy into practice.
“The students may have thought they were going to be driven by taxi to the Center,” Diane said, “but they got their first travel lesson instead.”
“We in the National Federation of the Blind know that we can’t wait for things to be just right,” she concluded. “We have to get ourselves going and make them happen. That’s what the training at the Center gives students – the skills and the confidence to make things happen in their lives.”
Later in the morning, Center graduate Mark A. Riccobono, Executive Director of the Jernigan Institute at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore, took advantage of the short stretch of good weather to give nearly 60 attendees a short ride around the block in the National Federation of the Blind’s Blind Driver Challenge car. The BDC is a modified Ford Escape whose sensors translate information about the road into haptic information in Mark’s gloves and seat pad. It’s the first car that a blind person can drive independently and premiered in a demonstration prior to the Rolex 24 at the Daytona Speedway in January 2011.
The BDC is the perfect symbol of the Colorado Center for the Blind’s 25 years of success – our training puts blind people into the driver’s seat of their own lives.
On Saturday evening the crowd reconvened with many more friends and alums at the Denver Renaissance Hotel for a gala evening of food, more memories and dancing to the Bluzinators.
NFB President Dr. Marc Maurer addressed the nearly 160 in attendance. The purpose, he said, of starting the three NFB training centers in 1987 and 1988 was of course to put into practice the NFB’ philosophy of self-determination and to raise the bar for training centers in general and with it expectations for the blind. But on a more practical level it was also to start “turning a lot of confident, capable blind people loose,” people who would begin to make things happen for themselves and for the blind in general. Thus, one of the purposes was to start a revolution in the blindness world. That revolution continues to this day.
Diane McGeorge was honored as the Center’s founder for her years of commitment and perseverance. Diane, who served as the first director for more than a decade is currently the President of the Center’s Board of Directors. Thanks to Diane, hundreds of blind people have been ““turned Loose” from the Colorado Center for the Blind to go out, as our motto says, and “take charge with confidence and self-reliance.”
Recognizing that our students are central to what we do, we heard from a number of them.
“Without the training I received at the Center,” said Jim Barber of the call he received to take a job on the West Coast a dozen years ago, “I wouldn’t have had the confidence to pick up and move to a new city in a different state so far from family and friends.” Jim was one of the original five students at the Center and his résumé includes Google, Yahoo and Qualcomm.
Before the dancing got started, we heard a ten-minute sound collage of the Center’s history and successes. You can listen to it here:
Here’s to the next 25!