A Summer of Opportunities

Well readers, despite being out of school, it has been an eventful two weeks since I last posted. Monday night, shortly after posting my last entry, I checked my college e-mail and found out that I had been offered a summer job! Actually, a lady working at the campus center had been trying to recruit me for this job every semester since I started college, but I had always turned down the offer because school kept me so busy and left me so exhausted that I didn’t want to add job responsibilities to the mix. But then toward the end of February, she offered me the job for the summer. Now I was tempted because as much as I loved the long summers of college, I will admit that last year, by August, I was starting to get pretty bored and in need of a purpose in my life. But then a part of me got to thinking that next summer, I will be eligible for an internship, and the summer after that, I will be a graduate and will have to start looking for a job, and in the adult world, there is no such thing as summer vacation unless you are a teacher, and I don’t want to be a teacher. So this summer might be my last totally carefree summer. So I told her I would think about it, and she said there was no hurry. By the middle of March, my need for a purpose won the battle in my mind, coupled with a desire to take on adult responsibilities, so I told her I would take the job if it wasn’t too late. She said it wasn’t and that she would work out some details and get back to me. It turns out the detail she needed to work out was how she was going to pay me. That’s kind of an important detail right? (grin). Anyway, a couple weeks later, I got an e-mail from her asking if I got services from the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, and if so, could I give her the contact information for my counselor. She wanted to contact her and see if this agency could provide funding for my job. So, I forwarded the contact information, but then didn’t hear a thing for two months. I had pretty much lost hope of getting the job when I still hadn’t heard anything once school got out because summer employment officially started May 10. But I guess I couldn’t complain too much because in an economy where millions of people are filling out applications for employment wherever they can get it, it was pretty amazing just to be handed a job without having to apply for it. Still, I was disappointed, and had resigned myself to another summer without a purpose, when on May 17, the lady from the campus center e-mailed me back and said they got their act together, and I had the job if I was still interested. I wrote her back saying I was, and the next day, she sent an e-mail with details like the fact that I would get four hours of training and that my position was parttime and I would need to wear khaki pants and they would provide a polo shirt. I told her my summer was wide open and the only time I couldn’t start was the week of Memorial Day since I will be out of town visiting relatives. I didn’t hear anything again after that until this past Friday, when I found out that I officially can start June 8, at 8:30. I will only be making $7.75 an hour, but hey, that’s something, and it will add up over a whole summer! More importantly though, I am just excited to finally get a chance to have work experience and feel like my sighted peers who have already had summer jobs, but which I have never had since so many jobs offered to people my age are in stores or restaurants, or babysitting, all of which would not be practical since I am totally blind. But a couple of other blind students before me have done this job, so the campus has already figured out how to make it accessible. I will definitely keep you posted on how it goes!

And then later that night when I went to choir rehearsal, there was an informal “job fair” put on by the choir leadership since they were in need of volunteers to help with several committees. Although I have only been an official member of this chorus for two months, I decided to take a chance and volunteer to chair the Public Relations Committee because for one thing, I am majoring in Communications, and since public relations is a related to the field of Communication, doing public relations for the choir would be a great experience that I could use to determine if public relations is something I would want to pursue for my real career after college. My responsibilities for this job will be contacting local media outlets to inform them of choir events, and help write press releases and fliers. I have already learned how to write press releases in an introductory news writing class last year, and in an advanced news writing class I took this year, I got lots of practice learning how to contact people, so I am really excited about this experience. More importantly though, I am excited to assist with public relations for this choir because I love it. I will have to tell you in more depth how cool this choir is in a separate entry, but I will tell you now that it is a chapter of Sweet Adelines International, an organization for women that sing four-part barbershop harmony! I hope that with my public relations position, I can spread the word about this choir since it seems like a lot of people out in the community have never heard of it. The choir board has also said that they would like to increase their membership and attract more young people. In fact, although you can join this choir at sixteen, I am the youngest singer in this choir, which is kind of cool, but also troubling because as with anything, if the younger generation does not step up to carry on this art form, it might not survive. Since I am young, I would know how to relate to the younger generation, so maybe I could be an asset in the area of recruiting younger members. With this in mind, on Monday, I had a revelation! This choir does have a facebook page, and a simple website that briefly talks about the kind of music they sing and encouraging people to come visit a rehearsal. But what this choir needed was a blog! Blogging is popular with my generation, and it would facilitate a more indepth picture of what the choir is all about because people could post things like testimonials about how they heard about this choir and why the love it, or even account their experience preparing for concerts and competitions. And the most exciting thing of all was even though I am young and new to this choir, people loved this idea when I proposed it! So on Tuesday, I went ahead and created an account for this blog. Nothing has been posted yet because the leadership team is still working out some logistical things like setting out guidelines for what we post and making sure we do not go against any Sweet Adelines International regulations. Also, I have sent out invitations to some of the members to join the blog, but thus far, no one has responded, and a couple have admitted that the internet is still new to them, so they are not sure they will post much to the blog. I will have to work on convincing them that blogging is not anything complicated that only the young can handle (smile). But when we do start posting, I will definitely post the link.

Then on Wednesday, since the dog trainer was going to be in the area, he wanted to check in on Gilbert and me, so we met at my college for lunch. It was a happy reunion, especially for Gilbert who was so excited he wagged his tail the whole time, and when we took a walk to one of the buildings where I had class last semester, he was constantly stopping and looking behind him to make sure he didn’t lose sight of the trainer. It was comical, but a little embarrassing because with me, he is so well-behaved on walks. My facebook status I wrote when I came home read “Gilbert, when the dog trainer comes to evaluate us, you are supposed to be especially good, not especially naughty!” Several of my friends loved that status. But the trainer understood that dogs get excited and knew he wasn’t like that all the time. Anyway, he said we were doing great, that he was happy with Gilbert’s weight, which got me excited to realize that our walks that we were able to take this year with the beautiful spring we had were paying off. But what really got me excited was when the trainer observed that I needed help finding an empty table in the dining room, he said that he could come in September and train Gilbert to find targets like that because that is now something that all dogs currently in the program are trained to do. I always thought that after the first year or two, dogs were too old to learn new tricks, but the trainer said this is not true. With target training, Gilbert will give me even more independence than what he has already given me, and I am looking forward to that.

From there, I went to a nearby elementary school where I am a volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters from 1:00 to 2:00 on Wednesdays. I will have to tell you all about that in another entry, but for now I will say it is a wonderful experience that has given me a sense of purpose beyond school, and has really made a difference in the life of the first grade girl I was matched with. Then Friday, I went to the annual barbecue for the blind kids in our area, that my vision teacher still invites me and another blind friend every year even though we are in college. It actually didn’t end up being a barbecue though because unfortunately, the beautiful weather we had on Thursday turned in to a dreary rainy day Friday, so we went bowling instead and had pizza for lunch. I confess I am not a big fan of bowling because it is visual in that someone has to tell me how many pins I knocked down, so there is not much reward for the tedium of walking from my chair up to the bowling lane and swinging a heavy ball twenty times. I still went to the alley with them, but instead of bowling, I just sat and talked to my friend and my old teachers, which was a lot of fun!

When I got home, I had planned to write, but because of the humidity, the braille display on my braillenote which I use to type these entries was going crazy, bringing up a whole bunch of extra dots making it too difficult to read or write anything. However, at the time, I didn’t realize this problem was due to the humidity, and feared that there was something internally wrong with the braille display. This fear was backed up by the fact that there were a couple instances last semester where certain dots would not show up. The first time it happened back in December, the issue resolved itself for some reason, and when it happened again in February, I cleaned it with a damp rag. But the manual said that the braillenote was supposed to be sent in occasionally to be professionally cleaned by the company, but I never did this because I use my braillenote for everything and I hate being without it. But I thought maybe it was time to suck it up, and give up my braillenote so that the braille display could be cleaned properly for school when I would really need it. So I called the local vendor who is in charge of braillenote issues and whose number was programmed in to the address book of the braillenote. When I told him about the problem, he said that my model, the Mpower was obsolete now, and no longer under warranty. He said that the problem I had described was an indication that the braille display would eventually go out, and they were no longer making replacement parts for it. This meant that for $2,000, I could get the braille display replaced, but if anything else went wrong, I could be out of luck. So he recommended that I talk to the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation about trading in the Mpower for the Apex, the best and latest thing that everyone else already has. Immediately, I had reservations about this because other than the braille display, my braillenote was still working fine, and somehow I knew that the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation would not want to spend that kind of money when this machine basically still worked. But before I could finish asking the question of what to do if they don’t want to spend the money, he assured me that they would because it would make more sense in terms of cost. I should have known he was just trying to sell me something, but I thanked him and on Monday morning, called the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. I wouldn’t worry about it until then.

Then on Saturday, I went to a fundraiser for my guide dog school called Puppies on Parmenter. This was the time of year when my program has done Jog for Guide Dogs the previous two years, but this year, they decided to do something different. Instead of walking on a park trail, we walked the city streets of a town near where the program is based. Along the route, we would stop by various stores and businesses, and get this sheet we were given at registration stamped. Then we met back at an outdoor restaurant where we just socialized, ate brats and hot dogs, and listened to a band all afternoon. The stamps we got were exchanged for raffle tickets. It was another happy reunion for Gilbert because we got to see the trainer again, and a lot of fun for me too because I got to meet another puppy raiser, and pet the cutest poodle with hair evenly cut on his body, but a big pile of hair on his head. When I was getting my dog, the program only used labs, but now they have expanded to shepherds and poodles. The turnout was also impressive because when I got Gilbert, the program was just starting, so there were only a few puppies, and a few people. But now, there are 24 puppies, and the dog trainer said this was their most successful fundraiser yet with over four hundred people. So it was really exciting to see how much the program has grown just this year. I was also excited about Gilbert’s excellent behavior. He walked a little faster than I would have liked on the walk because he wanted to keep up with my friend’s guide dog, but the dog trainer said when two guide dogs walk together, the dog that is following will walk faster to keep up with the lead dog, so it was a huge lesson in trusting Gilbert and not reprimanding him to slow down. I only slipped once, and it wasn’t Gilbert’s fault. Apparently, a dog pooped on the sidewalk and the owner must not have noticed, so that is what I slipped on. Needless to say, when we got home, my shoes got a good wash (grin). When he saw the other puppies, he still got excited, but not uncontrollable like he was last year. I don’t know if it was because memories of last year made me decide to use the pinch collar, or if he was maturing, but I have heard puppies do mellow out after a few years. By the end of the day, my dad and I were both falling asleep because it was a hot, sunny day, but it was worth it because we had a great time.

Sunday was a nice quiet day of going to church, and then out to lunch, the calm before the storm called dealing with the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. My normal counselor it turned out was on leave, so when I called at 9:00 Monday morning, I was transferred to the person substituting for her. I left her a message introducing myself and telling her what the braillenote vendor said. She did not call back the rest of the day, but when I checked my e-mail, she said I had not been keeping in touch with them by e-mail on a monthly basis like I was supposed to. As a result, my file could be closed, so she wanted me to call and make an appointment. My parents and I were livid. My regular counselor had briefly mentioned how I should touch base once a month, but I had no idea failure to do this could potentially close my file, and school keeps me so busy that the months get away from me. And what am I supposed to say each month when I am just going about my business and nothing has changed? My parents and I had a lot of fun joking about what I could say in these monthly updates. “Hello. I just wanted to let you know I am still blind, and will probably still be blind next month too. Bye.” So my dad helped me craft an e-mail response saying I wanted to work things out, and I would call the next morning. The next morning, I called and made an appointment for Wednesday at 9:30, and she told me to bring another copy of my grades from this semester and my schedule for next semester because she had not received the copies I mailed to my regular counselor, as well as some training grant letter I hadn’t realized I had gotten because it was in print. What am I going to do when I am on my own and my mother isn’t there to keep track of my print mail? I probably should ask for these documents in braille or via e-mail, but that’s a separate issue. Anyway, the next day, I was told that at this point the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation does not want to spend the money on a new braillenote when this one is only two years old. This was actually perfectly fine with me because the braille display works fine now, but my dad pointed out that now would be the time to get this new machine because if something goes wrong with it during the school year, it would be catastrophic because I rely on it in class to which the person filling in for my counselor said I should have a backup plan. I don’t know how successful we were, but doing our best to keep steam from coming out of our ears, we tried to point out that if my computer with Jaws that was purchased for me were to crash, I could easily just go to my college and use a computer there because almost all of them are equipped with Jaws. But I don’t have a laptop, the school computers are not portable so they would be of little use since most of my classes are in old classrooms with tiny desks not intended for large computers and of course, mainstream colleges don’t have spare braillenotes lying around. So I was told to go home, find the exact cost of repairing the braillenote versus getting the new model, and present a formal list of these price quotes and a justification for why I need this computer. I called the vendor as soon as I got home, and haven’t heard from him yet. I may make a followup call on Tuesday, or I may just forget it. This machine does work fine now, and I just don’t want to deal with this bureaucracy anymore until I have to. I also found out that the reason they want monthly updates is because the federal agency that they get funding from does not like a long gap in contact with clients, and that I should just shoot them a quick e-mail telling how school is going, if all my technology is working, or even if I have started a new extra curricular activity or fall in love! Seriously, can’t I just go about my own life and not have to share every detail of my life with Big Brother? I swear, as soon as I get a stable job and make enough money, I am closing my file with the state and buying my own technology. Anyway, I had a headache when I got home from dealing with this bureaucracy, so after making the quick call to the vendor, I was ready for lunch and rest.

But the day took a turn for the better when my vision teacher came to our house after school to give me some assignments she had gotten at the last minute that needed to be brailled for another student. Believe it or not, I can type braille faster than the teacher who taught me braille, so I was happy to do her this favor for all that she and the school district did for me. While there, she also brought Geyser, a puppy that she is raising for the same program I got Gilbert from. Gilbert and Geyser didn’t play long because it was hot outside, but they did play some in our livingroom and seemed to have a great time, especially Gilbert who is an only dog in our house so doesn’t get much socialization with his own kind.

Then yesterday, I went to my little cousin’s eighth grade graduation which brought back so many memories about my own apprehension when leaving the security of middle school for the uncharted territory of high school, so I tried to provide encouraging words. Then tomorrow, we are leaving for Indiana to visit my grandma and some other aunts, uncles and cousins for one more week of carefree days before I start my summer job. When summer first started, it had been such a crazy semester that I had no ambition, and would have been fine with another carefree summer with no responsibilities that I loved as a child. But now that all of this opportunity has been given to me in my choir, my summer job, opportunities to help others and even the chance to speak up for my own interests with the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation and the continuous opportunities for Gilbert and me to become a more skilled and confident team, I actually don’t mourn the loss of childhood as I thought I would, but instead am feeling a sense of excitement. I suppose my tune could change when I am fully emersed in the working world, maybe with a husband and children depending on me, trying to cope with one stressful situation after another. This is how I have heard a lot of adults describe the real world. But for me being young, the adult world is new and exciting, and I feel as though I have the maturity now to not mourn for what is over, but take a leap of faith and embrace new challenges, and seize new opportunities. Vestiges of childhood do still remain. I still live at home with my parents, who I depend on for food, shelter, health insurance and transportation to school and extra curricular activities. When school starts again, it is likely that I will be kept so busy with schoolwork that I won’t have time to hold a job or pursue as many opportunities. But I am so excited that at least for the summer, I will get a small taste of the adult world and explore new opportunities, so that when I enter in to the adult world for good after college, I will enter it already having some experience.

Published by Allison Nastoff

As I write this in 2020, I am 30 years old. I am blind, and Gilbert was my first guide dog. He passed away on December 2, 2020, but I decided to keep the title for my blog as a tribute to him because he will always hold a special place in my heart. In 2012, I earned a Bachelor of Science in Communication with a journalism emphasis, and went back to school for a Paralegal certificate in 2014. I worked for five years at a Social Security disability firm. When the pandemic hit, I did some reflecting and decided to resign from this job and take seminary courses. My dream is a career as a teacher or writer where I can be a blessing to others.

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