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Friday, November 14, 2014

Lone Star Blast is Coming to Austin and NFBCO Will Be There Too!

Click Here to see Kevan Worley's Video Introduction

Lone Star BLAST: A Time to Take Inventory

By Kevan Worley

November 18-21, 2014 will find a delegation of entrepreneurs who are blind and their collaborators attending Business Leadership and Superior Training (BLAST) in Austin, TX. BLAST is the premier training and networking conference and tradeshow for this nation’s blind entrepreneurs. As our Colorado delegation departs for a Lone Star BLAST, it seemed like a good time to take stock of the current state of business ownership by blind Coloradoans.

Picture: Text: Live Music Capitol of the World written in a circle around a guitar.

It has often been remarked that small business is the backbone of the nation’s economy. According to Forbe’s, there are almost 28 million small businesses in the U.S. and over 50% of the working population (120 million individuals) work in a small business.  Furthermore, small businesses have generated over 65% of the net new jobs since 1995. Data published by the Small Business Administration reports that 122,812 small businesses exist in Colorado, as of 2010

If small business fuels economic security and opportunity for the sighted, why not a tool to lower the high unemployment rate among people who are blind? There are certainly businesses owned by people who are blind in the centennial state: law firms, home-based businesses, chiropractic practices, a lighting firm, insurance broker, and coffee-roaster, among others. Note: Gerry Leary is a member of the National Federation of the Blind who owns a coffee roasting company called the Unseen Bean in Boulder, CO, and has found success as a cutting-edge entrepreneur for many years There are undoubtedly ventures owned by people who are blind of which I am unaware. Note: We would love to hear about blind-owned small businesses.

The most accessible business opportunities for the blind in Colorado and the nation have historically been through the Business Enterprise Program (BEP) This program was authorized under the Randolph-Sheppard Act, passed in 1936 and significantly expanded through 1974 amendments fostered by Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, then President of the National Federation of the Blind and James Gashel, then Director of Governmental Affairs in the NFB’s Washington Office Mr. Gashel is considered by many to be the preeminent authority on the Randolph-Sheppard Act. He currently serves as Secretary of the National Federation of the Blind and resides in Avon, CO.

The BEP is an interesting mix of social program and free-enterprise in which people who are blind are authorized to manage food service and vending concessions on government property. Nationally, 2,100 blind vendors generated over $800 million in sales in 2012, the most recent year for which statistics are available In Colorado, this program is managed, or mismanaged, by the Department of Human Services Colorado Office of Community Access and Independence, a Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. The program is designated by the Rehabilitation Services Administration of the United States Department of Education

Business Leadership and Superior Training (BLAST) is a program of the National Association of Blind Merchants (NABM), a Division of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) BLAST is a three and a half day conference attended by blind vendors who operate vending and food service locations, mostly on government property across the nation. The BLAST conference was the brain child of National Association of Blind Merchants leaders, from right here in Colorado in 2000. The event is more than BEP; it draws a number of people who are blind entrepreneurs operating ventures outside of the Business Enterprise Programs (see BLAST training agenda Also attending, are dozens of subject-matter experts, state agency administrators, and private sector corporations seeking partnerships with blind entrepreneurs. The conference features an amazing tradeshow with more than 75 exhibitors, including access technologies for the blind, food and beverage products, business products, and legal experts.

Dan Whalen, Colorado BEP Program Manager, Scott Cass, Colorado BEP Trainer, and members of our Colorado Association of Blind Merchants (CABM), led by President Brad Basta, will play significant roles at the conference. Attendance at this year’s BLAST is expected to be more than 550. Note: BLAST is arguably the fourth largest conference for the blind in the U.S.

The President of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado (NFBCO), Scott LaBarre, is a nationally regarded attorney with expertise in Randolph-Sheppard and employment law Mr. LaBarre will be conducting a training session for state attorney generals with BEP oversight. Susan Rockwood Gashel, an attorney from Avon, Colorado, subject-matter expert and staunch advocate for the program, will also facilitate continuing legal education for attorney generals from across the country with legal oversight in the areas of vocational rehabilitation and Randolph-Sheppard.

Jessica Beecham, with a background in health and fitness including a Master’s of Science in Exercise Science, will be giving a lecture on health and wellness at a special luncheon. This “to your health” luncheon will also feature Dr. Joel Kimmons, Atlanta, Georgia, a leading authority on the topic of nutrition at the Center for Disease Control. This topic is particularly timely given the recent General Services Administration Health and Sustainability Guidelines for Federal Concessions and Vending Operations Note: Ms. Beecham is the Community and Chapter Development Coordinator for NFBCO (see earlier blog posts). She also serves on the Board of Directors of our newly formed Sports and Recreation Division. As you observe, there is a strong Colorado presence at Lone Star BLAST.

We are lucky in Colorado in one sense; our BEP is one of the more functional programs of its type in the nation. The median income is approximately $62,000 per year. The program features a dedicated staff and many knowledgeable and motivated licensed blind vendors. But, the program’s effectiveness has been greatly inhibited by the current broken state of the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), which houses BEP. There are lucrative locations going without blind management because DVR is being so mismanaged that a blind individual interested in the training and licensure necessary must wait on a list not knowing when his or her case will be opened. This means that, although the teamwork of Program Manager Whalen and blind operators have created stable, and growing concessions, there are locations which could earn between $40,000 and $60,000 a year going without a blind person in need of a job.

There are capable, energetic people who are blind, wanting to work, going without. This is a shameful dereliction of duty for which apathetic, backward-looking bureaucrats at the Department of Human Services should be held accountable. Of course, these intransigent bean-counters have a job, don’t they? This disparity is particularly striking because we do have salaried state employees at the level of BEP staff with a dedication to their duty and then some. As suggested above, the Colorado program is governed effectively through collaboration with the blind operators and staff to a degree not often found in other states.

The program has employed hundreds of blind Coloradoans over the years. It not only provides an income, it also serves as a vehicle to educate members of the public about the capacity of people who are blind. When a customer receives good service, enjoys good food, and pays a fair price at a business managed by a person who is blind, perceptions are changed. In addition, blind vendors sometimes use the program as the first step on a path to business ventures beyond the government sector. In fact, opportunities for vending and concessions on government properties are becoming less abundant for a variety of reasons. 21st century competition from fast food and quick-service restaurants in closer proximity to the workplace, government cut-backs and telecommuting are factors that lessen the demand for concessions at government sites. Moreover, the narrow spectrum of businesses created by Randolph-Sheppard, limited as they are to food service and vending on government property, combined with the 75% unemployment rate for people who are blind demands that new avenues for self-employment must be investigated, established, and nurtured.

The National Federation of the Blind of Colorado attempted to collaborate with the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation for the creation of new, bold business incubation last spring to no avail. To be fair, there were rehab counselors and BEP staff with interest in a robust, new, self-employment initiative. However, those at the agency responsible for nurturing self-employment for people with disabilities and DVR’s management pooh-poohed every idea put on the table. Perhaps, it was because the effort was driven by blind consumers? We can’t say. Nevertheless, the NFBCO and CABM continue to work with willing partners. The National Business Leadership Network, Small Business Administration, National Federation of the Blind Entrepreneur Initiative (NFBEI), the Colorado Center for the Blind, and others, will continue to dream up ideas to bring imaginative and profitable self-employment to people who are blind.

In this picture you see the exterior of one of our beautiful BEP facilities.

NFBEI has become the advocacy arm for the Federation at the national level. It has drafted a bill, which would create federal contract opportunities through collaboration with the AbilityOne program Currently, AbilityOne, which oversees the non-profit direct labor employment programs for people with disabilities managed by Source America and the National Industries for the Blind, has no entrepreneurial component. The legislation would create one. Note: the National Federation of the Blind has made no decision about when to bring the proposal to Congress.   

In this picture employee and Brad Basta in Brad's facility.

Brad Basta is the President of CABM. He is a living example of true entrepreneurship. He has been at the forefront of business creation for the blind both under Randolph-Sheppard and in the private sector. Mr. Basta manages the NREL Café at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO. He brings a high-quality, sustainable service to the NREL employees through a creative joint venture with Southern FoodService Management

Gary Nelson is CEO of Liberty Enterprises, Inc. and a nationally regarded vending industry leader. He is co-chair of the Colorado Committee of Blind Operators. Mr. Nelson is a member of the CABM and is only the second person to complete the Hadley School for the Blind-NABM Entrepreneur of Excellence coursework. He will receive his award at the BLAST Awards Banquet featuring American Idol finalist Scott MacIntyre Thursday evening, November 20

In the above photo, Gary Nelson, receives Executive Development Program Certification from the National Automatic Merchandising Association.

As our delegation heads to BLAST, we will build the network, investigate new ventures, and gain insights, which we hope will aid in our quest for employment through business ownership for the blind in the 21st century. It is clear that the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado will be a leader in the effort. It is our hope that the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation will join the quest.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Jessica Beecham Steps Down as Chapter and Community Development Coordinator

Dear Colorado Federation Family

As some of you may already know, in early January I will end my time as the Chapter and Community Development Coordinator with the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado. I will begin employment with our National Center doing chapter development across the U.S. 

This will be a bittersweet transition. While the thought of new adventures and exciting challenges has a certain allure, I am sad to leave behind the best work environment I have ever known. My employment with the NFB of Colorado has been an amazing experience full of wonderful mentors, the best co-workers, tremendous learning opportunities, and the kind of support that has given me courage to think outside the box.

I want to say a special thank you to Scott LaBarre and each member of our Board of Directors for giving me a shot. When I came to Colorado I was an unknown commodity. I hope that my work has lived up to your expectations. I am extremely appreciative of our Colorado Center for the Blind staff and students for being so warm and welcoming as they allowed me to share their space. My co-workers Lisa Bonderson and Lorinda Riddle are absolutely irreplaceable! Both of these ladies have taught me a great deal and are huge forces in our affiliate’s growth and development. Colorado is one of the best affiliates in the country and it is because of our tremendous leadership and our dynamic membership. I have enjoyed working with and getting to know each and every one of you. You guys have made my job easy and fun!

I am happy to say that I will not be leaving the state of Colorado. As I move toward new adventures with our National Center for the Blind, I look forward to transitioning into the role as a proud member of the NFB of Colorado. This will allow me to take on new assignments and challenges within our affiliate. At state convention I accepted a board position for our new Sports and Recreation Division and it will be exciting to see what comes next.

Thank you for your love and support as I begin this new chapter. I look forward to continuing the efforts to build the National federation of the Blind of Colorado.

Best Wishes

Jessica Beecham


COAGDU Sells Yankee Candles!

Giving the Gift of Warmth & Smells
A fund raiser supporting the Colorado Association of Guide Dog Users (COAGDU)

It is almost that time of year when the smells of turkey, ham, mashed potatoes and green bean

casseroles along with candied yams and baked yeast rolls fill the air in many of our friends and families homes, Oh! And let’s not forget the smells from the pecan pies, sweet potatoes and other baked goods.
The wonderful smells of winter are coming soon as well, and those smells can be described as crisp, piney, cinnamony and the smells coming from the wood burning in the chimneys in the surrounding neighborhoods.  All of these wonderful smells, make us feel great and fill us with robust excitement of the approaching holidays where families will come together to sit down and share love, food, and ever lasting memories.

This fund raiser will support the Colorado Association of Guide Dog Users (COAGDU) and will allow us to build up our treasury so that we can develop a number of different types of literatures that can be distributed to different businesses, and visit different schools to educate the public about the five “(5) “Ws” of our mission.  The five ((5) “Ws” will explain the following; Who COAGDU is, What it is that COAGDU is doing, Why COAGDU is doing what it is that we are doing, Where it is that COAGDU is going, and When we expect to get there.  The funds will also allow us to send board members to other guide dog related events around the state and country to start other divisions such as this one, and also assist our national guide dog division with furthering our work that will give our many guide dog and service dog teams the freedom that we deserve.

How the fund raiser will work:
You will go to the Yankee Candle web site and type in the group number which is (990073097) and after that tab or click on the next box that is indicated by the sellers ID, which is (Dishon30) and when that is done tab or click on the start shopping button to start looking for candles or any of their many good smelling items that they have to offer.  When you make your purchase, COAGDU will receive a percentage of .40 from the items that you have purchased.  If there are guys reading this, don’t think that candles are just for the ladies because Yankee Candle does offer a line of candles and other products that are made just for us too.  If you are looking at our catalogue, please remember that orders need to be in by November 19, 2014 and if ordering of line then orders need to be in at least by December 15 to insure a Christmas delivery date.
If you need a catalogue, please contact me at or (303) 778-1130 Ext. 246 and leave me your contact information so that I can get one out to you as soon as “dogly” possible. 
Note: The catalogue that you would be receiving is one that you can rub any of the pages and it will give off a scent that you can smell so that you can take some of the products that Yankee Candle offers, and that you may want to purchase.

Thank you for giving your support to the Colorado Association of Guide Dog Users (COAGDU), and have yourself a “sniffy holiday and a waggy new year’s.

Bid for Equality

It is time once again for the Bid for Equality Auction. The Bid for Equality Auction is a great tool to raise money to support the programs of the National Federation of the Blind and do a little Holiday Shopping at the same time. Our own Michelle Chacon has coordinated the Bid for Equality Auction Efforts. Last year we were able to raise over $10,000 and we hope to raise even more this year. Below is a message from Raquel Minuel about ways you can help to participate and spread the word.  The auction begins on Black Friday, November 28 and ends on Giving Tuesday, December 2. 
1. Please sign up for thunderclap. We have to get at least 100 people signed up in order for our message to get sent out! Please use this link to sign up, learn more and then share it with everyone you know!

2. Soon we will have a flyer for the auction that you can print or share via email. Feel free to post this anywhere you can! We will blog it and email it when it is available.

I am in the process of getting our packages up on the website and most of them are available to check out as of now but I a still waiting on a few to come in. We have a very good selection this year- very good quality offerings.  Here is a link to the auction page:

As always please feel free to drop me a line with any questions!

Raquel Minwell 

Colorado Has a New Sports and Recreation Division

We are excited to announce the creation of the sports and rec division in the NFB of Colorado. This division will be dedicated to bringing wellness, activity, and fun to our members. We have many exciting goals to accomplish during this upcoming year and are working to plan quarterly activities on a chapter level, as well as being a resource for members to plug into existing groups such as, eye cycle, goal ball, yoga, and acclees.

We are also looking forward to planning and getting our first all day seminar kicked off in early spring.
We are excited to get the entire state, all ages, people that have been active for years and people that are entirely new to all of this involved.

Our board consists of; Maureen Nietfeld as President, First Vice President Steve Patten, 2nd Vice President Jeanette Forton, Secretary Monique Melton,  Treasurer Gary VanDorn, and Board Positions are held by Jessica Beecham, and George McDeremeth.

We will be having monthly conference calls and invite people to listen in and give your ideas and perspectives. We look forward to the growth of this division and for health, wellness, and an active lifestyle to be a part of each of your lives.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Because of you I was Inspired: A Message from Board Member Kevan Worley

Greetings to my Colorado Federation Family,

I don't know about you, but I am plunging back into a very busy week of work. I simply had to say to each and every one of my Federation family how much I feel I gained from this weekend's convention. I feel that everyone contributed in their own, very special, and personal way. Some of us were able to present. Some of us directed people to breakout sessions. Some of us stood and cheered for the children and the seniors from 5-95. Some of us sold raffle tickets. Most of us hoped we would win. Some of us shared breakfast in the morning. Others closed the bar at night. A few of you were able to do both. We all enjoyed President LaBarre's informative and stirring presidential report. I know that, due to time restrictions, he had to cut some of the information he wanted to deliver. I know that we will publish his entire report, and I look forward to reading it myself. Some of us formed a brand new sports and recreation division. Some of us participated in exciting and educational student activities. Some of us came from new chapters across the state. Some came as students or staff of our marvelous Colorado Center for the Blind. Some gave out door prizes, managed our audio/video component, drew raffle tickets, awarded scholarships, handled registration, mentored the deaf-blind, or first time attendees. Many of us enjoyed twisting and shouting. Some of us presented robust resolutions condemning and deploring injustice or calling out for change and possibility. A few of us met as merchants looking to increase entrepreneurial opportunity for the blind of Colorado. I think all of us made new friends and welcomed new  people to our Federation family. Some of us accepted new positions of leadership within our groups of parents, students, merchants, and seniors. All of us stood and cheered and cried when Diane McGeorge received our highest award in honor of Ray McGeorge. All of us were proud of our students. Those five awarded scholarships and all of the others, who will be applying for the 2015 national and state awards. A few of us dressed as animals, or clowns, or whatever those other things were, and won awards for their creativity, ghastliness, and horror. Some of us sang, I guess that's what it's called, karaoke. We all welcomed family members from other affiliates. Most of us made pledges of future contributions of time, energy, talent, and treasure. They are pledges from the heart, which most of us will keep as much as we are able. Because of you, our 60th convention was informative, thought-provoking, empowering, and extremely energizing. Because of you, it worked. I mean it from the bottom of my heart when I say, thank you. Thank you for helping us build the Federation in Colorado, and beyond. I am humbled by the people I am honored to know in our National Federation of the Blind of Colorado. In a word, you guys are the best!