Our Children, Our Future

by Mary Wurtzel

Copyright © 1996
National Federation of the Blind

          From the Editor: Recently Mary Wurtzel, who has worked in our child care program during national conventions, sent me the following article. She said that it had been written for the fiftieth anniversary convention in Dallas but that she had been too busy with her children and a host of other things to get it to me. I thought it was as pertinent now as it would have been following the Dallas convention, so here it is:

          During this fiftieth anniversary year it seemed fitting to me that something be shared with Federationists about the development of child care given at our national conventions. It seemed even more appropriate after the generosity shown by everyone at the convention in Dallas in 1990, when on the last day about $800 was collected to help cover child care costs.

          I can best share with you from my own perspective, which began in 1982 in Minneapolis. I first took my daughter Maria, then seventeen months old, and my son Freddie, four and a half. We took them with us for the next seven years, and then our new little son Marc came to the convention when he was three months old.

          It seemed to me that more Federationists were having children, and they wished to bring them to national conventions. I want to make it clear that I am not advocating that all parents bring children to conventions, but it may be helpful for people to understand why more parents do opt to do so. As the years have passed, more and more children have come to convention. We now serve over sixty children altogether during convention week, and this doesn't reflect the preteen or teenage population not served in child care.

          So why do people bring kids to convention? Wouldn't it be easier to leave them home? My guess is that in earlier decades people were more likely to leave kids home with friends or relatives. This option is not as feasible for parents of the '90s. One reason for this is that our society has become so mobile that many parents live far away from any relatives and also because people move around so often that it is hard to make friends with whom one feels close enough to ask that several children be left for perhaps as long as ten days, even with pay. It is possible to find a care-giver by advertising in the newspaper, but parents may feel reluctant to do so with all the horror stories out there about child abuse and such.

          For many families NFB convention is the only "vacation" they can afford for the year, so they wish to include their children. I believe, though, for many parents in the NFB the reasons for bringing kids to convention go even deeper. We want our children to feel a part of the movement. Our children make involuntary sacrifices for the Federation. Their parent or parents must go out of town on a weekend so can't share in their school or extra- curricular activities. Other times mom or dad is on the phone in the evening and isn't available to discuss the child's problem of that day or to help with homework. They are left with baby sitters while their parents attend one more meeting, or sometimes if a sitter can't be found, they attend the meeting and are bored to tears and get the feeling people are unhappy with the noise they can't help but make just because they are kids. They also participate in fundraisers. My own kids have hiked ten miles in a hike-a-thon or sold candy.

          Returning to the subject of convention, for many families the convention is the only vacation they can afford to take either because of time constraints or money. If this is the case, then people want to include their whole family. It is also a fantastic experience for children to be able to see different parts of the country every year. They also grow more and more knowledgeable about blindness. They are the future public and live in the same society we do. Thus, they pick up stereotypic attitudes, too. Their education also must be an ongoing process.

          Parents of blind children want to bring them so they feel a part of things from the beginning. It is also an opportunity for them to make friends with other Federation kids, both blind and sighted. They also make friends with adults in the NFB who can serve as role models.

          I want to share a word about convention costs, not in any sense of complaining or martyrdom, but just to indicate that financially this is also a major sacrifice and calls for commitment on the part of families. It has cost over $3,000 to take our family of five to convention.

          I coordinated child care for eight years. In 1991 in New Orleans, Carol Coulter was in charge. At first I began an NFB toy chest to which people donated toys, and I went to garage sales and bought toys. Then Greg Bartholomay wrote letters and got several beautiful toys donated.

          Many state affiliates, local chapters, and individuals continue to work to make child care at NFB conventions possible. Mostly they do not get recognition for this work, but they certainly deserve the thanks of us all.

          In conclusion, I hope everyone better understands the role of the child care at our national convention. I hope you will all help in the future--financially, with your time, but especially by just valuing our fine family of children and getting to know them. The children are our future, and that's why it's important for them to experience NFB and our national convention in a positive way, for this is what they will carry with them throughout their lives.

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