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New National Office Opens

There are milestones in the development of any organization. The NFB:AE has just passed a significant milestone with the opening of our National Office.

When we received our letters patent in June 1992, we didn't need to worry about space. We owned nothing. We had to take up collections among the membership to pay for envelopes and stamps. The few possessions we did own-books, papers and our corporate seal-took a few shelves in the book cases of the president's home.

The first editor of the Canadian Blind Monitor, Alan Neville, worked from his home. We used the space on the hard drive of his computer. He kept back issues of the magazine in print and on cassette tape. Slowly we began to acquire things, but we were able to manage by using storage space in several members' homes.

We received our charitable status in 1995, and that led to the rapid growth of the organization. We installed a toll-free telephone line in the president's home. We acquired a FAX machine, a copier, and a desk which were placed in an office at the home of the president's secretary. At first, her work for the NFB:AE was very part time.

Over the past two years the phone, which at first had rung "occasionally", became a constant in our lives. The president's time, as well as my time and the time of the family, was spent answering general inquiries from the public. Blind people began hearing about us and calling for help and encouragement. By the beginning of July it became obvious that more hands and minds were needed to carry the daily load. Though volunteers do an overwhelming majority of the work, we needed a staff member to handle the day-to-day business in order to free the president to carry out policy and lead the organization.

We are fortunate that one of the founding members of the organization became available for work in July. Ken Westlake was involved from the beginning. He was there when practically nobody believed we could get an organization off the ground. He was there when the national budget was $1500 per year. He sold calendars and raffle tickets. He worked at garage sales and asked friends for donations. Above all, he strove to understand and make the philosophy of the Federation a part of his daily life.

Ken has a strong background, and deep interest, in computers. He spent a year working towards a Computer Information System diploma at Okanagan University College. Although his marks were good and his professors were impressed with him, Ken realized that he needed more blindness skills if he was ever to succeed. With the sponsorship of Vocational Rehabilitation Services, and with the strong support and backing of the NFB:AE, he enrolled at BLIND INC. the Federation Rehabilitation Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Elsewhere in this issue, Ken describes that program and what it has meant to him.

When he graduated from BLIND INC. at the end of June, Ken was following up many promising job leads. The only problem was that they were all in the United States. He wanted to live and work in Kelowna if possible. This was one of those happy times when the needs of an individual and an organization have both been solved. We needed someone who understood what we were about and had the skills and the spirit to help us grow. He needed a job. On July 21, 1997, Ken Westlake began his official duties as assistant to the president. It is his voice you will hear when you call the toll-free number 1-800-561-4774. If he can, he will answer your questions directly. If you need to speak to the president, or someone else in the organization, it is his job to make sure that happens.

He will also be maintaining our computer equipment and our new web page as well as performing a number of behind-the-scenes administrative functions.

Our new administrative office is located at 445 Franklyn Road, Kelowna, BC, V1X 5X8. It includes enough space for meetings and conferences as well as a private office for the president or other members conducting Federation business. There are also kitchen facilities which means that we will be able to hold seminars and work through meals and reduce restaurant charges.

Who knows what kind of additonal uses we will be able to find for our space? But then, very few people believed that we would grow to be the organization we are when our letters patent were granted in 1992. The future is bright with promise. We have reached one milestone, and it will be a jumping off place for our exciting long-term journey toward a strong independent voice for blind Canadians.