IDB Volunteer Newsletter - Volume 3 Issue 4

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Iowa Department for the Blind Logo

Iowa Department for the Blind Logo

Volunteer Newsletter                                                            Volume 3   Issue 4

Mission: Empower blind Iowans to be gainfully employed and live independently.  

Vision: To be the world's leader in blind rehabilitation services.

IDB Volunteer Newsletter

Welcome to our newsletter! In this issue, we are celebrating the unveiling training center symbol, new Youth Space opens, and an Update from the Director including the State Fiscal Year 2023 State Appropriation. We hope you find this newsletter useful and informative. Please feel free to share any suggestions you may have for things to include or ways to improve by emailing Janice Eggers, Executive Secretary and Volunteer Coordinator at  If you are a current volunteer, thank you for all that you do. If you are not a current volunteer, please visit our website at to learn about opportunities or fill out an application.

Volunteer Spotlight - Sandi Ryan

What is your role at IDB?  I am Chairperson of the Iowa Commission for the Blind (a volunteer job), I proofread braille books for the Library, teach Business classes with Center and YATP students, and I write an article each quarter for the Department's Volunteer Newsletter.

Why did you decide to volunteer at IDB? As a blind Iowan, I have long received services from the Department. Volunteering gives me opportunities to pay it forward by helping other blind Iowans turn their dreams into reality.

Where did you work before?  Until December of 2009, I worked at the Iowa Department of Public Health coordinating the WISEWOMAN Program, provided in all 99 counties by up to 48 local health departments.

What do you enjoy most about volunteering at IDB? I love helping the excellent Department staff constantly improve services to blind Iowans.

What is your favorite memory at the IDB? Receiving the Florence Grannis Award at the Perowsky luncheon--twice!

What do you like to do in your free time?  Read, sing with my virtual choir, spend time with my husband, family and friends, and scan books for the Bookshare collection.

Employee Spotlight - Emily Wharton

What is your role at IDB?   Director

Why did you decide to work at IDB? I was a client of the agency in the 1990s. In school I had been taught to maximize my vision, but I struggled because I couldn't see at night or read print beyond 50 words a minute. I was depressed and frustrated and thought my whole life would have to be a struggle. I was finally convinced to come to our training center in 1998. I learned non-visual skills, but more importantly, that I didn't need to rely on my vision. I could walk around without staring at the ground, I could visit new cities by myself, I could use a computer without leaning in so close that it gave me a sunburn. My confidence increased and I came to realize that I was a competent blind person instead of a broken sighted person. This saved my life. I wanted to work to empower others to also live free and meaningful lives. I started working as a vocational rehabilitation teacher in Minnesota. While I loved teaching, I became fascinated with process improvement, curriculum design, and leadership. When an opportunity to work for IDB leading the technology team arose, I was thrilled to be able to come back to IDB. I was deeply honored to have been appointed Director in 2016.

Where did you work before IDB? Blindness: Learning In New Dimensions (BLIND), Inc. in Minneapolis, MN for 15 years. 

What do you enjoy most about working at IDB?  The people -- the clients and staff, watching both grow. I love center student graduations -- they always make me cry. I love talking with people about blindness and overcoming the misconceptions people have about blindness.

What is your favorite memory at the IDB?  I don't know that anything can ever top completing my 5 mile walk when I was a student. All of the staff and students met me at the south alley with super soakers and buckets of water. It actually felt great on the hot July day and I felt so supported and as though a great weight had been taken off my shoulders. I felt finally alright with myself and being blind. I do have to say the unveiling of the center triangle this week was also a high point. Getting the support of the legislature and Governor for a $500,000 budget increase last year also was definitely a high point. There are really a lot to choose from around here :)

What do you like to do in your free time? Writing poetry, building furniture. I love turning things on my wood lathe. I love spending time with my wife and border collie. I love table top role play gaming like Dungeons and Dragons and Magic: the Gathering. I'm always willing to help anyone learn how they can make those games accessible. I love volunteering with the teens and building accessible escape rooms or teaching them how to play RPGs or Magic. I also love solving escape rooms. I have way more interests than time.

Updates from the Director 

by Emily Wharton

Fall is a very exciting time at IDB. Our Young Adult Transition Program begins a new school year, our youth weekend retreats begin again, and of course, we put together our appropriation request for the next state fiscal year. So maybe that last one isn't as fun as jumping into a big pile of leaves, but it is important to keep our exciting programs happening. Here is an overview of what we will be requesting for your State Fiscal Year 2023 State Appropriation:

We are asking for an increase to cover increases in the costs of payroll, goods, and services. We anticipate an increase in payroll costs of $302,979. Based on our effective non-Federal share across all programs, we need an increase in our state appropriation of $69,685 to cover this cost. In order to cover the anticipated 5% increase in the costs of goods and services, we need an additional $43,094. This brings our total appropriation increase requested to $112,779.

We are requesting a capital appropriation of $196,900 to cover several large long-term maintenance expenses. We are asking for $94,200 to replace our south roof. The age of this roof is such that it has begun to leak and these repairs to our south roof will eliminate leaks that have appeared in various parts of the building in recent years during and after heavy rains. While leaks generally cause many problems to ceilings and equipment, leaks in our braille collection stacks would result in damage to our nationally recognized braille collection.

We are asking for $25,000 to repair cement block walls.  There are several cement block walls on upper floors that need tuck pointing to prevent bricks from coming loose and falling. There are also an increasing number of areas on the 5th and 6th floors where tuck pointing is needed to prevent face brick and cornices from falling.

We are also asking for $77,700 to modernize and keep current our Johnson controls environmental controls system. Some of the older components are needing replaced to ensure software and hardware compatibility as well as improve the non-visual accessibility of the control system. It is important to our agency that we have infrastructure systems that are non-visually accessible so that blind staff are able to do their jobs as efficiently as their sighted colleagues. Because it is our mission to share with employers how blind people can and do work in all different types of jobs, we employ blind people in all areas of our agency. We have blind IT and maintenance staff who need to access the Johnson Controls system. Because newer versions of the software are easier to make accessible, keeping our Johnson Controls system up to date is both good for the environmental consistency of  the building and crucial to making sure our staff can do their jobs.

Dr. Sara Coleman Ringing Triangle after Graduation

Sara Coleman ringing triangle after graduation.

Unveiling Training Center Symbol

by Emily Wharton

On October 19th, we held a very special event at IDB. I asked our agency staff and center to join me in the east lobby for a surprise event.  This isn't a usual meeting spot.  During this event, we unveiled our new training center symbol. Here is the text from the signs that hang below the triangle:

This triangle is rung to celebrate important milestones achieved by students in in our adjustment-to-blindness training program.  It celebrates the important milestones that our students achieve!  These milestones include but are not limited to: learning the braille code, completing a drop off, finishing an industrial arts project, serving a small or large meal, and earning the Graduation certificate.

The three sides of the triangle represent the three components of our comprehensive training: non-visual skills, self-confidence, and a positive attitude toward blindness.

We want to thank former Industrial Arts Instructor and Center Assistant Director, Dave Hauge, for creating this triangle and adding to his legacy of making a difference in the lives of countless blind Iowans.

When a student rings the triangle, we invite everyone in our IDB family to share their congratulations and appreciate the student's hard work.

"Remember to celebrate milestones as you prepare for the road ahead." -- Nelson Mandela

We were very excited that the triangle's creator, Dave Hauge and our Commission Board Chair and Center graduate Sandi Ryan were able to be in attendance. The first person to ring the triangle was Dr. Sara Coleman. She had just completed her 5.2 mile graduation walk the day before. Center Director Karly Prinds spoke and Nami Wallace was thanked for her assistance in getting this project completed and keeping it under wraps until the unveiling.

A big thanks also goes to Sarah Willeford and Randy Walford for their help in picking the location and getting the holder mounted. We are very excited to embark on this new tradition. One particular feature of the triangle is that at the top of the triangle is a heart. The Center is the heart of our agency and love for our students and belief in the ability to live their dreams is at the core of everything the Center does.

IDB Youth Library

New IDB Youth Space

New Youth Space Open 

by Sarah Willeford

The Iowa Library for the Blind and Print Disabled had a busy October.  We completed our Youth Library space just in time for hosting a preconference for the Iowa Library Association annual conference. 

The library is excited to announce the opening of the new Youth Library Space located on the first floor of the Iowa Department for the Blind building in Des Moines.  The space would not have been possible without the generous contribution of the Friends of the Iowa Library for the Blind and Print Disabled.  The Friends of the Library are a volunteer group who raise funds and advocate for the library.  

The Youth Library space is an amazing space featuring a park theme with flooring representing grass and a board walk, and a ceiling painted blue to represent the sky. Unique lighting allows it to be easily adjusted with some that look like historical street lights.    

The space has something for families and youth of all ages.  It includes Lego and magnet walls, a castle to read in or put on a puppet show and our StoryWalk. And let's not forget the books; we are rotating our print/braille collection into the space to bring to the space great books for browsing, as well as, beginning readers and youth and teen titles. We also are excited to have the Ioponics (aquaponics) system in our youth library space.  Stop in to learn about aquaponics system, the plants we are growing and say hello to our fish (Koi and Blue Gill). Our Makerspace can be found off of the Youth Library Space where you can find crafts, coding activities and more.    

The funding provided by the Friends of the Library helped in purchasing the furniture, bookshelves, Legos, puppets, print/braille books and more for the Youth Library. 

The Youth Library space was completed in time to be part of the preconference that the Library and the Iowa Department for the Blind hosted for the Iowa Library Association Annual Conference that was held in downtown Des Moines.  About 20 librarians from all types of libraries (public, school and academic) participated in the day long preconference.  Our Library staff held learning sessions on: accessibility in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), assistive technology, strategies for ensuring accessibility in libraries, and information about our library and the Iowa Department for the Blind.  It was a great day of learning and we look forward to our continued partnership with public, school, academic and special libraries. 

IDB Ioponics

Ioponics at IDB

Did You Know?

Sarah Willeford Wins Prestigious
Iowa Library Association Award 

by Sandi Ryan

Many patrons of the Iowa Library for the Blind and Print Disabled have loved Sarah Willeford since she became the dynamic and innovative Director of the library in February 2014.

Until Sarah arrived, our library had sent each patron one or two books at a time, and had worked with teachers and volunteers to provide books for students, and with volunteers to add titles to the library collection. Sarah immediately saw the need for efficiencies in the existing systems, and set about procuring a Library Management System that would allow library staff to serve patrons better, even though she had been told that no existing LMS could work for a library for the blind. Ours became the first such library to use an existing system.  After the system was up and functioning, patrons could be sent ten books at a time on one cartridge.

In 2017, when nearly half the library staff was lost following a mid-year reduction of funds by the state legislature, the remaining staff could have given up. But Sarah had a vision, and she helped the staff to become a cohesive team, heal, and move forward. The library has become an exciting and innovative place, where excellent programs created for various patron groups keep services relevant and patrons participating.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, when many businesses were closed and services to blind library patrons around the nation suffered, Sarah and her staff created a plan to keep books moving smoothly out to patrons and back to the library. A number of programs for youth, just getting started at the time and planned for the beautiful youth library space designed by Sarah and staffed by the library’s first-ever youth librarian, became temporarily virtual. A couple of the library’s audio narrators read books on the phone at regular times each week. Families, teachers and paraprofessionals had access to the library’s Braille Bits program, which teaches them braille. The circumstances for patrons were sometimes scary and isolating, but Sarah and her staff did much to keep them participating in reading and other library activities, and to lessen the isolation.

Sarah’s vision includes blind children learning braille much earlier in life than has been done before in Iowa. She is committed to braille literacy and to universal design which makes much that has long been inaccessible available to blind children and adults.

Earlier in 2021, the Iowa Library for the Blind and Print Disabled received the 2020-2021 Library of the Year award from the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled of the Library of Congress, in recognition of the many services Sarah and her staff have created, then shared with other libraries for the blind and print disabled. Because of the work of Sarah and her staff team, blind people all over America are receiving better services, too.

In early October, 2021, during the Iowa Library Association Conference, Sarah’s accomplishments in her more-than-20-year career as director of two public libraries, consultant to the State Library, and now Director of our library, were recognized with ILA’s Distinguished Leadership Award. This article has barely touched on Sarah’s abilities to work with staff, volunteers, and other Department programs to best serve the library’s patrons, her determination to make things happen, and her staunch commitment to braille literacy and to libraries.

Please be sure to congratulate Sarah next time you see her!

Sarah Willeford ILA 2021Distinguished Leadership Award

Sara Willeford wins ILA's Distinguished Leadership Award


Upcoming Events

10/29-31 Youth Weekend Retreat

11/2 3:00-5:00 pm Elected Committee of Blind Vendors (ECBV) Meeting

11/11 Veteran’s Day (state holiday office closed)

11/19 7:30-8:30 am Holiday Tea’s Tailgate Breakfast in Assembly Room
  8:30-11:30 am All Staff Meeting  
  12:00-1:00 pm Director’s Forum

11/24-28 YATP Thanksgiving Break. Students travel home Tuesday evening and return Monday morning.

11/25-11/26 Thanksgiving (state holiday office closed)

12/7 12:00 pm Commission Board Meeting

12/9 3:00-5:00 pm Elected Committee of Blind Vendors (ECBV) Meeting

12/10-12 Youth Weekend Retreat

12/18-1/2 Center and YATP Winter Break. YATP students travel home Friday evening and return Monday morning.

12/24 Christmas holiday (state holiday office closed)

12/25 Christmas 

12/31 March Self-Week Application Deadline,
   New Year’s Eve (state holiday office closed)

1/5 Last day to enter case notes, complete applications/closures, and mark authorizations paid in eFORCE for federal reporting.

1/15-17 YATP MLK Day Break. Students travel home Friday evening and return Tuesday morning.

1/17 Martin Luther King Jr. Day (state holiday office closed)

1/21-23 Youth Weekend Retreat

2/25 8:30-11:30 am All Staff Meeting

2/25-27 Youth Weekend Retreat

2/28 May Self-Week application deadline

3/13-19 Self-Week

3/15 LEAP application Deadline

3/25-27 LEAP Staff Camp

3/26-4/3 Spring Break. Students travel home Friday evening and return Monday morning.

4/5 Last day to enter case notes, complete applications/closures, and mark authorizations paid in eFORCE for federal reporting

4/22-24 Youth Weekend Retreat

4/30 July Self-Week application deadline