IDB Volunteer Newsletter - Volume 4 Issue 4

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Iowa Department for the Blind Logo

Iowa Department for the Blind Logo

Volunteer Newsletter                                                            Volume 4   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 the Instructional Materials Center Launches New Ordering Portal, Director's Update, and the Friends of the Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped Enhances Library Services for All Patrons. 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.

Updates from the Director 

by Emily Wharton

It is that time of year again when the leaves change colors, children pick out their Halloween costumes, and state agencies prepare their state appropriation requests for the next state fiscal year. IDB has been very grateful to Governor Reynolds and the Iowa Legislature in recent years for their support of our budget requests. This year we are asking for funding for increasing personnel costs across the agency. funding for the Instructional Materials Center staff positions that had been previously funded through a contract with the Iowa Department of Education which they are terminating, and support for instructional materials funding to ensure that blind and low vision students receive accessible educational materials.

Since the Department of education's stopped funding accessible materials on October 1 and school districts became responsible for these costs, we have had a number of districts cancel orders saying that they cannot or will not pay for these materials. We are still receiving calls from frustrated and confused paraprofessionals, principals, TVIs, and other school personnel. We are still trying to fight misinformation and hearing that local school personnel have been told that we were closed. We have been able to subsidize materials for the 22-23 school year through the generosity of the Iowa Commission for the Blind's grant from the Gifts & Bequests fund. It has been a very challenging 3 months for our Instructional Materials Team, and they have risen to the challenge and dealt with all of the extra work without complaint. In addition, at the same time they brought online a new production tracking and ordering system to make ordering easier for paras and other local school staff. They have demonstrated amazing customer service and a deep commitment to literacy and the provision of a free and appropriate public education for all Iowa students.

At IDB, we know that with the proper skills and supports, blind and low vision students can and should be able to achieve at the same level as their sighted classmates and we know that access to high quality accessible educational materials is crucial to making this commonsense expectation reality.  We know that blind and low vision students lag behind their sighted classmates in reading and math through our experience working with these students when they are eligible for VR services, however, the Iowa Department of Education has no data regarding the math and reading scores of blind and low vision students, so it is not possible to determine exactly how big the gap is and if there is any progress being made toward closing it.

Volunteer Spotlight - April Enderton

What is your role at IDB? I assisted with the revising of the IL training manual.

Why did you decide to volunteer at IDB? I am always eager to help in any way I can to improve the lives of blind people.

Where did you work before? I worked over 27 years as a crisis counselor and an information and referral specialist at American Red Cross and United Way. For the past 12 years, I have also operated my own business, Beulah Reimer Legacy, BRL. BRL's mission is to increase braille literacy and reading opportunities by placing braille in the hands of eager readers. We sell print/braille children's picture books and flash cards through our website

What do you enjoy most about volunteering at IDB?  I like to use my writing skills to make a positive difference in other people's lives.

What is your favorite memory at the IDB? Hmmm, it is hard to pick one memory. I have so many. I enjoy talking with the orientation students and the blindness support groups about blindness. I also enjoyed participating in the history of blind Iowans project.

What do you like to do in your free time?  I enjoy reading, writing, cooking, playing Scrabble and spending time with my family. I also enjoy serving on the Library Consumer Advisory Committee through IDB.

Employee Spotlight - Connie Mendenhall

What is your role at IDB?   Chief Information Officer

Why did you decide to work at IDB? I wanted to work in a place where I could make a difference in people's lives every day.

Where did you work before IDB?  Merchants Bonding Company

What do you enjoy most about working at IDB?  There is a tremendous sense of community here at IDB.

What is your favorite memory at the IDB?  Working with clients during IL Integration weeks.

What do you like to do in your free time? Spend time with my family, cooking, and reading.


The Library's Instructional Materials Center Launches a New Ordering Portal

by Sarah Willeford


The Instructional Materials Center (IMC) and the Iowa Library for the Blind and Print Disabled at the Iowa Department for the Blind are state resources for accessible educational materials (AEM).

The IMC produces and acquires educational materials in alternative formats for eligible pre-kindergarten to 12th grade students throughout the state of Iowa who are unable to use standard print.

Materials include:

  • Textbooks and core related materials such as workbooks
  • Supplemental materials such as worksheets and teacher-created worksheets
  • Online class materials and curriculum

As an Authorized Media Producer (AMP) in Iowa for braille, large print, audio and electronic text formats, the IMC has resources to provide timely, quality, and cost-effective materials to students and schools.

The IMC Team has been working on implementing a new online portal for ordering accessible educational materials. The IMC Team is excited to announce that the portal, Athena, is now available for school districts to use when placing orders for students.

Athena will allow school districts to place orders, receive information regarding student orders and track order statuses. The next phase of implementing Athena will be working with our braille and large print vendors, contractors, and transcribers on to bringing them into the portal to efficiently receive, complete and deliver the materials students need.

Here is a message we received from an Iowa Educator:  Working with the Instructional Materials Center at the Iowa Department for the Blind has been an excellent experience when placing orders for my student. Now using the Athena ordering website, the transition has gone smoothly. The Department is extremely helpful when I call with questions. The how-to video clips guide you when placing orders and are very informative. I felt prepared for this change when the program went live. Also, the quality of braille that comes back to our district is top-notch for my student. Thank you for doing such an incredible job for those who you serve across the State!

Volunteer Opportunity with the Library

The Iowa Library for the Blind and Print Disabled is looking for volunteers to come into the library to clean and do minor repairs on our digital talking book players that patrons send back. Training will be provided.  This would be one day a week, or every other week for 3-4 hours. If this is something you would be interested in, please contact the library at or 515-281-1323.

Did You Know?

Friends of the Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped Enhances Library Services for All Patrons

by Sandi Ryan

In 2005, a small number of devoted library patrons and their friends obtained 501(c)(3) status as a charity and began to help our library do more each year. The organization is led by a nine-member board. Funds for the friends of the Library come from donations, fund-raising activities, and memberships in the organization. Each year, the Friends provide a generous donation to the Library. This year’s donation was $12,000, allowing for addition of activity kits to the youth library and maker space, purchase of accessible materials for library programs, recording equipment for audio narrators, help paying for Braille Challenge activities, addition of print/braille and large print books to the Youth collection, and support for library outreach activities. Past donations have gone for many other activities, including providing religious texts, furnishing a reading room, funding the annual volunteer recognition luncheon and workshops, and many, many more. One donation allowed the library to purchase a 3D printer to bring tactile shapes alive in the hands of blind patrons.

We were proud, during the week of October 16-22, 2022, to celebrate our amazing Friends of the Library group as part of National Friends of Libraries week. Thank you Friends for the financial support and advocacy you provide to our library year-round. Your generosity helps the library provide great programs and services to patrons across the state.

Save the date for the Friends of the Library Holiday benefit concert on Friday, December 2, 2022 from 7:00pm – 9:30pm at the Iowa Department for the Blind (524 Fourth St, Des Moines).  Sing along with Antique Harmony and Midnight Madness as they harmonize to your holiday and Barbershop favorites.  The evening will also feature music and songs by Frank Strong, Dave Hammel and Cindy Ray.  Tickets are $10.00 and can be purchased at the door or in advance from Friends of the Library board members.

For more information about the Friends of the Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped fundraising and membership initiatives check out their website at

To ask questions, become a member, or make a donation, you can email the Friends at

Upcoming Events

11/11 Veterans Day

11/24-11/25 Thanksgiving Holiday

11/28 – Director’s Forum 12:00 pm  

12/6 Commission Board Meeting at 12:00 pm

12/9-12/11 Youth Weekend Retreat

12/26 Christmas Holiday

1/2 New Year's Day Holiday

1/16 Martin Luter King Jr. Day

1/20-1/22 Youth Weekend Retreat

2/24-2/26 Youth Weekend Retreat

2/25 Braille Challenge

3/5 Self Week

3/14 Commission Meeting