by Tyson Ernst
During one of the early community calls started in response to the national stay home orders, a gentleman by the name of Phil, hailing from Georgia, stated, “For the first time I feel as though I am connected to the ACB.” Since then, I’ve reflected on Phil’s honest sharing of a bright moment in his week, and find his thoughts echoed within my own.
I first came to ACB through the Illinois Council of the Blind and the many wonderful people who make up this great affiliate. Soon after moving to Illinois in 2017, I attended the state convention, and found myself among a community where I felt both welcome and accepted. Despite such a reception, I often struggled inwardly to find my place within the affiliate. Not from a sense I don’t belong within the ICB; rather, I’m unsure how I can fit my piece into an already existing puzzle.
And I must admit, I have had starts and stops in this continuing journey of finding my place. I feel fortunate I am surrounded by good leaders who offer encouragement and guidance in those moments when I stumble. It is because of these leaders and the examples they provide that I have recently begun to consider the work of the ACB, and wondered how I can fit into their puzzle as well. Through the ACB community calls, I received my answer, and I found my place. And it all began with an invitation.
In one of the early community calls, Cindy Van Winkle extended the opportunity to email her with submissions to host a community event on a subject you held some degree of expertise in or passion for. I sent her an email the following day with a proposal to present on the Victor Reader product line. Her answer back to me within a few hours was an enthusiastic “yes.” My talents as an instructor with a career reaching back 34 years, combined with my knowledge of the device, gave me the confidence I could offer a thorough and engaging presentation. The feedback I received after that first call gave me the encouragement to prepare a second event for the following week, all of which has grown to a weekly community event. Those successes gave me exposure to the greater ACB community and so many people across the country. I have met, virtually, individuals from one side of the nation to the other and made some fantastic connections. When I join the social calls, I am greeted by a community of people who I now consider friends. Like that first convention with the ICB, I feel welcome and get the sense my contributions matter. This is the greatest gift the ACB community has given to me. Since that first presentation, others within the ACB have reached out and presented me with further opportunities to give back. And now I feel a belonging within the ACB as much as that of the ICB. I feel connected to the national community, much the way I do with my state and local affiliates.
In a recent community event, Annie Davis talked about finding our authentic voice, and I believe I have found mine. Not in song, as is her gift, but in talking with all of you, whether through the tech calls, or through participating in game labs with a variety of incredible individuals, to just having fun talking about Star Wars.
When I began, I had hoped to offer something the community could benefit from, but it pales when compared with what I have received from this new sense of community, this newfound home and family I have found in ACB. I now feel not only that I have a place within ACB, but that ACB has a place for me. For all those reading this, ACB has a place for everyone, and all you need to do is seek it out, to ask “Where do I fit in?” and to listen to where you are called.