Raising Anchor and Setting Sail for Bowen Island

On the left-hand side of this logo is the PTC Sailboat above gentle waves with the words 'Pacific Training Centre'. On the right side is the letters 'cobd' in Braille and the words 'Canadian Organization of the Blind and DeafBlind' in print.

The sailboat that makes up our logo has been a symbol of the Pacific Training Centre for many years. Not only are sailboats awesome and fun, just like our students and staff, we identify with the sailboat because people associate terms like discovery, exploration, and freedom with them. We feel that it is these same terms that describe the journey taken by each of our students. They set a course to discover their abilities, explore all they can accomplish, and achieve freedoms that they might not have otherwise thought possible and these are the traits that define PTC and the Blind People In Charge program.

Since the beginning of the Blind People In Charge program almost nine years ago, there has been a myriad of ups and downs that evoke the thought of this quote by Jimmy Dean, “I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.” As we’ve navigated the waters of building the training program, the rapids that have been funding shortfalls, and the ocean swells that have rocked our sailboat, there’s also been the calm waters and bright sunny days of student successes and that has been what has sustained us when the winds have threatened to pull us off course because adaptability, creative resourcefulness, and building a better future are at the core of what we do.

It’s funny how when on a journey its impossible to know that a place you stop for a short while will come back to have a huge impact on your future. It reminds me of this quote by Steve Jobs, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” In my mind, this sums up the journey we’re on now perfectly.

In May 2014, the ‘Breaking the Mold’ convention of the Canadian Federation of the Blind (CFB) was held on Bowen Island in British Columbia. At that convention, as we all gathered in the dining hall of the historic home of blind Canadians, the Bowen Lodge by the Sea, many of us in the blind community heard for the first time from staff and students of Pacific Training Centre about the revolutionary new Blind People In Charge program that had launched only five months earlier. The speech that day by PTC founder and Executive Director, Elizabeth Lalonde, read in part:

“Once we get the full centre going, students will be enrolled in a 9-month immersion program, 5 days a week, 9 o’clock until 5. … The program is based on an alternative civil rights model of blindness training called “structured discovery learning”, where blind people learn to become fully independent, based on senses other than sight. Students who have some vision wear sleepshades or blindfold, to allow non-visual learning to take place. This approach allows blind people to learn to problem solve, make their own decisions, and have high expectations of themselves and other blind people – basically, take charge of our own lives.”

At the time we had no idea that the very spot we were gathered in would be the stage for that centre really getting going in the way Elizabeth described. But as we dust off the lodge (which we have on a rental contract) in preparation for the arrival of our students later today, it is to be, to come full circle. The lodge, built in 1963 as a space for blind Canadians to come together for summer camps in the summer and independent living skills training in non-summer months, is being used for these purposes once again, fulfilling a vision stretching back through time to the team that led its conception through to reality so many years ago.

But this isn’t the only part of our journey that has come full-circle. At the 2014 CFB convention, then Blind People In Charge Participant, Heidi Propp, said in part:

“I’ve been a participant since the beginning, January 20, 2014, when the program started. I can’t begin to tell you the areas in which the program has impacted my life tremendously. The main area is that it has inspired me to find employment for myself online and it fosters a spirit of entrepreneurship within me. It gives me the belief that I can find employment for myself. … The program has increased my cane skills and my confidence, but more importantly, it has inspired me to make a goal for myself of moving from my parent’s home and that is my main dream. The environment in which I’m at doesn’t currently allow me to participate in society as a fully-independent individual, so it is my goal to move out from home next year… The trainers at the Pacific Training Centre for the Blind have fostered independence and the philosophy that anything is possible when you are blind. Thank you.”

Heidi now sits on the PTC Board of Directors as President and on the COBD National Board of Directors as National Secretary. She has also served as an instructor for PTC students. And, Heidi isn’t alone in having graduated from the Blind People In Charge program and having gone on to work for PTC to share the knowledge she’s gained. Current Braille instructor and Camp Bowen Division Secretary, Erin Lacharity; Cane Travel instructor and BIrDS Board member, TJ Evans; and Adaptive Technology instructor Sky Mundell are all graduates of the Blind People In Charge program.

Moves like this one can’t happen without the efforts of a dedicated team. Currently, in addition to the instructors listed above we extend our deepest gratitude to current team members Susan Gallagher, Shauna Sproston, Shannon Hope, Nancy Gill, Matthew Alvernaz, Jocelyn Gladysz, Jessica Gladysz, Elizabeth Lalonde, Daniella Sorrentino, Brandon Bracey, Araceli Jurgensen, Alex Jurgensen, and Aedan Staddon. We also want to thank the board: Wajiha (BPIC graduate), Victor, Miles, Janet, Heidi, and Alan. Last, but certainly not least, we’d like to thank the countless staff, students, board members, and volunteers who have worked tirelessly over the past eleven years to get us where we are today. As Margaret Mead once said, “A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” And this is exactly what this team is, a small but passionate group of people embarking on a journey to help change the perception of and societal standing of blind and DeafBlind Canadians.

So, after stocking the galley and filling the hold, the plans are set and charts are made. It’s moving day here at the Pacific Training Centre and there’s excitement in the air. But there’s also nervousness, anxiety, and some sadness too. For today is the day that, after much preparation, we raise anchor from Victoria, our home of the last nine years, and set sail for Bowen Island, British Columbia, to fulfil a promise made to blind Canadians more than half a century ago with the development of the Bowen Lodge by the Sea. And, along with this change does come the feelings of sadness I spoke of. Sadness for leaving our home behind, even as our new home awaits us. It’s impossible to spend as much time as we have in a place and not be attached to it. But we know the future is bright over the horizon and Bowen Island has also been our home for decades as a community and that is exhilarating. Bowen Island is where we belong, a place where we as blind people can be ourselves, and to where we’ve been charting course for some time. And that’s where the excitement comes in. The excitement of meeting all the new students and embarking on this new journey together as staff, as peers, as blind and DeafBlind people, and, most importantly, as a community.

So, as the final items are loaded and sun shines bright in the sky, the preparation is done and the proverbial sails go up. The time is finally here and it’s time to batten down the hatches and pull away from the peer. So without further a due, we raise our anchor and set sail for the journey that awaits on Bowen Island.