The People We Meet

Written by Hannah Ozmun, AmeriCorps VISTA at the American Printing House for the Blind

As we walk down the hall toward the production floor, the hum of the presses grows louder. I turn on my microphone and remind the group to stay behind the yellow tape so that no one gets too close to the machines. Behind me, massive rolls of paper are feeding into the presses where mechanical teeth emboss dots on both sides of the paper and cut it to size for binding. Sometimes a humidifier spits steam next to the paper rolls, ensuring that the paper is not too dry and will not tear when it is embossed. “Braille is high maintenance,” I say as we watch the presses fill up trays of embossed paper. Sometimes I will talk about the grant we just received for a digital scanner to check for embossing errors; sometimes, if I hear the distinctive metallic clink-clink coming from the back, I will walk the group over to the Heidelberg presses, where metal plates emboss single sheets of paper with a flourish of burnished knobs and wheels. The Heidelberg presses rarely run, as they can only produce one page at a time. But when they do, the elegance of old-fashioned printing is captivating.

Every day at 10 AM and 2 PM, the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) offers free drop-in tours of our braille production floor, product display room, Talking Books recording studio, and museum. APH sees thousands of visitors each year, and every week our team of tour guides educates visitors on the history of braille, the raised-dot code read by touch that allows people who are visually impaired to read and gain independence. We walk people through the process of making a braille book on the production floor, including stops at transcription, proofreading, tactile graphics, embossing, and binding. In the display room, we demonstrate products like tactile maps and electronic braille displays, inviting visitors to imagine what it would be like to use these products in the classroom and in their daily lives. In the recording studio, we explain our contract with the National Library Service and listen to a live Talking Books recording session with one of our narrators. And in the museum, we see objects and artifacts that tell the story of the education and achievements of the blind throughout time—a book written by Louis Braille, a piano played by Stevie Wonder, a book owned by Helen Keller—and allow visitors to write their names in braille using a braillewriter.

While we host many field trips for school children and general tours for people passing through Louisville, we also have visitors who come to APH for a specific purpose. Some visitors may be interested in manufacturing; others may know someone who is blind; some are students in a university program to become teachers of the visually impaired. Occasionally, we will give tours to individuals who are blind who have used APH products and listened to Talking Books.  These are my favorite kind of tours, when I can step back and listen to a first-hand account of how a particular product is used or an opinion on which Talking Books narrator has the best voice. Once, in the museum, I referred to our “braille typewriters,” and a woman who was a braille reader gently corrected me. “They’re called braillewriters. You gotta remember that for your next tour.” When we rounded the corner, she reached out to feel the stacks of the 145-volume braille World Book Encyclopedia, the largest braille project APH has ever undertaken. “When I was a kid, we owned this set,” she said, running her fingers up the towering spines. “We had a spare bedroom filled with shelves of braille books, and a ladder to reach the top shelf. I used to read the encyclopedia cover-to-cover because I was so hungry for books.” These are the moments I will remember most vividly from my time here at APH, when I have been reminded to cherish the gift of literacy and the labor of those who work to make books accessible to all.

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Braillewriter at the American Printing House for the Blind

 

In my final weeks as a VISTA, I will give many more tours to families enjoying their last days of summer vacation. My favorite part of the tour is the museum, when visitors stoop over the braillewriters, hunting for the letters of their name on the alphabet chart while cautiously mashing the key combinations. I love seeing their satisfaction when they unroll the paper and feel the dots they just embossed. I have met many passionate people on my tours, like the employment specialist who came to APH to research resources available to his deaf-blind client, and the mom of a blind autistic boy who treasures the Talking Books she receives in the mail. Giving tours has allowed me to become intimately acquainted with the mission of APH as I have met many people who rely on our products to live fully and independently. Before working at APH, I didn’t know much about braille or the education of the blind. I began to learn braille after a group of precocious third graders on a field trip asked me to read a sign hanging in the museum. At APH, I learned history I never knew existed and met people who challenged me to think more deeply about inclusion and accessibility for all. While tours are only a small part of my VISTA responsibilities, I look forward to the calls I get from our receptionist telling me that the lobby is crowded with visitors. I secure my microphone around my waist, rest the headset around my neck, and head downstairs to see who they are, where they are from, and what has brought them to APH.

If you are interested in a tour at APH, drop in Monday-Friday at 10 AM or 2 PM. Our museum is open for self-guided exploration Monday-Friday 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM and Saturday 10 AM to 3 PM. If you have a party of ten or more, please call Rob Guillen at 502-899-2242 to schedule a group tour. All tours and museum visits are free.

Bonus Image: 

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Sculpture created by blind 4th grade students at the American Printing House for the Blind

 

A Client’s Story

Talking about my job is difficult. It’s difficult to describe what the Backside Learning Center does, who we serve, and, more significantly, why we’re around, in the neat, concise, polished way I feel people expect when they want to know what I do. When they ask, I want to talk about our emphasis on education, the horse racing industry, what the backside is, where it is, the 1000 workers that migrate with the horses wherever the industry leads them – most of them coming from rural areas of Latin American countries, the 600 or so who live in the barn area, or backside, of Churchill Downs, the need for them to learn English and the obstacles that hinder their progress with the language, the families who have taken root here in Louisville and have entrusted us to help them help their kids be successful in the US.

There are so many features of this place to highlight, but the eloquent line I want to repeat when I am asked to talk about what I do often comes out fractured and urgent – Urgent, because I lack the time for fundraising and volunteer coordination at the Backside Learning Center, a nonprofit located on the backside of Churchill Downs. I want to get across the importance of the BLC’s existence- that it’s a home- but even more so, the importance of the individuals working in the horse racing industry, and the need for people to know about them, to be involved in helping them reach their highest potential, to understand the obstacles they and their kids hurdle over daily, and to care about their lives in Louisville, KY- their new home.

Unfortunately, I can never do it justice – I can never explain everything. So, I relate the story of one our participants in hopes that it will convey everything I cannot:

Marta is a groom in a barn, where she’s worked for close to 14 years under a Hall of Fame Thoroughbred horse trainer, who’s won the Kentucky Derby. Her day begins at 4 am every morning- even on weekends. She works with the horses- caring for them, getting them ready to train, cleaning them and their stalls until 11 am. After, she goes home to her teenage daughter. Then she returns to work at 3 PM for the afternoon feeding and to clean the stalls. After finishing her job at 5 PM, Marta goes home and gets ready to attend English class at the Backside Learning Center from 5:30 to 7 PM bringing her daughter along to get help with homework or to volunteer.

Marta’s daily routine began in 2003 after moving to the United States from Guatemala. She has worked in the industry since she got here. In Guatemala, Marta spent her childhood days playing with her siblings and friends when she wasn’t working or going to school. She lived on a farm where they cared for many animals including cows and horses, and grew lemons, coffee, avocados, radishes, oranges, corn and beans. Marta attended school for four or five years before having to stay home to help maintain the family’s farm.

Her move to the U.S. was also done to help – to give her family a better life. In Guatemala, Marta left behind her parents, siblings, and her son. Because of their economic situation, Marta left her son with her parents when he was little to seek out a way to help them financially. Her decision to move has helped both her children have more opportunities. “Leaving,” she says, “was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, but I believe it was the best decision. Every two days I talk to my son. My parents have done a very good job with him. I feel I’ve done a good job.” her son is now attending university in Guatemala, and her daughter is starting her sophomore year of high school and working to get into college – both opportunities possible because of their mother’s sacrifice.

Marta and her daughter have been dedicated participants of the Backside Learning Center’s Family Education Program since its beginning. Now in the Advanced English class, Marta is a motivated student whose strong and determined personality shines – qualities she has passed on to her daughter. Both of them – and many people like them – make the Backside Learning Center into the home that it is.

Written by Blanca Ruiz, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving at the Backside Learning Center

Walking Louisville from a New Perspective

One interesting time that I had as an Americorps VISTA this May took place at the Regional Mobility Council Transportation Summit held at the Frazier History Museum downtown. This summit’s focus was to highlight, analyze, and discuss the issues of transportation in Louisville for individuals who have some form of diminished mobility due to a myriad of situations such as loss of hearing, loss of sight, medical conditions, etc.

As part of the summit, all attendees divided into groups and conducted a “walking audit” of downtown Louisville’s sidewalks, crosswalks, streets, and intersections marking down the negatives and positives of public transportation through the city. Some negatives include cracked/destroyed sidewalks, unsafe crosswalks at intersections, inadequate lighting at intersections, and intersections that cut into pedestrian waiting areas, etc. Some positives include greenery (flowers and trees), benches, little parks, interesting sights to see, etc. In each group, one to two people volunteered to use wheelchairs to simulate the limited mobility perspective of pedestrian transportation that many face in the city. There were even people who were hard of hearing or hard of seeing that participated in these walking audit groups. These individuals contributed to the groups’ understanding of the overlying issue of access to transportation.

As we walked the audit, we found that Louisville’s sidewalks are filled with two inch high cracks that make walking for hard of seeing people very difficult and made wheeling a wheelchair over said cracks nearly impossible without some sort of help. There are crooked crosswalks with no auditory cues that hard of seeing people can use to stay safe as pedestrians. There are too steep of curb inclines that make it extremely difficult for wheelchair users to conquer. These are just a few of the problems that we saw as we completed our walk audit.

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Large crack in the sidewalk that makes walking dangerously of the hard of seeing and wheelchair use difficult without assistance.

 

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Long crosswalk with no auditory signal makes crossing the street a challenge for the hard of sight.

 

 

Visibly seeing the struggles that our two wheelchair-based people (one being a volunteer and another genuinely needing a wheelchair) has opened my eyes to an entirely new perspective concerning mobility and transportation, things that I take for granted today. This new perspective has translated into how I look at the way Louisville’s international population, a group I work closely with, utilizes and understand public transportation. Maybe making public/pedestrian signs easier to understand would be a step in the right direction to ease language transportation issues that Louisville’s international population faces. Another idea would be to make mobility access signs with simpler terms can ease the stress that Low English proficiency speakers and public transit riders face using public transportation. Making public transportation more easily acceptable for all types of mobility/disability, including the issues that Louisville’s refugees and immigrants face concerning public transportation, is a step that we can all work on to conquer together.  

-Alyssa Gilbert

Louisville Native vs Louisville Transplant

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Laura was born and raised in Louisville.

She is currently serving her year as a VISTA at The Food Literacy Project.

 

 

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Lauren is from Indianapolis originally, but has lived in Louisville for 4 years.

She is currently serving her year as a VISTA at Americana World Community Center.

 

 

These two decided to give their differing perspectives on a city that they both truly love.

FAVORITE RESTAURANT

Louisville Native:

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LAURA: Right now, it’s Eiderdown, which has great German cuisine, and it’s in Germantown/Schnitzelburg! I also love a slice of pizza from the Post, which is down the street! For BBQ- Feast is a must. I love to order Feast to go and walk over to Akasha Brewing and play games, eat BBQ, and sip on some local brews.

 

Louisville Transplant:

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Lauren: I can go for a delicious burger any day of the week and my favorite burger in town is at Grind. The delicious sides, like roasted brussel sprouts, make the splurge to a burger not seem as indulgent.

 

FAVORITE BREWERY

Louisville Native:

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Laura: Cumberland Brewery has cheap, quality brews and is within walking distance of my house! Though, Holy Grale has an incredibly delicious selection, repping unique and cool breweries across the world.

 

Louisville Transplant:

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Lauren: My favorite brewery is Against the Grain: not only are they an awesome stop before Louisville City Football Club games (Lou’s soccer team is 3rd in their division, you need to go to a game!) but their brews are on point as well as sometimes they brew root beers and sodas, so everyone can enjoy a craft brew!

 

FAVORITE WORKOUT

Louisville Native:

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Laura: If you consider yoga a workout, I looooooooooove 502 Power Yoga. I do a work-exchange, so I work a few hours a week cleaning and doing laundry for the studio in exchange for classes. The yoga is challenging and upbeat, and the community is WONDAAAAAFUL!

 

Louisville Transplant:

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Lauren: I seriously fell in love with Climb Nulu immediately. I have been climbing for 4 years, but genuinely love the atmosphere, the community as well, and the workout: it’s mentally and physically challenging.

 

FAVORITE ANNUAL EVENT

Louisville Native:

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Laura: Forecastle. I have gone every year since I was in High School. No matter who is playing, it is such a fun, Louisville-lovefest.

 

Louisville Transplant:

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Lauren: Ok, so mine isn’t an annual, but actually more of a monthly event, but I love Flea Off Market. If you want seriously chill flea market atmosphere and awesome food trucks, this free event is worth the trip.

 

FAVORITE PARK:

Louisville Native:

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Laura: I love Seneca and Iroquois Parks, but my favorite park is Morton Street Unofficial Dog Park, even though I do not have a dog, it is a wonderful place.

 

Louisville Transplant:

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Lauren: I fell in love with the parks in Louisville, but seriously love Cherokee park. My favorite memory here was watching my first Thunder Over Louisville, specifically the Fireworks show, from the 3rd green on the golf course, as I’m not one for loud noises. Fun fact: Fredrick Law Olmstead designed many of the parks in Louisville in addition to the grounds at the Biltmore.

Choosing a Second Year

Coincidentally, today marks two years since I accepted the invitation to serve as the AmeriCorps VISTA with Adelante Hispanic Achievers in Louisville, KY. I applied to AmeriCorps just before graduation, at a transitional stage between college and adulthood, with hopes of building up my resume and gaining valuable knowledge and insight about small nonprofits. It soon came time to move south to Louisville, ship off to Pre-Service Orientation in Atlanta, and return as a sworn volunteer in service to America.

The decision I made on May 12, 2015 was the beginning of a journey to self-discovery, and it has taken longer than anticipated. I began my service in August 2015 and it flew by so fast. I met a majority of our students my first day on the job, helped celebrate Adelante’s 10th anniversary of service to the community in October, planned and executed the annual Money Matters financial literacy event in March, and applauded our 5th cohort of high school graduates as they received their awards in May. Of course, I had many other projects keeping me busy all year, but I wanted more. So, I decided to serve Adelante for a second year.

Anyone who has recently begun their VISTA service may be thinking ‘who would put themselves through this madness for another year?’ The hours are exhausting, the VISTA tasks can be complicated, and the living stipend will certainly not sustain an extravagant lifestyle. Believe it or not, I was not the first AmeriCorps service member to extend service, nor will I be the last. In fact, I know a number of VISTA members right here in Louisville who have done just that. So what is wrong with us? Why sign on for a second year?

In my case, I was immediately captivated by the work Adelante was doing in Louisville and the enthusiasm that drove it forward. Adelante provides tutoring and mentoring services at multiple sites, serving over 130 students weekly and yet the staff and volunteers give each student the individual attention and encouragement needed for success. As I observed more about the needs of our students, I would come up with ideas for programs that required more time to implement. It was frustrating! My supervisor, Mara, would often suggest that I consider a second year with Adelante, but at times that seemed just as overwhelming.

In the end I chose another year of AmeriCorps VISTA service because I had found my niche. I was excited about what another year of my service could do for Adelante and equally intrigued by the potential career growth it might offer me. I chose a second year because I was invested in the work and committed to the students. Now in my final months of service, I am preparing for my third year with Adelante – this time as a full-time staff member! Ultimately, sticking with it for a second year was the right decision for me, and I encourage any AmeriCorps member to consider it for themselves.

Written by Morgan Gerke, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving at Adelante Hispanic Achievers 

Homeward Bound Culture Shock

I moved back to the United Stated in January after spending over two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines.

My choice to move to Louisville was one of convenience. The closest thing I had had to a home was rented out when my parents moved to China. While my connection to Louisville is family based (my brothers live here,) moving here made me feel like a stranger in a strange land.

I came to Louisville from a coastal Filipino town where everyone knew me, and I knew everyone. I moved from a slow paced, relaxed culture back into the hustle and bustle of America. Fast cars, fast internet, fast work life, fast. Reverse culture shock had me in its grasp. I was in a position filled with endless opportunities and yet, somehow, also rife with a sense of crushing loneliness.

In order to form a connection to Louisville I needed to get to know the city; I wanted to get to know my new communityExploring the U.S. was never something I put a lot of thought into. I had wanted to travel the world my whole life and, up until recently, I did not really consider the U.S. to be a part of that world. Because I grew up here, because I am culturally “American,” I managed to lump America into one giant conglomeration that I had no interest in exploring deeper. But moving back, after spending so much time trying to get to know and understand a new culture in the Philippines, I felt that I needed to pay the Louisville the same courtesy.

I chose to apply for AmeriCorps as a way to better understand the different facets of my new found home. I currently work with 12 nonprofits across Louisville that are all fighting poverty in different ways; from offering legal assistance to small businesses to providing after-school programs for kids, or support services for refugee families. After four months of living here, I feel like I am starting to understand Louisville on a deeper level than Bourbon and Derby. There is so much more to Louisville than Bardstown and St. Matthews. Louisville is a complex city full of diversity, with about one in seven Louisvillians being foreign born. Louisville is a city with real problems like poverty, food deserts, and crime. But, at its core, Louisville is a city with a strong sense of identity and pride.

My message for you, whether you are a Louisvillian or not, is to treat your home like a place to be explored. Learn about the good and the bad and what makes your place special. It is easy to divide a city into “good” neighborhoods and “bad” neighborhoods, but I challenge you to go somewhere new, find a cause and volunteer, get out and be active in your community. Don’t neglect your home because it is familiar, and remember, the grass is always greener on the side that gets watered.

Written by Sarah Flarsheim, AmeriCrops VISTA Leader at the Americana Community Center

Cherish Mornings when Red Berries are in Season

I have learned what I need to thrive in a work environment; how I work best with others and with a supervisor, and why the non-profit I work for is so successful in its growth and in executing its mission. I learned how to run a crowdfunding campaign, how to cultivate donors, how to run a fundraiser, how to design and mail a newsletter to 900 folks. I know now when it’s best to post on Facebook (.5 times a day, in the late afternoon or during lunch hours), when to post a photo to Instagram (same as Facebook, but with a lot of hashtags), and when to tweet (always. ALWAYS.). And, in my work at a non-profit and in my personal experience as an AmeriCorps VISTA, I am learning to appreciate the virtue of this present moment.

While organization and intention are critical parts of a successful non-profit (and a successful accomplishment of goals, and life and relationships, yadda yadda), we are all familiar with the large “whack-a-mole” game into which our tasks, jobs, and lives devolve. We must focus on what is popping up, and things are always popping up, and soon our time (in AmeriCorps, or some other endeavor) is up. Sustainability and the ability to contextualize our work is a key part of our roles in these organizations; however, reality proves to be much different, day-to-day, than the notions of overarching change we hope to impart.

In school, I fought this reality hard with dreaming up what my summer months and future years of school would look like. I spent time with an incredible, talented, brilliant group of friends in college who not only invested in Louisville, but also traveled (and continue to travel) widely. As a graduate of the University of Louisville, and a born-and-raised Louisvillian, I thought about some new and different place. When I chose to be an AmeriCorps VISTA in my hometown/college town, I was still scheming. “I will take this year, and figure out where I am going to next, what I will do next.” I see the same mindset in our emergent throw-away culture: we are always waiting for the next best thing.

I clouded my first frustrated months with VISTA with these thoughts, and vague attempts at scholarship applications, job searches, and watching my screen quietly, following the adventures of my “friends,” mouth agape at their exhilarating lives. All the while, I found great housing with two friends (who are also VISTAs), cultivated stunning relationships with old friends and new ones, even traveled to another continent, learned all about myself, etc. It was not until recently when my mother asked what was next for me after service that I realized all the damn fun I have been having. I work on a gorgeous farm that turns a new shade of green every day, and I work for an organization built on the principle of discovery-based, self-driven education. I spend time with my family, my friends, my familiar and favorite places. I get to love a person deeply and wholly, and be here in Louisville with that person. I get to be a support and be supported- striking balances in all my relationships- even with myself.

It seems that balance is the key to all of these parts of life. While I feel both ready to move on from VISTA and wildly unprepared to do so, planning my future undertakings has not impeded on this moment. Being locked into this VISTA year has allowed me to truly honor and uphold the present, to go with the flow and explore myself as a versatile and resilient person. I am reminded of a quote by Kentucky poet and farmer Wendell Berry, “Better than any argument is to rise at dawn and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup.” This challenges my assumptions of success in this world. I must drop expectations of myself-and my former self, and cherish mornings when red berries are in season.

Written by Laura Krauser, a VISTA at The Food Literacy Project