On our way out, the director of the center gave us a care package--some DVDs, a lot of pamphlets, ways to connect with other families, and even a VI/Blind "goody bag," with the phrase, "Hooray for Braille!" on it, and knowing me, I'm sure I sarcastically was thinking, 'yay - welcome to the party!' The bag was from a place called Seedlings. To be honest, I didn't pay too much attention to the source of the goodies at the time. I definitely appreciated it as I went through the items - a baby book in Braille, a Braille alphabet book mark, information about Seedlings. And my favorite: those alphabet magnets that every kid has on their fridge, only these had Braille on them. The idea of learning Braille seemed so far off, and one aspect that I could still realistically lock away and not have to think about for awhile. We were told that the alphabet magnets were hard to come by, so we did put those on our dishwasher, and tucked the rest away for "later." In the months and year following, I would randomly hear about Seedlings here and there. Early Intervention would bring new books for Avery and their label was on the back, I heard of their Book Angel Program, and signed Avery up for her free Braille book. I was looking for Christmas gift ideas for her, and was directed to Seedlings for ideas. We were urged to start running her fingers across Braille in the few books we had. But I still kept the idea of Braille at a distance.
Fast-forward about five years, and my relationship with Seedlings has done a 180. Once Avery started pre-K, I was doing research on new ways to teach her, and I again stumbled upon Seedlings and learned more about the enormous impact they were making on children like mine. This small, grassroots organization has an incredible backstory. The concept was imagined by Debra Bonde in 1984, when she discovered how inaccessible and expensive Braille books were. She knew the value of literacy and reading and it should start at a young age, so the thought of blind and VI children being denied this was not acceptable to her. She started Seedlings in her basement, with a mission of making Braille books accessible and affordable for blind and VI children, as well as blind caregivers. Her first year, she produced 221 books basically by her own hands. Today, Seedlings (a 501(c)3 non-profit) has produced nearly 500,000 Braille books, and gives more than half of them away for free. Before Deb started, most Braille books cost upwards of $100, but Seedlings is able to sell their books for about $10 on average. Their mission of increasing the literacy rate among blind and visually impaired children so they can grow up to be independent adults has proved successful year after year.
I've had the privilege and honor of serving on Seedling's Board for the last year and a half, and it has been one of the most rewarding experiences since having Avery. I've literally fell in love with this organization and how an idea to give every child the same access to literacy has turned into so much more. Because when you think about it, I can take my sighted child to the bookstore or library, and she can pick any book she wants, and that is definitely not the case for my VI child. While Avery still has some sight, that may not always be the case, and Seedlings allows her to have access to the same books her sister does. It's a little luxury that most people take for granted. So, looking back to that day when I first heard of Seedlings to now, I hope they know how much I value what they are doing. Since Avery could turn pages, reading is pretty much her favorite thing to do. She loves to flip through book after book, whether telling her own version of the story, or having us read to her. And now that she's learning Braille, everything is coming together for her. Seedlings has ensured normalcy in a piece of our lives, and for that, I am forever grateful. And for me, it has turned something scary into something positive.