History of the South Central Kentucky Council of the Blind (SCKCB)
By: Dr. Ronald E. Milliman
Note: for the sake of brevity, throughout this essay, I will simply use SCKCB instead of writing out South Central Kentucky Council of the Blind.
What is now known as the SCKCB was originally a blind-related support group affiliated with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). Because of fundamental political and philosophical differences with the NFB, the group voted in May of 2003 to disassociate with the NFB and just be an independent blind-related support group.
The group remained independent for several months before voting in September of 2003 to become aligned with the American Council of the Blind (ACB). This action was taken because the positions of the SCKCB and the ACB were remarkably similar. In addition, it was felt there were many advantages of being a part of a large influential, national organization like the ACB. A formal constitution was crafted reflecting this association. Then, shortly thereafter, in November of 2003, the SCKCB officially became a chapter of the Kentucky ACB affiliate: the Kentucky Council of the Blind (KCB).
The original officers of the newly established SCKCB were Ron Milliman, President; Kim Parsley, Vice president; Lori Piorkowski, Secretary; and Lisa Newton, Treasurer.
An early and very important part of the SCKCB’s marketing and PR program was to develop and distribute public service announcements (PSA) throughout the 10-county Barren River Area Development District (BRADD). The objectives of these public service announcements were to inform the public of SCKCB’s existence and to encourage blind and low-vision people to join the organization. The PSAs were written by Dr. Ron Milliman and professionally recorded by Max and Sue Robinson. The campaign was created and launched in 2004. At one point, the SCKCB PSAs were being aired over more than 35 radio stations, resulting in numerous inquiries and new members. The PSAs were also offered on a custom basis to all of the other affiliates and chapters of the American Council of the Blind as a fundraiser for the SCKCB.
In 2005, one of the early major projects taken on by the SCKCB was to survey all of the restaurants in the city of Bowling Green using a questionnaire developed by Dr. Ron Milliman. The objectives were to determine what kinds of services they provided to blind and low-vision people. The research included an assessment of the restaurant’s website accessibility, along with whether it provided Braille menus or any kind of delivery services. The findings were published on the SCKCB website.
Over the years, the SCKCB has been engaged in many other public relations, education, and fundraising activities. One of the early projects held in 2005 was a raffle where the SCKCB raffled off “Little Sniffer,” a blind teddy bear created by Sue Robinson (little Sniffer’s Mama). It generated considerable public attention and raised a sizeable amount of money for the SCKCB.
In 2007, the SCKCB sought to educate the public about blindness through a form of entertainment by showing the professionally audio described movie: “Ray,” followed by an open discussion about blindness with the attendees. It was well attended with excellent participation with many questions about what it is like to be blind. This was later followed with another educational effort in 2010, when the SCKCB held a Public Education and fundraising event at Barnes & Noble, featuring books written about blindness and even books written by blind authors.
Each year it held several events such as bake goods sales, and White Cane Safety Day Exhibits. It also held fundraising concerts, such as the Jimmy Hall and the Prisoners of Love Band in 2004. Two fundraising concerts, one in 2007 and another in 2009, were performed by SCKCB member Sylvia Kersenbaum. She was recognized as one of the top five pianist in the world, and she performed around the globe as a highly acclaimed pianist until she retired from the music faculty at Western Kentucky University in 2015.
In 2009, the SCKCB hosted a major public exhibit of all kinds of blind and low-vision related devices and equipment to educate the public and recruit possible new members that was tremendously successful. At all of these events, the SCKCB gave out copies of our chapter’s brochure, Courtesy Rules of Blindness, and The History of the White Cane and White Cane Safety Day, along with promotional items personalized with our SCKCB name and contact information imprinted on them such as free pens and refrigerator magnets.
A special project was launched in 2007 where the SCKCB, along with several other organizations and businesses, participated in a major fundraising project to raise money to send Jackson Stayer Black, a blind baby, to China for stem cell treatments. His Mother, Rachelle Stayer, upon his return, reported that he was doing extremely well, and is responding to his surroundings, which he was unable to do before the stem cell treatments.
In 2005, the original SCKCB T-shirts were designed, printed and distributed to its members, and then, in 2008, with Vicki Pennycuff’s assistance, using her sources, another supply of the SCKCB t-shirts were printed and distributed to the members to wear at all SCKCB events.
In 2005, with a grant from the City of Bowling Green, the SCKCB created its first website as an additional part of the marketing and PR effort. The site was initially designed with the assistance of Kathy Dortch, website developer. It was a very basic site, but it served the purpose if anyone was seeking more information about the organization. The site has evolved over the years into a well-developed, informational website, largely as a result of the work of Max Robinson, who, in 2008, followed Kathy as the Web Master, and since 2016, Michael Milliman has served in that capacity.
In 2008, the SCKCB was honored by being recognized by the Western Kentucky University’s American Humanics –Nonprofit Administration by giving it the Emerging Nonprofit Organization Award.
To attract youth and parents of young children, in October, 2008, a new “ex-officio Honorary President” position was created that could not be held by anyone older than twelve years of age, and must be considered a junior member of the SCKCB in good standing. The primary responsibilities of this position were to be the “keeper of the official SCKCB gavel,” and to call the meetings to order, and to declare the meetings adjourned. The first, and only, member to hold this position was Braden Ussery at age 7.
Also at this time, it was decided to take a short break during each meeting to play a simple game called “Hot Potato” that would be fun for everyone, but especially for Braden. A toy potato was purchased that had a face on it and that played music for a short period of time; when it quit playing music, whomever was holding the potato would be out. Whomever was left after everyone else was out, was the winner. This game was so fun and popular that even the adults wanted to play it even if Braden wasn’t at the meeting.
To create and sustain membership interest in the organization, one goal was to present an interesting program in each meeting. These programs included topics such as: Accessible Online Shopping Techniques Using a Screen Reading Program, a blind and low-vision related products exhibit, the Latest Eye-related medical Technology, specific blind and low-vision new product demonstrations, local transportation services available, Special Tax Benefits Available to Blind and Low-Vision People, among many others.
A sad era of the SCKCB history occurred in 2009. At that time, a significant disagreement developed between the SCKCB member representatives to the KCB Board and some KCB Board members. The disagreement resulted over an ethical question concerning how the KCB Board meeting minutes should be recorded. Consequently, the SCKCB membership voted to no longer be a chapter of the KCB. However, it would continue its association with the ACB, and the SCKCB members continued as At Large members of the ACB.
The SCKCB Grant Program was initially established in 2009. Grants were awarded to various individuals to assist them in the purchase of needed assistive equipment such as the Optelec Video Magnifier, the DaVinci HD All-In-One Desktop Magnifier with Voice and OCR, the Kapten Talking GPS, among other assistive devices.
From its inception in 2003 until 2010, the SCKCB was considered a 501(c(3, not for profit organization operating under the umbrella of the KCB. However, a major goal of the SCKCB was achieved in 2010 by becoming incorporated and establishing its own 501(c(3, non-profit organizational status. This substantially opened many more fundraising opportunities, such as receiving various grants. Consequently, the SCKCB has applied for and received several grants such as the Walmart Community Service Grant in amounts from as little as $500 to $1,500. This non-profit status also makes all donations tax deductible, such as individual contributions. The SCKCB has launched several phenomenally successful fundraising campaigns targeting businesses and individuals. In short, personal donations from numerous people, and financial support in the form of donations and grants from the City of Bowling Green, Service One Credit Union, The American Bank & Trust Company, The Pampered Chef, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Sam’s Club, among others have generated several thousands of dollars.
In 2011, Sue Robinson helped launch a massive outreach program by hand stamping and sending hundreds of SCKCB brochures to all of the local doctors, churches, the Office for the Blind, the Best Independent Living Center, the Alive Center, among others. As a part of that same campaign, Erica Cutright, because of her position as a special education teacher with lots of related connections, agreed to distribute our brochures and materials to all of the special education teachers in Warren and other surrounding counties. then, as an additional follow-up to this outreach campaign by mail, Palma Milliman and Sue Robinson distributed, in person, SCKCB promotional materials to all of the local churches, doctor’s offices, and retirement homes/facilities in Bowling Green and surrounding areas.
In 2012, the SCKCB Scholarship Program was established. It was determined that the scholarship would be granted subject to certain specified guidelines and on a competitive basis to blind and low-vision (legally blind) students residing in the 10-County area that makes up the Barren River Area Development District (BRADD).
It should be noted that Dr. Ron Milliman served as the president of the SCKCB from its inception in 2003 until the end of 2016, except for a short period from 2007-2008 when Nancy Imran served as president to give Dr. Milliman a break. Dr. Milliman continued in the position as Vice President, and then, Nancy moved out of the area before the end of her term in office, at which time, Dr. Milliman moved back into the president’s position, and Max Robinson became the new Vice President. In the beginning of 2017, Jim Thoune became the new SCKCB president and Richard Lindsey was elected Vice President. Jim served in that capacity for two terms, until Richard Lindsey was elected president in the fall of 2020.
In addition to the original officers of the SCKCB when it was first established that are recognized in the beginning of this essay, many other people have served as officers in various positions over the history of the SCKCB that should be acknowledged. Again, Nancy Imran served as president for a short time in 2007 to 2008. Max Robinson served as both the Vice President and later as the treasurer for several terms. In like manner, Sue Robinson was the SCKCB treasurer for several years. Palma Milliman was elected and subsequently re-elected as Secretary for several terms. Ronda Pennycuff was also the Secretary for a couple of terms. Tracy Cole was the SCKCB treasurer for a few years.
In conclusion, it was an incredibly challenging task to review all of the meeting minutes and activities of The SCKCB since its inception in 2003 and deciding what is important enough to be included in its history and what can be left out. I also want to thank Sue and Max Robinson for their critical review and recommendations. Their feedback was extremely valuable in the development of this historical document.