Thought Wheel

From the mind of Ann Chiappetta

Changes, Changes, and Mor Changes

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Changes, Changes, and More Changes

 

Greetings, it’s time to say so long to 2012 and hello to 2013. The year in review has been transitional, to say the least.  I mean, sure, the usual things have occurred, like the aging process, for one, and the economy tanking for another, the latter making it harder and harder to make ends meet. I honestly don’t know how folks who  earn low incomes make it.

 

In October I celebrated two years with the VA working at a local Vet Center, and I love what I do. I’m finally doing what I humped  for ten years in higher education to earn, a way to help families learn to get along better. The hidden gem was being able to support the veterans, who, in my opinion, deserve whatever we can provide for sacrificing themselves for us and our country. The men and women who fought and were injured and seek out help to find  their way back into a civilian lifestyle struggle in ways we cannot understand. The public could use increasing educationally regarding readjustment and war trauma, but I digress.

 

Verona and I will be together four years on January 6, 2013 and she passed her 6th birthday with flying colors. We did have a hiccup in November. She picked up a sliver of glass in her left front paw and the vet missed it because it was so small , like a needle. Poor girl, she limped around for three weeks, not a complaint or cry, until Guiding Eyes xrayed her leg and found it. I was a mess the whole time, and felt like the weight of the world had been lifted when Dr. Sandler held out the glass vial with the little bugger that caused my baby so much discomfort.  If I hadn’t already had kids and learned to sit with the anxiety, I would have needed Zanax.

 

Hunting season was great this year. I’m happy free range meat has taken up space in our freezer. We added a freezer chest and new dining furniture and I will be changing things a bit, just to beat the hum drum feeling that living in the same place sometimes brings.

 

We also joined an organic food cooperative  last spring and will  once again begin receiving fresh veggies in the spring. It is the best way to make sure you eat nutritionally but it’s expensive.

 

The kids, let’s see, well, they are both growing up and becoming adults. Scary. College is going to happen for both of them this year, too. Maybe I’ll go to school as well so we can get more financial aid. Lol.

Dad is slowly losing the fight with Alzheimer’s and Empazema. Mom is holding her own, but I worry about her, she’s stubborn about the doctor stuff.  Mom, if you’re reading this, you know darn well what I mean.

 

I’m still writing for the Matilda Ziegler Magazine and love it. I am so fortunate to have fallen into it and now I enjoy being part of a group of writers that, like me, live, work, and love while dealing with blindness. Our editor is a great support and the entire experience has been a benefit. I even have fans. <grin>

 

We added a new critter to our household, a tuxedo cat named Titan. He’s six months old now and fits right into our critter happy family.  I grew up with cats along with dogs and missed having one. Now that I don’t have to clean the litter box ( April’s job), I am enjoying the grand kitty. I’ll miss him if and when April ever moves out, but for now I’m having fun.

 

The exam testing legal journey has not been going so well. The first attorney wouldn’t take it on without a large retainer. Now I’m on to finding another one who will take it on contingency. I’m ready to give in and take the damn test with a person reading it to me. I am just so frustrated with being marginalized, discriminated against and ignored by the legal system, and others, who proclaim to want to help people like me,  then turn me down because my case is complicated. It’s bull shit. I have a case and because  certain blindness organizations won’t take on New York State I am being penalized. Maybe something will happen this year. Maybe an attorney who truly believes that making a difference for me will help in making the future better for others will be found.

 

This is what I mean about changes. The more I earn the right to fight the system holding me back, the less progress is made.

 

I’ve shed a horrific volunteer experience with  a guide dog advocacy group called GDUI. I feel like another huge burden was lifted when I resigned, too. I think I’ll concentrate on local volunteering for fulfilling my civic duty.

 

As for the doctoral program, I’m still looking. I may not work on a psychology degree and instead am looking into  other areas of concentration like disability studies, education, and creative writing. I’ll see what’s going on this year and maybe begin a program next year,  that being 2014.

 

Lastly, I started exercising again. I’d been avoiding it for years and now that I am doing it again, I find I am liking it. It’s number one on the stress relief list. I’m hoping to go down one whole size by next year, as concentrating on the weight loss itself will keep my hopes down and I want to stay positive.      I want to firm it up first and this will happen faster than losing the weight.

 

The upcoming year in terms of traveling will include a California trip in early March, some weekend jaunts to Kingston and upstate N.Y. and hopefully  a summer trip to  Oregon  to see my best girlfriend, Myla and her Hubby, Chris.  This, of course, will have to be planned around April’s graduation.

 

I’m sure other things happened I didn’t write about, so I’ll post this and move on to another one soon.

Happy New Year to all.

Annie

 

 

 

 

by Ann Chiappetta | tags : | 0

Gone to the Dogs

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Gone to the Dogs

 

A few days ago I attended a Guiding Eyes graduation celebration and was struck by the power of the message it conveyed. For me, and probably many other  graduates, experiencing a graduation from the audience is just as emotional but for different reasons. Part of it is about the excitement felt watching the graduates being affirmed, through the words of others, about the meaning of the human/dog partnership. The other part is affirming the selfless actions and dedication made by our puppy raisers. There is also a deep respect and pride I feel whenever I am able to just sit and talk to the staff, they love what they do and it shows. I consider many of them my friends. too.  There is a saying that often gets said at graduations: I came for a dog and went home with a family.

 

There is always a chance to hold a puppy at each graduation, (what is referred to as pawdigraphs) and I usually hold at least one of them for a few minutes, smell the puppiness and wonder, will this one make it? Each time I think this, I also pray that the pup is healthy, happy and finds its way to a person who will need it the most.

 

The path is one of love, discipline and preparation and the end result, if all goes well, is being able to see them at graduation or hear their names in the list of new grads at some point in the future. I’ll hear a dog’s name and think, wow, I held that puppy, and I am so glad that the dog made it,

Similarly, when the volunteers are asked to stand up and be recognized,   I think, it was someone like them who did this for me and so many people like me and that moment is the most significant part of being on the other side of it. No matter how many graduations I attend, this is the part that puts that lump in my throat and has me reaching for the tissues. Even now, I am  verklempt writing this.

 

I know, the next time I attend a graduation, the same thing will happen and I welcome it. It is a way of life for so many people, it brings us together to help and support others through shining canine eyes and four paws and a wagging tail. Unconditional regard, no wonder so many people live it and love it over a life time.

 

 

by Ann Chiappetta | tags : | 0

Not Sure What to Call it But I’m Writing it Anyway

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Not Sure What to Call it, But I’m Writing It Anyway

 

Truth never damages a cause that is just. -Gandhi

 

In 2009, shortly after I came home with Verona, my first guide dog, I embarked on a new path, this being the guide dog lifestyle. I was now using a dog to travel with and part of the support I decided would help was talking with other guide dog handlers. I Joined a National guide dog organization and began the email dialogue which would assist me many times with new dog concerns. For instance, I got help researching a grain –free diet, grooming tools, and other nutritional supplements that assisted me to bring my new dog to her optimal health. I was also able to glean much needed information on working my dog in difficult situations. I felt like I was part of the lifestyle and was part of a caring, objective, community.

 

When I decided to run for a board seat in 2010, my relationship with this organization changed. There was a serious communication problem amongst some of the board members. I should have, at the very least, listened to my gut and observed that the problems were not just about that specific issue but I didn’t.  I believed at the time that this was just an isolated incident and it would be resolved. Boy was I wrong. The small minded and inflexible attitude’s of some board members and committee chairpersons prevailed and ultimately proved to be the board’s undoing. The major players involved in what would later indirectly lead to the strife within the organization’s officers and directors seemed , to me, a singularity but I was wrong in that assumption.

Eventually, the pre-convention hubbub ruined the board.  The resignations of a few board members were the end result of the strife just beginning to play out again for me and the other newer board members. The implosion wasn’t heard around the world but it was heard in our vital and important piece of it and I still grieve for better times and an improved future for the organization.

The strife ebbed a bit and we continued with the board business. I had hopes, what I thought were reasonable and shared by others on the board. I saw great potential for this organization on many fronts.  Back then, our president was a sincere and honest person with the right combination of    leadership skills, knowledge, and empathy.  We were fortunate to possess a large cash settlement from a donation resulting from an access case, which gave us the ability to keep and meet a moderate budget.  the population served were passionate and we had the framework in place to take the organization from a PTA mentality to that of a legitimate not-for-profit business supporting our population. Having already been a frontrunner in implementing telephonic voting, we were working on bringing our organization to the top tier by addressing our aged financial practices. Bringing our bookkeeping and office management into the 21st Century by migrating to online banking and electronic bill paying systems was the next logical step in breaking away from a paper-driven system.  Electronic banking would not only save money but also save time for our volunteers taking on the bookkeeping responsibilities.  The settlement money also needed a more lucrative interest bearing home. Additionally, handling our finances in a more transparent and responsible way would enable us to budget in costs for board members to participate in a board retreat and also defray costs to board members who were traveling and  representing us .  We were also ready to create a stronger online presence by rebuilding our website.

 

What happened to prevent the continuation of the transition? I’ve turned this over in my head many times in the last year and I have one hypothesis: corporate identity crisis.  Those of us on the board who believed that the only way to keep the forward motion was to step to the next tier of standards of proper business practices were at odds with those who believe that the organization should remain the same; the PTA mentality, meaning bake sales and dollar bills in the cash box was at odds with those who wanted to see this organization utilize more of its resources to increase its effectiveness within the community it served. I’m not criticizing the kind of organizational style  of what I refer to as the PTA mentality, but it no longer suited us because we represented over 700 members worldwide  and were only one of two groups in the parent organization that merited a high level status and we weren’t living up to our potential. We had a chance to rise up and show the other groups we worked with how a member-driven group rich in finances and passionate beliefs could lead others by example.

Unfortunately, the embedded attitudes refused to compromise in the same key areas: finances, electronic communications/membership management, and the creation of improved corporate policies which would govern our business practices from this point forward.

 

The progressives, who held a board majority, were viewed as a threat and those who felt threatened put the entire organization at risk by behaving as if it was a personal insult to them to try to change. To be fair, board members did attempt to bring forth a policy structure but it was rejected each time the president appointed a committee to work on a handbook. The resistance exhibited by some board members was almost pathological and boarder lined on paranoia. It was as if the proposed changes were being asked of them in a personal framework and the entrenched ownership can only be described as Founder’s Syndrome.

It is my recollection that the first order of change regarding our public image began shortly after I won a director’s seat on the board and was charge with rebuilding the website. I was ordered by the board, in an official meeting, to work with two other board members to write a RFP, also known as a Request for a Proposal. We achieved this goal in three months, and then proceeded to choose the web designer by board approval and the rebuild began. We had trouble with the old site being sabotaged but the new web design studio went above and beyond to develop a work-around a stayed in our budget to complete the migration despite the sabotage by the former webmaster.  Much to my disappointment, the snafu was a serious glitch for us and it effected how some board members viewed my work ethic but I did my best and kept going, encouraging the others working with me to ignore the negativity. I didn’t, to the best of my knowledge, deflect any responsibility for the glitches or the disagreements stated about how we handled things. I recall saying that we did the best we could do, being volunteers and we would continue doing our best. After all, this was the most expensive project with the exception of the annual conventions so I took it all with a grain of salt.

The website was launched in July 2011.  The new webmaster was hired in January 2012. My resignation was tendered in November 2012, along with seven other board members. We tried to prevent the shrinking of our corporate identity back to the little metal PTA cash box but failed. We grieve for, and are still mourning over, our failure and hope that one day our organization will one day shed the shackles of fear, controlling personalities and once again get back to living up to its true potential. There was no trust, no personnel policy, and no internal structure. The business side of this organization was missing, causing a serious imbalance in the organization and resulting in poor governance due to the lack of sound organizational structure. The irrational belief that if we begin acting like a business, we will ignore the issues that created this organization in the first place was voiced by some.  It is irrational fear like this that ruins organizations, not the push for fiscal responsibility. Mismanagement is mismanagement and we were surely reflecting this in our board.

 

I suppose that in terms of a confidence building experience, I’d say it was fifty/fifty. I say this because when I did take part in a project in which we excelled, I felt an undercurrent of resentment.

I think of some of the other board members and here a few attitudes that I feel should probably not be expressed for the greater good. These voices are the main reason for my leaving. The first is the self-righteous First Amendment Freedom Fighter. You know the person, the one who flames everyone and flouts their right to free speech. Next, is the narcissist, the one who manipulates with half-truths and lies and denies everything. This person has a puppet, the one who they control and is the mouthpiece. Then, there are the sheep. That is self-explanatory. Where, you may ask, are the normal folks? Well, the normal folks try to hang on but burn out or get pushed out by the dysfunction.

 

 

What, if anything, have I learned? I learned what I already knew about myself and my personal work ethic: that I am a good project coordinator. I make mistakes and take accountability for them. I work well with other people who like to cooperate and get things done. I am also a bit of a rogue, especially when I encounter resistance from an individual who refuses to help when asked.    I will take calculated risks and accept the consequences. I can stand up to bullies and self-righteous individual’s, and I will not ever volunteer for another board position on this particular organization ever again.

 

November 2012

 

Ann Chiappetta M.S.

 

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