By Nicholas P. Gacos
As the President of the National Association of Blind Merchants, a division of the National Federation of the Blind, I am so proud of what we were able to accomplish in 2016. Five years ago, we had a vision. There was a void in the Randolph-Sheppard community. We stepped in to fill that void and created the National Federation of the Blind Entrepreneurs Initiative. Our goal was to make a difference in what it means to be a blind entrepreneur in this country. We have far exceeded anyone’s expectations including my own. When we created the National Federation of the Blind Entrepreneurs Initiative, the Randolph-Sheppard community was fractured. There was no mechanism in place to support our blind entrepreneurs in a meaningful way and to advocate on their behalf. The program was being threatened on multiple fronts. Committees of Blind Vendors felt isolated. State licensing agencies had nowhere to turn for technical assistance on difficult Randolph-Sheppard issues. Training opportunities for blind entrepreneurs and BEP staff were limited.
With the NFBEI, we have changed all of that and I am exceedingly proud of the successes we have achieved in those 5 years. I am particularly proud of our accomplishments in 2016. As your read through this annual report, stop and think about the impact the NFBEI is having. Yes, there are still challenges and it seems we are fighting to protect the priority every day. But we ARE making a difference. We didn’t accomplish all of this alone. We appreciate the support of NFB President Mark Riccobono and our NFB family. We couldn’t do it without the financial support of those of you who give so generously. We couldn’t do without the SLA’s who subscribe to our services. And we couldn’t do it without the best board of directors we’ve ever had, all of whom are blind entrepreneurs themselves. Thanks to all of you because your fingerprints are on all of our accomplishments.
The news in 2016 was not all good. We all lost a true friend when Charlie Allen passed away. Charlie was a long-time vendor in Kentucky and most recently managed the military dining contract at Fort Knox. He was a Past President of NABM and still served on the board at the time of his death. Charlie and his wife Betty generously supported NFB and NABM. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Betty. We will miss you Friend. In closing, let me say we look forward to an even bigger 2017. I want to extend a personal invitation to anyone reading this to attend our 2017 BLAST Conference which will be held September 12-15 in Nashville. I can’t promise we will top last year’s Windy City BLAST but we are going to try. You will soon be able to start registering at www.blindmerchants.org.