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The National Federation of the Blind’s Entrepreneurs Initiative (NFBEI) is entering Year 4.  It has been a fast 3 years and we’ve been more successful than anyone could have envisioned.  The NFBEI was established to marshal the efforts of the Randolph-Sheppard community and bring greater focus to its mission. One of our primary efforts has been to work with individual states on Randolph-Sheppard issues.

The NFBEI is funded by those who benefit the most from our efforts – the state agencies and other Randolph-Sheppard stakeholders.   Contributions help offset some of our costs but represent a very small part of our fundraising efforts.  The major share of our funding comes from State Licensing Agencies who take advantage of our innovative membership / subscription service.  We currently have 27 states subscribing to our services. We offer our special thank you to those subscribers.   This helped get us close to meeting our financial needs so we can do the types of things we are doing to enhance the program both nationally and in individual states.

What does an SLA get if it takes advantage of the membership / subscription service?

  1. Access to national experts who can provide consultation and technical assistance on key Randolph Sheppard issues in their respective states;
  2. One on-site visit by an NFBEI representative to:
    1. Present at the BEP’s Annual Blind Vendors Meeting which will include an update on national issues affecting the state program and presentations on other topics;
    2. Training of Elected Committee Members;
    3. Staff Training; and/or,
    4. Program review and technical assistance.
  3. Mentoring for new BEP Directors;
  4. Participation in distant education programs provided by the NFBEI;
  5. The opportunity to contract with the NFBEI via the National Association of Blind Merchants to plan and conduct all or part of the annual BEP operators meeting; and,
  6. The opportunity to contract with the NFBEI via the NABM to perform other desired services.

This further elaborates on the above.

Technical Assistance – Over the years, many of you have benefited from the unique expertise and experience of Terry Smith. Terry served as Director of Tennessee Services for the Blind & Visually Impaired for over 28 years.  He successfully collaborated with blind vendors, national organizations, and state and federal agencies to build and sustain a highly successful program. His focused energy on this program has made him one of this field’s most sought after Randolph-Sheppard experts. Terry brings determination, diplomacy and capacity. For more than a decade he served as Chair of the NCSAB Randolph-Sheppard Committee . He facilitated a 4-year, very successful effort under the Blind Entrepreneur Alliance. This alliance brought Randolph-Sheppard stakeholders together for collaborative focused engagement. The BEA was the precursor to the NFBEI.  Terry currently spends an extensive amount of time working with SLA’s on state specific issues.  Through the NFBEI, he coordinates an extensive network of committed experts. They include long-time advocates for the program, attorneys with Randolph-Sheppard experience, and long-time state agency directors. The NFBEI is fully engaged in a range of issues important to this program. Sometimes, it is consultation on a troop dining issue.  At other times, the NFBEI has provided assistance on rest area issues and appropriate use of program income.  With a strong background in correctional services, Terry has consulted with several states on creating entrepreneurial opportunities for blind entrepreneurs in correctional facilities.  In two states, the NFBEI is assisting with revising those states’ Little Randolph Sheppard Acts.  The NFBEI is also often called upon to assist with the interpretation of the Randolph-Sheppard regulations.

On-Site Visit – The NFBEI will make one on-site visit annually to provide training or offer technical assistance to each SLA that subscribes to its services.  The NFBEI pays travel expenses for the on-site visit.  The NFBEI representative may speak at the state’s annual BEP meeting.  The speaker will do up to two presentations – one on national issues and activities of the NFBEI and one on a topical subject as mutually agreed upon.  There will be no speaker fee.  The SLA is asked to include the speaker on its hotel group billing if applicable and to cover any costs for a banquet or similar events.  Examples of topics that were presented this past year include:

“The NFBEI: Building a Strong Randolph-Sheppard Program One Brick at a Time”

“With Rights Come Responsibilities:  A Look at the Vendor’s Bill of Rights”

“Ten Characteristics of a Highly Effective BEP”

“Blind Vendors: Real Entrepreneurs or Not?”

“A 10 Step Program to a Healthy National Program”

“Active Participation: What It Is and What It Isn’t”

“The Best BEP in the Country – Really?”

“A 12 Step Program to a Healthy National Program”

“Becoming the Committee Envisioned by the Law”

“Randolph-Sheppard Entrepreneurs Making a Difference” (A Banquet Presentation)

“SSDI – What Randolph-Sheppard Entrepreneurs Need to Know”

“Randolph-Sheppard 101”

 

These topics are for illustration purposes only.  Other topics can be customized as needed.

 

The SLA may choose to use the on-site visit for the NFBEI to conduct training of the Elected Committee of Blind Vendors and/or BEP Staff.

 

The SLA may choose to utilize the on-site visit to seek technical assistance from the NFBEI representative on important issues.  The on-site visit can be a day of technical assistance plus a day of training.  Terry has even helped one state with strategic planning.  The bottom line is the on-site visits can be configured in such a way to best meet the SLA’s needs.

 

Mentoring New BEP Directors – One need identified by state agencies is training and/or orientation for new BEP Directors and staff.  There is an obvious void that the NFBEI can fill.  Terry Smith is available to serve as a mentor for these new directors. The NFBEI has often served as a mechanism to connect new directors with knowledgeable, experienced directors. This will include regularly scheduled telephone calls.  The NFBEI can also send someone to the state and train on-site at no cost if the state agency is willing to cover any travel costs.

NABM and the NFBEI are also available to contract with a subscribing state to plan and conduct annual in-service training for the state’s blind vendors and/or SLA staff.  The NABM and the NFBEI can bring national quality training to the states while easing the bureaucratic burden on the state agencies.

Contracting for Expanded Services – The NFBEI can provide expanded services beyond what is considered to be traditional technical assistance.

What does a membership / subscription cost?  The fee for 2015 is $3,500.  We are hopeful that all states will renew and anticipate a few new states joining our highly successful membership / subscription plan. States who subscribed in 2014 will automatically receive a renewal notice when it is time to renew.  Most states subscribed on the calendar year while others did so for the fiscal year.

The question has been asked several times.  Can set aside and/or federal dollars be utilized to pay for this membership / subscription service?  The answer is yes. All of the services listed above are allowable expenses under the Randolph Sheppard Act.  Most would fall in the category of management services or training, both of which are permissible expenditures under the Act.

We also get asked do any of the dollars paid by SLA’s go toward any lobbying efforts.  The answer to that question is no.  100% of dollars paid by SLA’s are directed toward providing training and technical assistance.

How do we do this logistically?  If your state wishes to subscribe, simply contact Terry.  He will issue an invoice which you can process through your normal procurement process.  It couldn’t be simpler.  Be part of something special.  Join with us.  Be a supporter of the NFBEI.

For more information or for details about how to subscribe to the services of the NFBEI, contact Terry Smith at terrysmith@epbfi.com or by phone at 865-599-7148.