Letter from ACB of Maine President

Letter from the President


Fall is here again, in its entire splendor; the cooler brisk days we have been looking forward to and longing to hold on to them for as long as Mother Nature will allow.  We are returning to the busyness of bringing our lives back from our summer adventures and relaxation.  It also means it is time to convene for the Annual Conference of the American Council of the Blind of Maine.


We will gather this year at the Senator Inn in Augusta on Saturday October 24th.  It is better to pre-register as soon as possible; which may be arranged by contacting Cheryl Peabody at 872-7594.  The Senator asks for our numbers by Monday the 19th in order to complete our menu.  Registration at the door will begin at 8:30am and we will call the meeting to order by 9:15.





We will be introducing interesting speakers and presentations that we may not have heard at previous meetings.


For the past eight years Vanda Pharmaceuticals has been working with the National ACB and many affiliates concerning the “NON 24” sleep disorder effecting blind people. You may have seen the commercials about this topic on television. Dr. Ahmad Ali neurologist and Mr. Ed Garland will be joining us representing Vanda and opening up a new conversation. We are very excited to be hearing from Maine’s own Lindsay Ball, and her recent skiing experiences with the Paralympics. Whitney Mooney from the National Braille Press will be sharing the services that are available to enhance the lives of blind and visually impaired persons of all generations.

Karen Cote and Jim Phipps have also been invited to share thoughts in our afternoon session.


As I was listening to the news this week, something that Viola Davis said resonated with me.  Viola is the first woman of color to receive an Emmy Award.  In her statement which said that the plight of race discrimination has been fought for over 637 years, and it still continues, but it was the rest of her statement that caught my attention, and may be applied to A C B as well. She said:  “it is not the end of the race when you make an accomplishment, it is only your turn to carry the baton”.  I feel this may be in part true for the American Council of the Blind of Maine.  Our organization, although it has changed names many times, has made successful strides in the lives of the blind community of Maine.  As we look back over the past 112 years and strive towards the future,   we must always be aware that Our race is not over or finished.  When members take on a role of leadership, the baton will once again be handed off to assist, from the youngest to the oldest, and to also promote the independence, equality of opportunity and quality of life for all people in Maine who are blind and visually impaired.

We look forward to seeing you, and please bring along a guest to hear what is happening in Maine and around the country to improve our lives.





Out of respect for those who have allergies, we will continue to be a fragrance free convention.



Thank you all, and we hope to see you in October!


Mary Ellen Frost


2015 Maine White Cane Walk Events

2015 Maine White Cane Awareness Events


One more year has come and gone, and with the arrival of a brand new autumn, the annual White Cane Walks around the state will help to usher in another fall season.


The State of Maine comes alive each October with the magnificent colors of fall, and if you happen to be in one of several cities around the Pine Tree State on October 17th, chances are you might catch a glimpse of those independent, capable roadside travelers dawning their white canes, their dog harnesses, along with the pride and courage of the blind and visually impaired community.


ACB of Maine is pleased to announce those particular details of White Cane Awareness Day. As an organization, we are proud to be associated with this show of independence, and welcome one and all to share in the celebration of this nationally recognized event.


The following events will all be held on Saturday, the 17th of October, and as you’ll see, our great state of Maine will be represented near and far, from Portland to Presque Isle.




The Pine Tree Guide Dog Users (PTGDU) White Cane Walk will be held in Augusta. Participants will gather at the Maine State Museum on the Capital grounds around 9:30am, with the walk getting underway around 10:00.  At the time of this post, the actual route of the event has not been confirmed, but the destination is set to return participants to the museum.


For more information, please contact Lynn Merrill

eMail: lynn.merrill@roadrunner.com




In Bangor, there will be a similar event as compared to last season, which is to have a table set up at the Bangor Mall. There will not be an actual “white cane walk”, but event planners do wish to convey the awareness of white canes and guide dogs, as well as the driving laws regarding those independent travelers who use these tools. There will also be an effort to bring about awareness of services available, what it is like to be visually impaired, and particular aids that can prove to be helpful.


For more detailed information, please contact Pat Monahan

eMail: pmonahan@theiris.org




Dover – Foxcroft is pleased to announce that they will be holding a White Cane Awareness event this season.


Participants will be meeting at 11 am at the Cpourt House parking lot.

The walk will then travel up to the downtown area, followed by a ( pay your own) cash pizza at a local  area restaurant for lunch.


For further information, please contact Nancy Matulis

eMail: nancy.Matulis@yahoo.com




Portland will be holding their annual event this season, which will again be sponsored by The Iris Network. The event will begin at 10am at Monument Square, and all are welcome.


For more information, please contact Cassie Diplock.

eMail: CDiplock@theiris.org




The Presque Isle White Cane walk will be held starting at 10 a.m.  Event participants will meet in the parking lot next to Wilder’s Jewelry & make several trips of Main Street, from the corner of Academy Street to State Street.


For more information, contact Bruce Archer

eMail: Bruce.a.archer@maine.gov




And there you have it. An impressive line up for another October morning in Maine.


Please remember that all events will be held the morning of Saturday, October 17th.

Any additional information regarding these events will be posted to our ACB of Maine website as soon as possible.


There is no way to put a price on the value of independent travel. There is also nothing more important than spreading the information about independent travel to those communities around the state of Maine, both for the respect of the independent traveler, and those who may encounter the white canes and guide dogs around our great state.


At ACB of Maine, we wish all those participants another year full of great experiences and memories.


Take care all, and have an ACB Maine Day!

Marge Awalt: Pioneer VRT


Marj Awalt

Pioneer VRT

Augusta, Maine


Marj Awalt, a pioneer in the vision rehab field.


Marj Awalt is recognized as one of the earliest Vision Rehabilitation Therapists in the state of Maine. She is our featured individual for national Vision Rehabilitation Week. Marj, of Augusta, Maine, retired nineteen years ago from the State of Maine Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired as the last Adult Education Specialist. Prior to the 1970s the Division for the Blind employed several “Adult Education Specialists” as they were then called. The Adult Ed Specialists provided individual instruction in braille, talking books (which were then on 33 rpm records), crafts and rotary phone dialing. Other responsibilities included: general education about eye conditions, adjustment counseling and information regarding benefits and services. According to Marj the guiding force throughout her career was “putting the person first.”

Marj Awalt, born Marj Doyen grew up in the small town of Bethel, Maine with her sister Connie, who also joined the field in the mid-seventies. Marj lost her vision at an early age. She completed her education in 1954 at Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts. Her mother was a teacher and her father worked as a barber. The family eventually moved to South Portland where her mother took a teaching position and her father worked as a milkman for Hood Dairy. After high school Marj enrolled in Vermont Junior college in Montpellier where she obtained an associate degree in liberal studies. She completed her B.S. at Gordon College majoring in Christian Education. In 1959 Marj obtained a position as a clerk-typist with the Maine Department of Human Services. The Division for the Blind was housed in the same office and it is here where Marj met one of the home teachers, Louise Bennett, who introduced her to the profession and encouraged her to enroll in a training program for Home Teachers in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In 1962 Marj enrolled in the training program for home teachers in Pennsylvania which included housing and practice work at The Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia and academic course work at the University of Pennsylvania. The class, which comprised Marj and seven other students were all blind or visually impaired. The thinking at the time, according to Marj, was that people who were blind or visually impaired were best suited for the job because they possessed the necessary skills. The home teachers took the train to the University of Pennsylvania several days a week for classes in counseling and psychology.  Internships were completed two days a week at the Pennsylvania State Services for the Blind. At the completion of the year-long program, students received a graduate certificate.

Marj obtained a job immediately with The Industrial Home for the Blind in Brooklyn, NewYork. The agency came to the graduate students to recruit for open positions. Marj had to train for three months with a mobility instructor in order to learn the subway system and how to “count the blocks.”  The mobility training had to be completed prior to her start date as a Home Teacher.

Marj was assigned to Brooklyn and Queens so she could access public transportation. One day was spent in the office just arranging travel routes. Marj said she could see on average four—five clients a day traveling in the city. She secured a basement apartment in Brooklyn….”It was the first time I had lived on my own. I worked hard during the day and enjoyed the city at night.”

Marj said the thinking at the time was that blind and visually impaired people needed “busy work” thus the emphasis on teaching crafts. Marj admitted she was not very skilled in the variety of crafts to be taught: rug braiding, chair caning and weaving. “I was okay with knitting which I had been doing since I was five years old.” One of her supervisors questioned whether she would be able to handle the job with limited skills in this area. Fortunately Marj realized she didn’t actually have to be able to do the various crafts herself as long as she could teach the adaptations.

Marj remained at The Industrial Home for the Blind for several years. When a position opened up with The State of Maine, Division for the Blind, Marj was happy to return home. Initially she was housed in the Portland office and covered a large territory, ten counties, which included the southern coast…from Kittery up to Rockland and inland to Rangeley. The services she was able to provide with such a large territory were spotty. On average she saw clients every couple of months. If someone was learning braille, they were seen at least monthly. In addition to teaching braille, the Adult Ed Specialists provided education about blindness and vision loss, services and benefits and taught basic adaptive techniques, such as: pouring, dialing the telephone and use of the Talking Books program and equipment.

Marj met and married Hugh Awalt in 1967. She needed an escort for the annual Maine Fraternal Association for the Blind banquet and a friend set her up with Hugh. “I was Hugh’s blind date” she jokes. He worked for the State Department of Transportation in Augusta, Maine. After they married, the couple moved to Augusta and purchased a home where they still reside. She chuckles remembering the announcement in the wedding section of the local newspaper, “To Wed a Man She Never Saw.”

The State of Maine eventually eliminated the position of Adult Education Specialist; however, Marj remained until her retirement in 1996 as the only state employed Adult Education Specialist or Rehabilitation Teacher. Marj’s territory eventually became the Augusta area. New positions were funded through the nonprofit agency for the blind, now The Iris Network.

When asked what were some of the highlights of her long career, Marj replied, “the people, both the clients I worked with and my co-workers at the state and private agency; also the consumer groups.” She remembers one summer when she worked with four blind and visually impaired high school girls in the home economics room of a local high school. They met once a week to learn activities such as: needle threading, mending, ironing, use of the stove and simple cooking. As a treat for the students at the end of the program the group went to Macy’s Department Store in Portland. Marj told her students they could each buy one item and afterwards they could have lunch at the restaurant there. “I had to elicit assistance from one of the store clerks. We were quite a sight….the five of us and my guide dog.”

There was a week-long training trip to New York City’s Center for Independent Living in 1979 which Marj remembers fondly. The group of rehabilitation teachers from the private agency and Marj were sent to learn about the newest population of blindness….older people. “A great time was had by all learning from experts in the field during the day and enjoying the wonderful restaurants at night.” For Marj it was a special time to be back in New York where her career started. Other highlights included the monthly staff meetings. “At that time, we were small and everything was new and we were really building this profession.” The school presentations were also special for Marj. “I am still stopped by students and teachers who remember my talks and guide dogs.”

Marj went through three guide dogs during her working years: Tracy, Dorie and Gail. All three were females from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Now retired, she has resumed use of her cane. After retirement Marj worked as a Hospice Volunteer and also as a telephone volunteer for a women’s shelter. She remains active as the president of The Rainbow Club, a support group for people who are visually impaired. Marj has been a key player in the formation and continuation of this group for over twenty years. She and Hugh have always loved music and both continue to sing in their church choir.

Marj celebrated her 80th birthday last summer where she was greeted by many of her former co-workers from across the state. Unfortunately this writer was not able to attend; therefore, was so pleased to have the opportunity to personally catch up with Marj and see how she continues to give to others through her various community groups. She summed it up this way, “It is a lifelong commitment this work….we don’t do it for the money, it’s always been the people”


This wonderful article was written by,

Laura Vittorioso

Vision Rehabilitation Therapist

The Iris Network

Portland, Maine

Happy New Year from ACB Maine!

Happy New Year from ACB Maine!


So here we all are, once again, staring another New Year straight in the eye. With all of the commotion, all of the hectic pace, all of the joys, wonders, opportunities and achievements of 2014 now a memory, we’re beginning another trip around the calendar.


ACB Maine would like to wish you all the best in 2015. We invite you to seize the moment and experience all of the goodness that each opportunity presents.


Remember that this brand new year starts with you.


Best wishes, and have an ACB Year!

2014 Augusta White Cane Awareness Walk

White Cane Awareness Walk    

Augusta Paws and Canes Event

Saturday, October 18, 2014



The chilly morning wind took my breath away as I stepped out of the car on Western Ave. The morning seemed gray, and cold, and if but only for a moment, a slight hint of winter crept in and inconspicuously worked its way down through my unsuspecting billy goat bones. I couldn’t believe it had been a whole year already. I couldn’t believe another walk event was staring me right in the face. I couldn’t believe how fast the time had gone by, and as my cane snapped to attention and the tip touched the ground, I remembered exactly how I had felt the year before. I remembered the nervousness, the electricity, the amazing feeling of being part of something so important, so special, so much bigger than I. So many different emotions grabbed hold of me as I straightened up and took a deep breath. There was a definite full blown feeling of fall in the air, and with it, October 18th grabbed hold of the day and stared it square in the eye.


Another white cane and guide dog awareness event was at the doorstep, waiting patiently for the participants to bravely and proudly show their stuff. It’s what mobility is all about. It’s what independence is made for. It’s what helps me distinguish who I am now, compared to who I never dreamed of being. It’s true inspiration, wrapped around a purpose unlike anything I have ever done before. Its one day a year when friends, family and loved ones gather together throughout the great State of Maine, and across this great nation to serve as carriers of the torch that shines brightly upon the blind and visually impaired community.


The morning’s events started with an amazing assortment of hot coffee, hot chocolate, donuts, muffins and the most incredible cinnamon buns generously provided by Karen McGilvery of nearby Tim Horton’s on Western Ave. She delivered the tasty morning delectable’s next door to Damon’s Sandwich Shop, also on Western Ave. Doug, the owner of Damons had graciously allowed the collection of paws, canes and all those in attendance to hold the morning’s precessions inside the popular eatery on Western Avenue.


I was glad when I herd of the distance that the long portion of the walk was scheduled for, because I really needed to work off all the pastries and coffee I wolfed down.


As similar events of the past had transpired, there was a ceremonial presentation brought forth to the participants by Pine Tree Guide Dog’s Pauline Lamontagne, Lynn Merrill, Cheryl Peabody and Bruce Prindle. Along with Dr. John McMahon and the honorable Mayor of Augusta, Mark O’Brien, the morning’s recognition of the special event took on a feeling that mimicked events of the past. Mayor Mark O’Brien read the city’s Mayoral and Governor’s Proclamations, and Bruce Prindle read the official White House Proclamation.


Shortly thereafter, the annual walk ensued with the dozen or so participants making their way down Western Avenue. Shortly after the walk began, the sun came out, the chatter briskly livened up and before long, the turns were made as the canes and paws made their way back towards Damons.


Personally, I noticed that the traffic on Western Avenue seemed much heavier than the previous two years on the eastern side of the river. The semi trucks were rolling heavy, the planes taking off just overhead felt as if they were trying to land on my shoulders, and still, the electricity among the walkers never let up. It was a grand old morning, full of every ounce of determination and bravery that has inspired so much of what this day has become to so many.


With the late morning sun at our backs, and our eyes on the prize, we made our way back up Western Ave, and by the time we arrived again at Damons, the temperature had risen twenty degrees. It was a perfect ending to the White Cane Awareness Event of 2014.


I would like to thank Pine Tree Guide Dog Users of Maine, Tim Horton’s, Damons and all those who attended this memorable morning. This was my fourth walk in as many years, and I’m already looking forward to next year’s White Cane event. As time goes by, I am in ever increasing awe of the blind community of Maine. From you all, I have gained hope, inspiration, strength, friendship, trust and love. If I live long enough to pay any portion of what I have received back, then I will be wearing a smile bigger than the one I wore on this year’s morning of October 18th.


Until next year, when we walk again, I bid you all a wonderful year full of those memories that last.


Best to you all.

Deon Lyons