Letter of Thanks from Outgoing ACB of Maine President, Mary Ellen Frost

President Frost’s End of Tenure Message to ACB of Maine



As my term ends as president, it is with heartfelt gratitude that I wish to thank the ACB of Maine membership for their confidence in my abilities. Over the years I have renewed and made new friendships which I will always carry with me.


I especially wish to thank those board members whom over the years have supported me in many efforts; my fellow officers who have guided me throughout my term with valuable insight and wisdom.


The office of president provided me with many opportunities for learning. I attended the Crossroads Conference in Kentucky, three national conventions, attended many learning seminars, joined three national committees and participated in workshops and focus groups.


Here in Maine we enjoyed many good times of fellowship; taking our trip to the Botanical Garden, putting on the Dinner In The Dark, working on preparing and serving Clinton Lions Suppers, joining with Maine Adaptive Sports for Kayaking and biking, having our first day in the Hall of Flags, and I may have even forgotten one or two.


Being president has also opened doors of responsibility as well, such as venturing into Presque Isle to present at a workshop, as well as making visits to other organizations, such as Togas, Searsport low vision group and Lions Clubs to advocate for ACB of Maine. I had the privilege to speak several times to the Maine State legislature, which was a first for me, and one that I greatly appreciated.


Holding the office of President of the American Council of the Blind of Maine is certainly a privilege I will cherish. Thank you all again for all you have done to help me bring ACB of Maine into its one hundred twelfth year, and towards the future.


Most Sincerely,

Mary Ellen Frost

Message from the President

Message from the President.


I would first of all like to thank the members present at our annual conference of October 24 for your unanimous support in electing me as president once again of ACB of Maine.  It is truly an honor to serve in this capacity, and to lead our 112 year old organization in carrying out our mission. We have a great board of directors and executive committee, and I am looking forward to working with you all in addressing some of the challenges facing all of us at this time. As always, we could benefit greatly from receiving Full participation from all of our members, working together to help ACB of Maine to reach out to our great professionals, and other organizations striving to improve the lives of Maine’s residence who are blind or visually impaired.


As all of you are aware, our sole state agency for the blind is currently being pulled apart. Key decisions are being made by government officials who are not professionally skilled in the specialized field of blindness rehabilitation, and our concerns are being refused to be heard.  At our recent annual gathering, ACB of Maine passed a motion to take actions necessary to ensure that we maintain a sole state agency which administers and provides seamless services for ALL Maine residents who are blind or visually impaired.


We at ACB of Maine have a great deal of work to do this year. I am confident of the rich traditions of our organization, and of our current membership’s passion for all of us to have equal rights and services needed to fully engage our communities, as well as our abilities to help the blind and visually impaired community to work towards living the American dream. As proud citizens of Maine, we have always, and will always continue to thrive!!


As President of ACB of Maine, I am very much looking forward to working with all of you this year. Let’s make it a year to remember!


All my Best.


Mel Clarrage

You’re President

ACB of Maine



2015 October Events Overview

Well it looks like October is winding down as quick as a cricket. The colors of fall are dropping fast and hints of winter are in the air.


These past two weeks have seen the arrival of two other autumn traditions as well, the white cane and guide dog awareness events, and the annual ACB of Maine conference, which was held in Augusta this season.


Many capably independent travelers took advantage of the opportunity of attending the Pine Tree awareness event in Augusta this year, and from what we’ve heard, all of the other four state events went as well, including the premiere event this season in Dover / Foxcroft. Hats off to all of the participants, and to those who facilitated the events. With your hard work, the canes and paws stepped out onto the streets and sidewalks, representing the blind communities of Maine with unparalleled dignity and grace.


ACB of Maine would also like to thank all those who attended the yearly conference at the Senator Inn in Augusta. With an impressive line up of speakers, the day’s events inspired, informed and cast an ongoing sense of ambitious optimism that will do nothing but help our organization move forward into the upcoming year. New board positions were filled, the wonderful collection of speakers shared their experience, and as the camaraderie of the day began to wind down, old friends, and new, bid each other an affectionate farewell, until they should meet once again.


There’s a certain feel to autumns in Maine, the majestic sights, the splendor of the fragrance that can instantly take you back to your childhood, the warm afternoons after a frosty morn, it all spells out one thing, and one thing alone, Maine.


We at ACB of Maine wish you all nothing but the best as the holiday season heads around the final turn. The amazement of spirit and heart lives inside us all, and the strength within is born from our experiences, opportunities and abilities.


Thanks for stopping by, and have an ACB day!

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