Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Categories: All News Items, Spotlight

Candace stands behind a podium speaking.We periodically profile a young adult living with vision loss in North Dakota. Candace Rivinius has been blind since she was two years old due to Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis, one of the most common causes of childhood blindness. Blindness has not stopped Candace from reaching her goals, and today she is a Clinical Mental Health Counselor at Corner Post Counseling PLLC. Find out how those goals took shape and her dreams for the future by reading on.

Candace Rivinius is used to making people turn their heads – though she can’t see them do that. By doing unexpected things – shooting a gun, waterskiing, paddleboarding, jumping at a trampoline park, running a 5K – she is turning blindness on its head while turning heads. And at her day job as a Clinical Mental Health Counselor, Candace is helping people clear their heads and find hope and wellness after experiencing trauma or while suffering from anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other life stressors. “I like working with people to help them reach their goals,” she says. “It is fun to see people make the changes to improve their mental health, relationships, and overall well-being.” 

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Thursday, March 30, 2023

Categories: All News Items, Employee Spotlight, Spotlight

NDVS/SB Administrative Assistant
Caretaker of animals, the earth, her family, and her work family

Nedra sits at her desk behind a computer. File cabinets are behind her.When you call NDVS/SB, chances are Nedra Hoberg will answer. Nedra spent much of her career working in a variety of educational settings that fed her love of nature. In her current position at NDVS/SB, she shares her passions with students, clients, and coworkers whenever she can, making their days a little brighter and reminding them of what’s important. Here, Nedra shares the story of how she ended up at NDVS/SB and the lessons she learned (and taught) along the way.

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Sunday, March 5, 2023 at 11:00 pm

Categories: All News Items, Spotlight

We periodically profile a young adult living with vision loss in North Dakota. Elias Youngblom lost his vision at the age of 23 from an accident caused by a drunk driver. Since then, he has learned to live a full life without his sense of sight and with a sixth sense of humor. Being able to laugh along to his vision loss is not always easy, but he has found it helps him as much as his family, friends, and the strangers he encounters.

If I poke you in the eye, will it hurt?Elias is standing on a wire high above the ground and holding onto another wire above his head. A few people can be seen on the ground below. He is wearing a helmet and a harness.
Do you want to touch my face?
Is that thing [the white cane] cool?
How do you do stuff?
How do you put on clothes?
How do you spend money?

These are just a few of the questions that Elias Youngblom has been asked over the last 8 years, since he lost his vision. The 31-year-old from Fargo, ND, was hit head-on by a drunk driver who was driving the wrong way down the interstate. Blood flow to both of his optic nerves was lost, which means that while his eyes and brain still function as they should, the connection between them has been lost. One thing that wasn’t lost? His sense of humor. While there is nothing funny about his accident – then or now –Elias quickly realized that he needed a positive attitude and laughter in order to survive. He started collecting comments and questions that people asked him that made him scratch his head – or laugh out loud.

There is plenty of humor in the blind and visually impaired community, and like many, Elias has found that having a sense of humor helps others as much as it helps him. “I find that people are more comfortable around blindness if they know that I can laugh about it,” Elias explains. “I often try to break the ice with people by making light of my white cane or joking about running into things.” Through his humor and can-do attitude, Elias is changing people’s ideas about vision loss. “There is very little realistic representation of blindness in media, so we have to be that representation,” Elias says. “The more people see blind folks living real lives, the more it will become normal.”

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Monday, February 27, 2023 at 11:00 pm

Categories: All News Items, Employee Spotlight, Spotlight, Superintendent

A close-up image of Paul, taken as a selfie in a car. He has graying short hair and facial hair and is wearing glasses and a gray zippered sweatshirt.NDVS/SB Superintendent
Runner, O&M Specialist, Staff Cheerleader

Superintendents have a long to-do list each day. They deal with budgets, schedules, and staff conflicts. They answer to stakeholders, including parents, families, and legislators. If staff members are out, they may find themselves teaching, driving bus, or serving lunch. But perhaps the most important task, at least for NDVS/SB Superintendent Paul Olson, is staff cheerleader. “I have had the pleasure of getting to know people at many specialized schools for the blind and amazing teachers of the visually impaired in public schools across the country,” Paul says. “I firmly believe we have the most dedicated and talented staff. We are a little stretched at times, but the NDVS/SB staff do an amazing job for our citizens. They are top notch.” 

This is a typical quote from Paul as it shifts the focus off of him and gives all credit and accolades to his staff. But behind every great employee is a great boss. The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “The wicked leader is he who the people despise. The good leader is he who the people revere. The great leader is he who the people say, ‘We did it ourselves.’” Staff have spoken and Paul is, indeed, a great leader. Find out why by reading below.

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Sunday, February 12, 2023 at 11:00 pm

Categories: All News Items, Employee Spotlight, Goalball, Spotlight, The Store

NDVS/SB Administrative Assistant/Store Manager
Coach, Dog Dad, Human Dad 

Ryan stands in a line with 6 students and Mrs. Williams in the gym in South Dakota during a goalball tournament there.Did you know that NDVS/SB has a goalball coach? Did you know that NDVS/SB has a Store? Did you know the same man is behind both of these surprises? Ryan Torgerson serves as the NDVS/SB Golden Guides coach and is the manager of the Store. During program weeks, Ryan works with the different student groups during their recess or phy ed time. In elementary, the students simply learn the rules and enjoy the game. But by middle and high school, the practices are more competitive. And when students from the South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired come to Grand Forks for the February tournament, many of the students take it very seriously. 

“It is a joy to have Ryan as a part of our programming through goalball. The students really enjoy Ryan, and I think he enjoys getting to interact more with the students in addition to his regular duties of running the Store,” says Cindy Williams, Coordinator of Student Programming. Ryan does indeed enjoy his time with the students. “I love being the goalball coach. Watching the students improve over the years and the excitement many have when it is time to play gives me a sense of accomplishment. I also like that it provides a change of pace from my daily tasks and gets me out from behind my desk. I look forward to it every program week,” he says. Find out more about Ryan and his work in the Store, on the goalball court, and in his garage, by reading on.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2023 at 11:00 pm

Categories: All News Items, Employee Spotlight, Spotlight

NDVS/SB Director of Technology
Not Your Stereotypical IT Guy

At sunset, David sits on a dock next to his young son who is holding a fishing line off the dock into the water. IT guys get a bad rap. They are stereotypically socially awkward, unhelpful, and smug. Fortunately, the IT guy at NDVS/SB is the exact opposite of the stereotype. Director of Technology David Olson is known for being helpful to anyone who walks through his door or calls him, usually frantically, with a technology emergency. By patiently listening and then solving the problem, he is making technology less intimidating and more accessible, something that attracted him to NDVS/SB in the first place. “At a previous job, I was able to help a professor with low vision,” David explains. “I was very inspired by him, and I was able to help him through a few items. He was a joy to work with.” When David saw the posting for NDVS/SB Director of Technology a few years ago, he thought it “was a great opportunity to help others.” And that’s just what he’s been doing since May of 2018 – helping others, whether that’s his colleagues, or the students, families, and adults we serve at NDVS/SB.

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Wednesday, January 4, 2023 at 11:00 pm

Categories: All News Items, Spotlight, Student Programming

Matthew and a fellow student stand in the dairy aisle of the grocery store. Matthew holds a gallon of milk up to the other boy while they stand in front of a cart.We periodically share a young adult's story of success. In this profile, Sheyenne High School senior Matthew Gallegos shares the lessons he’s learned from his job at the Dairy Queen, from NDVS/SB, and from his TSVI. The skills he’s learned have not only prepared him for whatever comes after graduation, but have instilled maturity and confidence, traits that are essential to any young person’s success and happiness.

“Now hiring!” “Looking for extra cash?” “Please be patient as we are short on staff.” You don’t need to go far to find signs like these today. Stores, restaurants, and other places of business are all looking for more workers. Part of this problem can be explained by the fact that teenagers are working less than in the past. But some teens want to work, and Sheyenne High School senior Matthew Gallegos is one of them. Matthew is a shift lead at Dairy Queen, where he is responsible for “providing an excellent experience to customers, making ice cream and food products, and closing the store at the end of the night,” he says. He shares that “most of my shift consists of taking customer orders, collecting payments, and assisting others in making menu items.” He also creates a position roster for his coworkers on the schedule that day. 

Matthew found a job as a high schooler for the same reason most teens get a job – for the cash. But he had to consider a few other factors before he began applying for jobs. Since he can’t drive, could he walk to it or take public transportation? What accommodations would he need to perform his duties? If customers or his coworkers had a question about his magnifier or cane, how would he politely educate them? Matthew had to consider these questions because he has glaucoma, which has rendered him legally blind since birth. He makes the most of the vision he has and says his visual impairment doesn’t impede or slow down his work at Dairy Queen at all. The only accommodation he has, he says, is occasionally using his phone’s camera to magnify the buttons on the digital register. “The buttons on the registers are rectangular and color coded against a black background, so naturally they appeal to my contrast preferences. I have memorized what each button says, so I will only pull out my phone's camera if I am unsure or if there is an update to the layout,” he explains. “Management has been wonderful in allowing me to use my phone's camera for this purpose.”

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Wednesday, December 28, 2022 at 11:00 pm

Categories: All News Items, Adult Programming News, Instruction

by Amy Osvold
Vision Rehabilitation Specialist

NDVS/SB is now offering Individual Adjustment to Vision Loss, services are a one-on-one session with a Social Worker. This may be done in-person during an Adult Week at NDVS/SB or by telephone.

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Monday, December 26, 2022 at 11:00 pm

Categories: All News Items, Superintendent

by Paul Olson, NDVS/SB Superintendent

Gratitude is talked about a lot these days. It has been a thing for a few years to talk about it during particularly hard times, and I think that makes a lot of sense. When people start to think about what they are grateful for, they at least temporarily get their minds off of things that are difficult. That does not change the fact that many people are going through stressful times. Every person’s struggles are unique to them and some situations can truly threaten health and well-being. 

Recently many of the staff at NDVS/SB shared their gratitudes, and I found them so thoughtful and inspiring. It made me think about some of the challenges that some are going through, and they very much reinforced to me how beneficial it is to intentionally think about gratitudes. 

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Tuesday, December 13, 2022 at 11:00 pm

Categories: All News Items, Employee Spotlight, Spotlight

NDVS/SB Assistive Technology Specialist
Smart Phone Enthusiast, Gardener, Vikings Fan

Laurie, her husband Lee and son Eli wear Vikings gear and stand smiling in the stands of the Vikings stadium. The football field can be seen behind them.One of the many perks of working for NDVS/SB is that staff are encouraged to cross-train, continue learning, and even move into new roles if opportunities arise. “One of our best sources for filling key roles has been from within,” explains Superintendent Paul Olson. Assistive Technology Specialist Laurie Westling is one employee whose job looks very different today than it did when she was hired 17 years ago. 

Laurie was originally hired as an administrative assistant. “I primarily worked with the database, entering services and stats reported by instructional staff and assisting our network administrator who was blind,” she explains. “Over the years I learned a lot about assistive technology and how it helps so many people every day. When our network administrator retired, I knew my role would change because I wouldn’t need to be a visual assistant any longer. I was then given the opportunity to work alongside our other assistive technology staff to learn about many types of assistive technology and start working with students and adults.”  

It’s been a perfect fit for Laurie and for NDVS/SB. Paul Olson isn’t surprised. “When there are talented people that are eager to grow and take on new responsibilities, we encourage them to build new skills and fill new roles. Who better to take on the important work that we do than someone who already is dedicated and knows our mission? More often than not, this has been a huge benefit to our agency and the people we serve,” he says. Read on to learn more about Laurie.

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