Banner: Iowa Department for the Blind

Orientation Newsletter
Winter 2004
Vol 24, No. 2


Table of Contents

Christmas Chains
Family Day
Wreck Room
An Edge On Christmas
Student Bake Sale
Sweet Potato Pie
Orange Fantasy Cookies
A New Way In the New Year


Remember making construction paper chains to circle the Christmas tree when you were a kid? How proud you were hooking each section of red and green together until their rings formed one continuous chain wrapped around and around the tree! Or stringing popcorn—each new kernel of corn adding one more link in the sequence. Each paper ring, each kernel of corn, connecting the ones that came before with the ones that follow.

So it is with students in the Center. Each new student forges another link in the chain connecting those who came before with those who are to follow. Each group of students follows the traditions established by their predecessors, linking old with new through common experience. At Christmas we select and cut down the best tree we can find from a tree farm. We decorate the tree and its surroundings, then sit back and admire our efforts while we enjoy a tasty soup supper.

This year we again followed tradition—but with some twists. Read on to see what we mean. Meanwhile, here is another tradition linking those currently in the Center to those who came before—our most heartfelt Season's Greetings.



By Shasta Coverdell

November 12, 2004, Family Day, was a good opportunity for students to show their families just what we do at the Orientation Center. Here are a few of the students’ comments on the day.

My mom, dad and sister came up to learn more about the Center and what I have been doing here. We students were to give our families a tour. I started out in the shop. My dad loved it; he likes working with his hands. Both my parents liked my bookshelf. Mom wanted me to make more for all my books! I took them through the home ec., Braille and computer classrooms. Dad didn’t get the JAWS program, but then again he’s never been on a computer. For travel, our family members wore sleepshades and got a quick lesson with the long-white cane. My sister was jumping for joy because she beat Mom and Dad down the third floor hallway. After lunch students returned to their classes while their family members had a business class with Sandy. All in all I think everyone had fun while learning a lot about the Center.

By Georgeann Voigt

We started the day with the Orientation film. Then we took a tour of the classrooms and the library. My husband, Tom, and I started our tour on the third floor. We went to the hallway where the rehabilitation counselors’ offices are located. There we were met by some of my fellow students, Crystal, Mitch and Andrew. They gave Tom a pair of sleepshades and some travel instructions, and he went off down the hallway. He enjoyed the experience. He did really well and it gave him a new perspective on travel. I showed him the computer room and he listened to the JAWS program as I explained how it works. Now he is explaining JAWS to our family members and friends. Then we went to the library. I showed him the CRC Room—he had never seen a CCTV before. I also showed him some of the library storage just to give him an idea how big the library collection is and how many books there are in the building. All in all Tom really enjoyed himself, and he now has a better understanding of what I’m working on and working towards. It was a great day! 


By Dave Hauge

Once again dust is flying at the Iowa Department for the Blind. The recreation room, front lobby and switchboard area are undergoing a full remodel and facelift. This past year the legislature earmarked tobacco money, which could not be spent on programming, for capitol improvements in state owned buildings. In line with requests from the State Fire Marshall that we remove paneling whenever possible, we requested funds to remodel the Rec. Room.

The plan is to remove all the paneling, flooring materials (which contain asbestos), upgrade the heating and cooling system for both the shop and rec. room and raise the ceiling to its original height. The exposed ceiling beams will be covered first in drywall then with oak veneer panels. The walls will be covered with drywall and a wainscot made of oak and vinyl wallcovering applied above that. The floor will either be a new ceramic tile or possibly a restoration of the original Marble terrazzo floor. Originally the existing windows had an arch on the top of them. These will now be exposed for a much brighter look. There will be hanging pendant lights instead of recessed fluorescent fixtures. Due to problems with the chimney that cannot be fixed at this time, the fireplace will be converted to gas. There will still be a coat closet and kitchenette, but they will be moved and the little kitchen and existing coat closet will be converted to an office. The Log Cabin will remain the same.

The switchboard area will be moved across to the east side of the hall. The existing switchboard space will be enlarged into a waiting area and opened up more by adding a second doorway going toward the cafeteria. This will ease the traffic congestion that develops in the area. The entrance to Aids and Devices will also be from that waiting area, which will free up more space in Aid and Devices.

The change, which is due to be completed March 1, will bring the Rec. Room back to more of the look it had when the building was the YMCA. It should be an area that will showcase the Iowa Department for the Blind in a truly wonderful way. However, with all the destruction needed before construction can begin the Rec. Room is currently a wreck necessitating a twist in our traditional festivities. This year the Assembly Room provided the setting for our holiday gatherings. It was nice, but we eagerly look forward to being back next year in our newly refurbished traditional space.


By Mark Edge

My parents, Carrol and Donna Edge, decided in 1989 that growing Christmas trees would be a good use of the rolling land on their acreage just south of Newton, as well as a good use of their time in retirement. The first crop of trees was planted in the spring of 1990. Every year when it was time for Center students to cut down a holiday tree, Sandy would ask me about the trees at my parent’s farm. And every year I told her that the trees were not old enough to be the size needed for the high ceiling in the Rec. Room. So, for the last five holiday seasons that I have worked at the Department, the Orientation Center has gotten its holiday trees elsewhere.

Circumstances this year changed the usual holiday routine and it was decided that the Christmas tree would be set up in the Assembly Room. The ceiling in the Assembly Room is not as high as the Rec. Room ceiling so a shorter than usual tree was needed. Also, I informed Sandy that my parents decided that this would be the last year they would operate the tree farm. With that, Sandy concluded that THIS is the year for the Orientation Center students to visit the Edge Tree Farm.

In late October I began to search for the perfect tree. There she stood in a row along the highway, a soft and long-needled white pine. The once seedling had grown a majestic nine feet in height and now served as a haven for the multitude of bunnies and birds that take shelter under its boughs. The pine’s branches were full all the way around and its broad base angled up to a perfect point. Yes, this would be a tree good enough to grace the holiday festivities at the Iowa Department for the Blind.

So one mild but overcast day in late November we loaded up the bus and headed for Newton. Dad greeted the students and staff as they got off the bus and directed them toward the waiting 1950’s vintage John Deere tractor with a red wagon in tow. Dad fired up the Deere and it putt-putted its way around the farm and through the trees, jostling its wagonload of merry lumberjacks.

Dad stopped the tractor where I had instructed, just yards away from the perfect tree. The students climbed off the wagon and scattered into the grove of trees to begin their hunt. Canes pointed toward the sky as the height of each tree was checked. Around and around the trees students circled inspecting for holes in the branches and determining width. Several comments were made as students felt the differences in needles from tree to tree. Dad was impressed with the ease that students moved through the field.

Things were going smoothly until I began to hear the cries. “Here! Here is the perfect tree!” “No! HERE is the perfect tree!” “No! Come over here! This is the one!” By this point, I thought we might be leaving the farm with no less than three trees. Worst of all, not one of the trees selected was “the” perfect tree that I had searched for so long and hard. Finally, I confided my concern to Sandy. She announced to the group, “Mark says there’s some really nice white pines up by the highway. Let’s check them out.” So everyone trudged through the tall grasses to the very place where the hunt began and, at last, one of the students discovered “the” tree. Oh, there were some reluctant ones who were still camped out at their perfect trees. But once we got them to come over to the white pine, everyone agreed that this was to be our tree.

When it came time to cut down the tree, a female student, who shall remain nameless, made the mistake of saying, “That’s a man’s job.” Sandy replied, “No. That’s YOUR job.” So, under the tree she went with saw in hand. Luckily for her another student volunteered to help. He joined her under the tree and clasped his hands onto the opposite end of the saw. Back and forth they tugged and in no time at all the tree toppled over. This was the first tree either of them had ever cut down.

It took five students to carry the tree to the cart used to haul trees to the barnyard. After another wagon ride back to the barn it was time to place the tree onto the tree shaker. This machine does as its name implies and removes from the tree all loose needles, birds’ nests, and sometimes even mice. Next the tree was carried to the netter where it was first pulled through a tube to shrink the branches, then wrapped with netting to hold them in place.

Once the work was done, we went into the heated barn where Mom was waiting with hot chocolate and cookies. The building that once housed cattle and sheep now serves as a decorated sales room full of crafts, wreaths, and tree stands. Mom enjoyed visiting with students as they munched on the tasty treats.

Once back at the Department, the tree was erected in the northwest corner of the Assembly Room and students busily hung lights and decorations. At the end of the day we were all enjoyed a soup supper prepared in Home Ec. It was a great day--one that we will remember for a long time to come! 


On Friday, December 3, the students of the Orientation Center held a bake sale to raise money for the Churches United Emergency Shelter. The wheels for this project were put in motion in October when it was decided by a majority vote that the students wanted to give something back to the community. It took some time to decide on a charity, but we knew that we wanted to donate to something that would benefit a large number of people. We finally decided in November on a homeless shelter.

Then came the hard part, trying to figure out what type of fundraiser to have. Several ideas were tossed around and finally a bake sale was decided upon. By process of elimination—and the fact that no one else wanted the job—I was put in charge of the details. It wasn’t all that difficult, just a lot of reminding of recipe deadlines and such. By the middle of November we had our list of what everyone was going to make and a grocery list prepared. Then we all went home for Thanksgiving break.

When we returned to the Center on November 29, with a lot of hard work and cooperation, we got the shopping done on time. From then on everything began to fall into place. We had decided on the December 3 date because the Department staff was having meetings that week.

We were given permission to use home ec since it was a group project and we began baking on the afternoon of Wednesday, December 1. Before we got started we decided on item prices, packaging and duty shifts. There were, of course, last minute runs to the store and a two-day search for orange extract, which was a crucial ingredient for one of the recipes. The extract was finally located by the middle of Thursday morning, thankfully, and that turned out to be the only major bump we encountered. Everyone worked together wonderfully and lots of laughter was shared.

On Thursday the students who had finished their baking were put in charge of decorating the dining area of home ec with Christmas decorations complete with the appearance of our infamous mascot, Alice, dressed as Mrs. Santa. By the end of the day we had the baking, packaging and decorations completed. All that was left was to sell all of the sweet treats we had made.

The sale ended at 1:30 in the afternoon with the students offering a 75% discount on the remaining items. The project was a huge success, exceeding all our expectations. We raised funds in excess of $450, plus receiving an anonymous donation of $250, giving us a total of $750 which we proudly presented to the shelter at a ceremony before our Christmas break.

We had a wide variety of cookies, pies, breads, bars, cakes and treats to choose from. I have included here a couple of the recipes that are a little less common to our area with the hope that you will enjoy them as much as we have. --Patti Westphal

Sweet Potato Pie

2 cups mashed sweet potatoes 
˝ cup milk
˝ tsp salt
3 eggs
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
2 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup evaporated milk

Mix all ingredients and pour into unbaked pie shells. Bake at 375 degrees for one hour. Makes two pies.

Orange Fantasy Cookies

2 sticks real butter
5 cups flour
1 ˝ cups white sugar
2 tsp baking soda
1 ˝ cups brown sugar
1 tsp salt
4 eggs
1 cup shredded coconut
2 bottles orange extract
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup miniature chocolate chips

Cream butter with sugars then add eggs and orange extract. Mix well. Mix in flour, baking soda and salt. Stir in coconut, walnuts and chips. Drop by teaspoonfuls on lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for eight to ten minutes. This makes about four-dozen cookies.


By Sandy Tigges

When classes resume in January after the holiday break, we will be adopting a more student-centered approach to Orientation training. This approach will make fuller use of the many talents and abilities of our instructors. More important, however, it will allow us the flexibility to individualize our training to meet better the diverse needs of all of the students we serve.

These changes will not alter the basic principles that have made our Center training so effective since the inception of the program over forty years ago. All training will continue to be based on our positive philosophy of blindness. Students will be expected, as always, to take all classes, wear sleepshades if they have any residual vision, and carry a long white cane wherever they go. We will still have high expectations for every student and emphasize the development of both self-confidence and a positive attitude about blindness.

The changes we are making in the Center program will build upon this solid foundation. When new students begin Center training, they will go through a period of orientation and assessment to better determine their skill level and needs. Some students may be good Braille readers but have never become proficient at Braille writing. Others may have literacy issues that need to be addressed before they can learn to keyboard and use a computer. Still others may need to focus on social skills and the development of habits that lead to successful employment. We will also have the opportunity to help students determine their best learning styles, which will greatly facilitate their training.

Orientation teachers will no longer be teaching in just one subject area. Three different teachers will be teaching Home Economics, for example, and there will also be three different instructors teaching Cane Travel. Staff will work closely with counselors and the students themselves to make sure that their needs are identified and met. A college and career exploration component will be incorporated into the program to help students determine, transition to, and successfully accomplish their next goal after completing Center training.

We are excited about the new programming we are putting into place and are looking forward to its implementation in the New Year. Center staff are dedicated to providing the best training possible to our students, and the new student-centered approach should enable us to continue to make this excellence possible. 

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The Orientation Center Newsletter is published by the Iowa Department for the Blind. Please direct questions and suggestions to the Iowa Department for the Blind, 524 Fourth Street, Des Moines, IA 50309-2364, 515-281-1333.