The Santa Barbara unit of Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, continuing to help individuals who are challenged by the printed word, awarded nine scholarships to area students at its fifth annual Scholarship Awards Luncheon on May 30 at the Goleta Valley Community Center.

More than 75 people attended, including the recipients and their families, RFB&D volunteers and board members, and major contributors to the organization. RFB&D also presented its second annual Educator of the Year Award to Susan Allen, a resource specialist at Canalino Elementary School in Carpinteria.

This past school year, Allen has been using RFB&D’s audio textbook service with a group of nine fourth-graders at Canalino. “You would not believe it,” she told the audience upon accepting the award.  “Before they started using RFB&D’s service, none of these students were performing at their designated levels in reading and comprehension. But in just a few short months after they started using it, eight of the nine were performing at their designated levels.”

Scholarship recipients this year included Adriana Gonzalez, a ninth-grader at San Marcos High School; Mia Lomeli, a fourth-grader at Crane Country Day School; Matt Mecias, a ninth-grader at Carpinteria High School; Elisha Orrantio, a third-grader at El Camino Elementary School; and Fabiola Solis, a sixth-grader at El Camino. 

Each student received a scholarship valued at $1,000, which includes four years of membership to RFB&D, a special playback device, training and unlimited access to RFB&D’s audio textbook library, made up of 55,000 volumes. Two of the awards were sponsored by the Elks Lodge of Santa Barbara, No. 613. Additional sponsors included the Rotary Club of Santa Barbara and RFB&D’s volunteers.

With the help of the Adams Legacy Foundation, four students from the Santa Ynez Valley received one-year incentive scholarships valued at $250. Those winners were Blanca Hernandez, a fifth-grader at Oak Valley Elementary; Siera Willingham, a fifth-grader at Los Olivos Elementary School; and Kamie Carraway and Jordan Kieding, fifth-graders at Ballard Elementary School.

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Susan Allen, a resource specialist at Canalino Elementary School in Carpinteria, received Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic’s Educator of the Year Award. (Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic courtesy photo)

Candidates for the RFB&D scholarships were nominated by area teachers and school counselors. Each applicant was asked to write a paragraph on why they were interested in receiving the award and how they thought it might help them.

RFB&D’s scholarship awards are part of the organization’s Educational Outreach Program headed by its director, Kristen Reed. Reed, who is dyslexic and has used the service herself, joined RFB&D two years ago to help increase the number of students that RFB&D serves individually and through schools.

“We have made great strides in serving students who need a little extra help because they have a visual impairment or a learning or physical challenge,” Kristen said. “When I came on board, we were serving 500 students in our region. Now we are serving 1,200.”

The Santa Barbara chapter’s region includes Santa Barbara, Ventura, San Luis Obispo and Kern counties.

One of the most moving parts of the program was when Marisa Welby addressed the group. A scholarship recipient five years ago, she spoke directly to this year’s recipients. “With RFB&D’s books, you now have the tools you need to realize your dreams. So it is time to take the ‘dis’ out of your disability. Become an advocate for yourself and your future,” she said. “RFB&D will work for you. I’m proof. I just graduated with my bachelor’s degree from Channel Islands state college and just learned that I’ve been accepted to UCSB’s Graduate School of Education in Special Education, Disabilities and Risk Studies.” 

“We estimate that there are over 9,100 students in our region who could benefit directly from RFB&D’s learning through listening books,” said Tim Owens, executive director of the Santa Barbara unit. “And we are only serving 1,200. We need to close that gap. Our scholarship program and its donors are helping us do that.” 

The Santa Barbara unit is accepting sponsorships and applications for May 2010 scholarships. Call 805.681.0531 or e-mail for more information.

The local chapter holds monthly “Learning Through Listening Hours,” a one-hour orientation about the organization and who it serves. A tour of its Goleta studios is provided, along with an opportunity to meet one of RFB&D’s students. The next three meetings will be from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.  June 16, July 14 and Aug. 7.

Click here or call 805.681.0531 for more information about RFB&D’s audio textbook service, its Learning Through Listening Hours or to volunteer.

— Tim Owens is executive director of Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic.