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Archive for June, 2013

By Rachel Allee. Photo by Win Grant.

There’s nothing particularly amazing about Mark and Melody Roane.

Before you think this statement sounds odd, it’s worth noting that it comes straight from the couple themselves.

“We’re just plain old people,” says Melody with a smile. Some might disagree with that, because both Mark and Melody are blind. It’s hard to miss the long white canes they use to assist their navigation of the crowded hallways and stairways at FBC, but it’s also easy to stop there, assign a label or two, and move on.

calloutDealing with the assumptions and expectations of others is an everyday event for the Roanes. Both are frank about their respective conditions and welcome questions, which they try to handle with grace and good humor. They appreciate opportunities to educate other people about what it is like – and not like – to live without sight, and each has a personal story of how God has worked in their lives, regardless of blindness. “We’d like to be positive examples to people as to what is possible,” Mark says, “but we don’t want to be seen as ‘amazing.’”

Mark has Retinitis Pigmentosa, a hereditary disease where the cells of the retina die prematurely. He found out in high school that he had it, and at twenty years old the disease began claiming his vision. He slowly lost his ability to read and see in front of him, though he could still see to the side. Over the years he has lost more of his vision and today he can only see dark, moving forms.

Thr Roanes don't limit God.Because he went blind later in life, he cannot read Braille as well as Melody, who lost her sight during childhood. This difference in experience makes Mark very interested in how blind children are educated in schools. “Melody was fortunate that she lost her sight so early,” he says. “She didn’t have the option of reading print. In schools today, if a child has some loss of vision, they don’t want to teach Braille. They want to maximize the [ability to read] print. In society’s eyes that’s a good thing, they’re reading, but they’re not keeping up with classmates. If they could read Braille they could keep up.”

“A lot of it comes back to expectations. If you expect people to be able to do certain things, then they tend to be able to do it, or at least come closer.” Mark loves to ski, though he hasn’t been for a while, and he also enjoys woodworking. He expects people to be surprised that he enjoys those kinds of activities, but he has a simple explanation: “We just have different techniques. We do the same things you do, typically. We just don’t see.”

If it hadn’t been for a period of blindness training, Mark might never have moved on in his life: “I remember thinking that if I held on for a few years, they’d have the cure for blindness. One day the realization came that I was a young guy; I needed to get off the couch and get on with life.” He found people connected with the National Federation of the Blind who were doing some of the things he wanted to do. They taught and shared their techniques with him, and he’s used that knowledge ever since to pursue his interests.

Melody, who lost her sight at eight years old after a bout with optic neuritis, is thankful for her sisters who, in the spirit of sibling rivalry, did not let her use blindness as an excuse. “It was a blessing for me because my sisters made sure that I did everything that they were supposed to do,” she says with a laugh. “They wanted everything to be fair, so it was a great thing for me.” After college she received training in blindness skills at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. “That was a turning point for me. I wanted to gain the knowledge to help people get the confidence and skills they needed to be successful. Confidence is a big part of it. Instead of teaching basic skills, they taught you to do more than you thought possible.”

Since then, she has helped train blind people in several states, including Louisiana, Alaska and Michigan. She moved to Virginia from Michigan in 2006 to become the director of the Virginia Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Vision Impaired, and joined FBC in 2009. She loves traveling, spending time with family and friends, taking walks, politics and political discussions, and shopping. In particular, though, she relishes time spent at FBC, where she and Mark are members of the Mustard Seed class. “The in-depth Bible study challenges both of us to grow in our walks with Christ. It is very important to me to be involved in a church that is committed to the Great Commission, to going out and preaching the Gospel, to being the hands and feet of Christ to the community and the world.”

Mark and Melody understand that sighted people often wonder what it is like to be blind, so they recommend Kernel Books, located in the large print section of the church library, to anyone with questions. Kernel Books are a series of stories written by blind people who do the same everyday things that sighted people do. They were written to help educate people about what blindness is, and what it is not. “One story is about a lady fixing Thanksgiving supper for her family,” Mark says. “A lot of people think that a blind lady can’t do that, but sure she can. Another is about a blind guy who loves fishing and figured out a way to do it again.”

The Roanes agree that the best way to educate people about blindness, however, is to live life. “You might not ever get your sight back physically,” says Melody, “but [God] has given us skills and confidence to get out there and live the way we want to live. Sometimes we limit God in our understanding of what healing is, as if it’s just physical. His ways are not our ways.”

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Story and photos by Jeannie Dortch.

FBC’s work with Essex Village began in 2010 when FBC member Sandra Millican began tutoring Than Sein, a Burmese refugee (see It takes two to tutor). When Than and his family moved to Essex Village, he started attending Laburnum Elementary where Sandra continued to help him. As other New Americans, originally from Bhutan, moved to Essex Village, more doors opened and FBC’s ministry there grew.

Essex Village afterschool programThe first time I arrived at Essex Village to tutor at-risk children in the newly-formed afterschool program, I noticed that one of the other tutors was wheelchair-bound with no use of her legs and not much of her arms or hands.

I was mesmerized with her command of the children. She radiated joy, sweetness, care, and knowledge, and the children responded to her with respect and obedience. This volunteer, I learned, is Teresa Jackson, a Title 1 math assistant at Laburnum Elementary. She volunteers in Essex Village’s afterschool program as part of the non-profit Seeds of Promise Outreach Ministries, Inc., started by Ernestine Dockery-Roy, recently retired assistant principal at Laburnum Elementary. With the godly leadership of these two women, the tutoring space has been transformed into a place where children can find safe refuge and feel love’s warmth.

calloutGetting to know Teresa better is something I was determined to do to learn what motivates her to work in such a mentally and physically demanding job. Visiting with her at Laburnum Elementary reinforced the concept that humans are only limited by their thoughts. Teresa whizzed through the corridors in her motorized wheelchair and explained her philosophy of teaching. “I’m not handicapped. I’m disabled, meaning I’m not necessarily able to work like you do, but I am able to get the job done. It may take me a little longer, but the results are the same. I love children and I want to see them succeed, and that can be done in or out of a wheelchair.”

Essex Village has a population of more than 500 children, all living below the poverty level (less than $17,500 for a single parent with two or more children). According to Steve Blanchard, FBC’s Minister of Compassion, “The needs are great, but our partnership with Essex Village is showing promise as a blessing to those who live there, but even more so to the people of FBC.”

Teresa sums it up, “I love to see children brighten up by what they learn. Many of the students in our program come from abusive families, and I want them to know they have teachers who care about them. Some of the kids say, ‘I can’t try no more.’ I tell them, ‘Think can, not can’t. I don’t use the word can’t. Look at me! If I can, you can. I don’t pity you, nor do I want to. I am motivated by you. I want you to find something that motivates you so you too will experience God’s blessing in your lives.’”

Essex Village afterschool programEditor’s note: Seeds of Promise will provide a summer camp from July 8th-August 1st, Monday-Thursday, 9:00-1:00, for elementary school children in Essex Village. The camp will include arts and crafts, outdoor activities, and lunch. In the fall of 2013 a nine week afterschool tutoring session will be held. For information on how to contribute to these opportunities contact Jeannie Dortch or Sandra Millican.

Find a list of ongoing Essex Village Projects at http://fbcrichmond.org/KOH2RVA/projects.htm.

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Story and photos by Joyce Clemmons.

First Baptist began its partnership with the Cooper School on Martin Luther King Day 2013. Students from the school reciprocated by serving as reading mentors to First Baptist Weekday preschoolers each Thursday. In May FBC honored Cooper’s teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week.

The carnival came to town on May 4th, and it parked at the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School (AJCES) in Church Hill.

AJCES Spring BashBarkers invited folks to come on in and play! Step right up – get your tattoo! Right this way for face painting! Get the best fish sandwich in town! Climb a tree – you bet, we have your climbing gear ready! Get one of those balloons that Mr. Clown twists into incredible shapes! Shoot some hoops, ring some sodas, pick the winning rubber duck from the pond, spin the wheel and win a whole lot of tickets!

From 11:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m., a couple hundred folks participated in the games and activities at the AJCES Spring Bash. Smiles were exchanged, hugs were traded, and Pastor Jim Somerville and School Head Mike Marusa got into the fun and games along with everyone else.

Prizes were awarded for the high ticket winners and the lucky players had a choice of an array of items – NFL footballs, NBA basketballs, hockey balls, hula hoops, great family games like Scrabble and Parcheesi, books, gift cards, DVDs, and much more.

One of the highlights was a chance for students to throw a pie in the face of an AJCES teacher. Several teachers volunteered, and the aim of the students was phenomenal. Even the local policeman on duty took his turn for the pie throwing fun.

AJCES Spring BashA DJ kept the place rocking for hours with music that filled every inch of that school playground. Information on Habitat for Humanity was available. Delicious homemade baked goods were for sale. Families are Magic gave away precious brown dogs (stuffed, of course). MCV Medical Center, Richmond Metropolitan Hospital, and fire and police departments were available with demonstrations, gifts and excellent advice.

The generosity of the congregation of First Baptist was amazing. More than 100 gifts were donated for the carnival. In addition, about thirty volunteers assisted with the games and prizes and enjoyed the celebration. Even the weather cooperated with sunshine and crisp breezes.

The carnival moved on but the relationship between First Baptist and the Cooper School is here to stay.

Editor’s note: Learn more about the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School. To serve as a mentor to an AJCES student contact Katye P. Snipes, School Administrator, AJCES, 804.822.6610.

Generosity Team: Lorna Brown, Chuck Dean, Walter Morton, Mark Roane, Joy Townsend, Joyce Clemmons, team leader; Steve Booth, staff liaison.

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