The Boston-based National Braille Press launched its first-ever Braille Across America fundraiser — a month-long virtual exercise challenge to raise money for braille literacy — during a meeting Sunday night.
Participants must run or walk at least 26.2 miles, or bike at least 52.4 miles, between March 17 and April 19, according to the Braille Across America 2021 website.
The challenge currently has 127 participants across 28 states, according to NBP President Brian Mac Donald, and has raised more than $53,000 of its $78,600 goal, as of Monday evening.
NBP creates braille translations of textbooks, exams and business documents, including Starbucks menus, Mac Donald said.
“A sighted child … sees parents reading newspapers, sees billboards, sees signs with print on them, and they start to make a connection that these letters are communication,” Mac Donald said in an interview, “and a blind child never gets that.”
The kickoff to Braille Across America began around 7:00 p.m. Sunday, with more than 25 attendees in the Zoom meeting.
“You’re also ambassadors for braille throughout this,” Joe Quintanilla, NBP vice president of development and major gifts, said during the meeting. “We’re really amplifying why blind people should have braille. It’s the only way that they can read, and we wouldn’t ask excited children or adults to go [through] life without reading.”
Quintanilla himself is blind, and he said he’d participate in the challenge.
“I’ll be able to get 26 miles in in 33 days, but that’s a challenge for me right now,” Quintanilla said, “and it’s going to feel great when I do it.”
Quintanilla introduced Dave McGillivray, the race director of the Boston Marathon and himself a long-distance runner who has run for charity several times — including in 1978, when he ran 3,452 miles across the United States to raise money for the Jimmy Fund, which benefits Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
“I’m intimately engaged in anything and everything I can get engaged with with the visually impared,” McGillivray said. “It’s an honor and pleasure to be involved and help out a little bit with Braille Across America.”
McGillivray pledged $262 to Quintanilla’s run during the meeting.
In an interview, McGillivray said he is still figuring out his role in the challenge, but he believes in these types of fundraising events.
“We need to obviously keep up the fundraising, we need to keep engaged with our community, we need to continue to inspire each other and, again, stay connected,” he said. “Braille Across America is certainly their unique, creative, inspiring way to do that.”
After McGillivray spoke, Quintanilla opened the floor to participants in the challenge to introduce themselves.
“If a person becomes employed who is blind, they need braille,” Karen Shrawder, a blind resident of Sacramento, California, said. “Honestly, they just need it because otherwise they are not literate.”
Tom Richissin, a resident of Reading, said his daughter Allison is blind and learned to read braille at a young age.
“The ability to read, whether you’re sightless or you are visual, is maybe the greatest single enabler that you have,” Richissin said.
Jessie Richissin, Allison’s sister, also said she’d be participating in the challenge.
“Time to get my butt off the bench and do it for a greater cause,” she said.
So far, “Team Richissin” has raised more than $11,000 for Braille Across America.
All participants have the option to be a part of a team or fundraise on their own.
“We’re all together,” Mac Donald said in an interview. “It’s another way of connecting virtually even though they can’t run together necessarily.”
Mac Donald said the challenge benefited from the virtual format that allows people across the country to participate — adding that NBP adjusted well to the COVID-19 pandemic. The institute plans on hosting future races in a hybrid format.
NBP was founded almost 100 years ago and published its first braille newspaper March 17, 1927. Today, NBP continues to print a weekly publication in braille, according to the organization’s website.
Mac Donald first got involved with NBP in 2008 and said he felt a connection with the organization because of his relationship with his grandmother, who is blind.
“I remember being like six years old, and she’d sit me on her lap, she was very religious, and she was teaching me braille,” he said.
Mac Donald said he hoped to make Braille Across America a yearly event to raise money for NBP.
“It’s already a huge success from my perspective,” he said. “If we keep promoting it nationally, as we want to, I think it can really organically grow well in different states and pick up.”