Reflecting back and Looking Forward: ACB Next Generation (by Hindley Williams)
On February 22, 2023, ACB Next Generation celebrated its third birthday. Next Generation is a unique affiliate, and leaders and members alike agree there is nothing quite like it anywhere else. Rather than focusing on a specific occupation, hobby, or condition, ACB Next Generation welcomes all blind and low vision individuals between the ages of 18 and 40, in addition to supporting members who are over 40. Members of ACB Next Generation can network with students or recent graduates, young parents, and working professionals across numerous disciplines. The affiliate offers leadership development and many networking opportunities.
Before the creation of this affiliate, the only place for young blind and visually impaired members to network was ACB Students, but where did that leave graduates and other young non-students? Matt Selm, ACB Next Generation’s current first vice president, remembers that many young people “felt alone in their state affiliates” due to a wide age gap. Greg Lindberg, the current Publications Committee chair, reflects on his experiences in his local chapter: “While I became secretary of the chapter and felt valued as a member, I remember thinking I wanted to step down and leave ACB entirely because I didn’t feel like I could relate to our members. Most could have been my parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents. I certainly appreciated their support and soaked up lots of leadership skills and guidance from them, but the age gap was really getting to me.” Maria Kristic, the current treasurer, writes: “I had been a part of ACB for two years at that point, and while I had made connections and friends and even assumed some leadership positions until that point, I did notice that I was often among the youngest, if not the youngest, member of the affiliates I had joined.”
Amanda Selm, the current Next Generation president, describes the inspiration for the concept of Next Generation, which came from a statewide chapter in Kentucky: “We took the concept of what we had developed on the state level and began working with it on the National level.” The first meeting of Next Generation took place before its officialization as an affiliate. Participants met virtually via Zoom, which in September of 2018 was not the familiar platform it is to us today in our post-pandemic world. Over 50 people were in attendance, exposing the need and interest for the continuation of similar events.
Everyone was excited about this new, nationwide group because they had the opportunity to connect with individuals in similar life stages as themselves, something that had never been offered to blind and visually impaired people in this age group previously. “I’d be able to relate to these individuals on technology, employment, dating, adaptive sports, and so many other interests that are more geared toward the younger population,” Greg Lindberg reflects. Maria Kristic shares more about her eagerness to connect with others like her during this early stage of the affiliate: “I had been at my first full-time job, which I still hold, just over a year at that point and was interested to meet others at the start of their professional journeys.” People were attending the events, wanting to get involved, and were excited to finally have a space in which to connect. This idea, which started with just a few people, was growing.
Not only was the affiliate marketed as a chance for young people to connect, but it also opened doors to get involved in advocacy in a way that had not been presented to them in such an engaging, self-directed way in the past. Matt Selm noticed that many of his blind and visually impaired friends were “generally apathetic at best to being involved in advocacy organizations.” The affiliate offers a unique chance for young people to get connected to ACB in a way that is accessible and rewarding for their age group. Matt adds: “Many of our members have joined their local and state affiliates in a leadership role, and I would like to think that we played a small part in their evolution as a leader and growing their involvement.” Next Generation adds a new layer of diversity to ACB’s overall membership by packaging it in a way that is appealing to the 18-40 age bracket. Amanda Selm recalls: “We know that ACB was craving the involvement of younger members, they just didn’t know how to get them involved.”
The early leaders agree wholeheartedly that the growth of the affiliate in the last three years has been thrilling and staggering. Amanda Selm praises the efforts of her leadership team with pride: “We went from a few people who didn’t know hardly anything about building and maintaining an organization to an organization full of creative minds, many talents, diverse backgrounds, and full of empowerment.” Maria Kristic enumerates the affiliate’s accomplishments by sharing that it has “amassed an account balance of nearly $10,000 in only three years” and has “put ACB Next Generation on the map of ACB” through its various partnerships across the organization.
Now, leaders and members reflect on the progress of the past three years and look ahead to the future of the affiliate for years to come. Amanda Selm, along with the talents and abilities of the board of directors, the committee chairs, and the membership, are always “setting the bar higher and higher for themselves.” ACB Next Generation represents the only opportunity for involvement of younger blind and visually impaired individuals to connect, mentor and be mentored, and find community and chances to grow in whatever ways they choose. And for that, every day it continues to serve its membership is worth celebrating.