“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
John Fitzgerald Kennedy
As early as eight years old, Lynn Heitz was struggling with her vision. Having difficulty seeing the blackboard in school, seeing all the words on a page of text, and reading out loud. After years of one specialist’s opinion after another she was finally diagnose with Stargarrdt’s disease at age 18 and was told her condition would not lead to total blindness. So like anyone else, she pursued life. She completed her education, got married and started a family.
But when in her thirties, Lynn noticed a decline which led to another round of visits to specialists. It was then that she was finally diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa Inversa a genetic disease that would likely lead to total blindness.
“Now not only am I experiencing exactly what I was told would never happen, it was very scary that I could have shared this with my children.”
So like many who have lost their vision later in life, Lynn had to do some adjusting. “The thing is I didn’t know anybody who was blind, visually impaired. Not in my family, friends no one!”
Lynn started receiving vocational rehabilitation training and was both impressed and daunted by her counselor.
” He sat at my dining room table using a slate and stylus (which I’d never seen anyone use before) and when he left I still to this day remember standing on my steps watching him walking down the street using his white cane and thinking to myself, that I’d never be able to do that.”
It was through that counselor that Lynn was first introduced to the National Federation of the blind. The counselor arranged for Lynn to receive computer training with Ted Young who was then president of the NFB of Pennsylvania.
“At the end of our sessions, Ted would talk about the Federation and he’d always ask me to come to a Keystone chapter meeting.”
For the next three years, Lynn says “a very nice lady by the name of Pat” would call her faithfully each month inviting her to the meetings. (That “nice lady “Pat is Patricia Grebloski , who is still an an active Keystone member for over thirty years.)
Finally, in 1998, Lynn relented and sat in on a meeting. “But I still wasn’t convinced. I still had a lot of vision and didn’t think I needed to be a part of this group.”
But her opinion changed just a few years later when she attended her first national convention. “I was amazed! First, I had no idea there were so many blind people around, not to mention how independent they all were.”
This would prove to be a working convention for Lynn. She volunteered to help in the hospitality suite as well as the information desk.
And she was given another assignment. The Pennsylvania affiliate president presented her with several copies of the book Walking Alone, Marching Togetheran impressive tome chronicling the first 50 years of the Federation. Lynn’s task was to get the autographs of the author, the current national president, and the presidents of the seven original states that met in Wilkes-Barre, PA and formed NFB.
“When I asked what the seven states were, he said read the book and find out.”
This scavenger hunt of sorts would prove to be a pivotal turning point for Lynn. “What impacted me the most was when I had to get the signature of then national president Mark Maurer.”
Once she found him, Lynn explained what she needed, and Maurer warmly invited her onto the stage with him.
“I thought here I am a lowly chapter member standing here with the president of the largest organization of blind people in the country and he took time to talk with me.”
In 2002, Lynn was awarded her first national scholarship. The award is merit-based and comes with an arduous application process which includes two letters of recommendation, an interview with the state president, and a transcript. Candidates also are to submit a personal statement. Receiving the award put Lynn in position to be mentored by a host of successfully employed blind leaders within the Federation and says, “this is really where my journey began.”
Meanwhile, Lynn became First Vice President of the Keystone Chapter and then was voted in as Chapter President, a position she held until 2016. She went on to hold positions within the affiliate and First and Second Vice President. She has held the position as affiliate president since 2017. On the national level, Lynn has been a part of the Resolutions Committee since 2018.
In 2004 Lynn was named a tenBroek Fellow, a distinction awarded to second time scholarship recipients. To receive a subsequent scholarship, candidates must have demonstrated successful leadership and fundraising efforts within their chapter.
The quote from Kennedy best defines Lynn’s transformation to a full-time servant and advocate. Having come full circle, and now a committed NFB leader, Lynn has big goals for her members.
“Most important to me is working to enable the blind of Pennsylvania to become self-sufficient, employed members in their communities. And I want them to feel comfortable in their own skin.”
She also stresses the importance of members engaging legislatively to affect change.
“I want people to have the confidence to reach out to their local state and federal legislators to identify where there are inaccessibilities.”
In her professional career, Lynn has worked in both government and private nonprofit agencies supporting the blind and visually impaired community. She holds a Master’s in Social Work with a specialization in gerontology which she earned from the University of Pennsylvania. Lynn is also a terrific crocheter, a skill she learned at the young age of 8. She often crochets blankets, scarves and hats that are donated to the Salvation Army for the homeless. Additionally, she loves spending time with her family, reading – especially presidential biographies, and romance novels. Lynn and her husband Ray live in the Bucks county area and have been married 39 years. They have three daughters and four grandchildren.
Contact Lynn at:
Email: president at nfbp dot org
Written by Lisa Bryant