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      Independent Living

      Seminar series brings new approach to vision loss training in communities

      By Barb Weigel
      Contributing Editor
      Since 2000, the Iowa Department for the Blind’s Independent Living (IL) program has provided Iowans who have significant vision loss with education in non-visual skills through community-based trainings.
      Typically these training opportunities are arranged wherever a need has been expressed and there are three or more individuals interested in participating. This has worked well, and we plan to continue to use this approach.
      However, the Department decided at the end of 2009 to sponsor trainings before requests were made. We set a time, date and place and allowed people to register beforehand. The trainings were advertised and open to anyone in the area with significant vision loss.These trainings were a great success.
      With assistance from Sue English at Northland Aging Association in Decorah and Mary Lynn ReVoir, Iowa Lead Disability Navigator with Iowa Workforce Partners Employment Network, six trainings were arranged in northeast Iowa. 
      “These trainings were great because they provided a much more in-depth exposure to vision loss and the accommodations that can be made, than I am able to provide,” said Samuel Townswick, human services instructor at Northern Iowa Community College, a site of one of the trainings.
      “I liked the simulations done with sleep shades: cooking, check writing, cane travel. I liked to see students grappling with these tasks,” Townswick said.”
      The final session will be held Feb. 24 and 25 at the Elkader Senior Center in Elkader. 
      Each session included six hours of training offered in a flexible format either during a single day or across a couple of days. 
      Participants were provided with guidance to help them maintain independence.
      This includes: 

      • Group discussion to promote a positive adjustment to vision loss;
      • Information on how to access free audio services for books, magazines, newspaper, and general information;
      • Communication techniques including use of the phone, managing personal records and correspondence, keeping track of phone numbers and appointments, and more;
      • Techniques for safe and independent mobility;
      • Simple techniques for many activities of daily living including cooking, shopping, managing medications, and handling money.

      Anyone interested in participating in or hosting a community-based training should contact the Independent Living program at 800-362-2587.
      Shirley Wiggins receives the Independent Living award from the Iowa Department for the Blind.Shirley Wiggins (pictured right) received the Independent Living Award during the Iowa Department for the Blind’s 50th anniversary celebration for her service to the IDB and to the Cedar Rapids community. Wiggins, an active client of the Department, has been instrumental in getting Cedar Rapids-area residents with vision loss linked up with the Department for services. She also serves as leader of the Linn County support group for people with vision loss.

      Looking for a Speaker?

      Representatives from the Independent Living program are available to provide presentations to your group at no cost to you. Throughout the years, we have spoken to a variety of groups including residents of retirement communities, visiting nurses, activity departments, social workers, care facilities, senior centers, groups of retirees, optimist clubs, church groups, civic organizations and more. 
      A variety of topics can be discussed, including services available through the Iowa Department for the Blind, devices available to assist with every day tasks, simple solutions for completing tasks and more. The length of the presentations can be set according to the needs of your group.
      For more information or to request a presentation, call Carolyn Hicklin at 800-362-2587 or e-mail

      Get independent living tips in your e-mail inbox!

      The IDB Independent Living program has begun a monthly e-mail providing a single tip to encourage independent living. The tips show how simple non-visual techniques can make a seemingly difficult task, like making a shopping list or identifying an on/off button, easy.
      These tips can be quite helpful for everyday living and maintaining independence. Sign up to receive these tips.

      Vocational Rehabilitation

      Partnership with DOT nets job retentions

      By Julie Aufdenkamp
      Contributing Editor
      The DOT Office of Driver Services receives an award from the Iowa Department for the Blind.Sue Hickey is an information technology system support worker in the Office of Driver Services (ODS) at the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT). She is a hard working, tax-paying Iowan. She is also blind.
      For the past three decades, Hickey has done her best to keep up with her workload, which includes a lot of time in front of a computer screen. Hickey’s vision loss has proven to be a challenge throughout much of her career; however, the DOT has been very supportive.
      “Over the years the DOT has always been on board with doing whatever it took to make my job easier,” said Hickey, who is totally blind in her left eye and legally blind in her right. “And I thought I was doing okay.”
      A friend and co-worker told Hickey about the Iowa Department for the Blind (IDB), and she decided to call. She was connected with IDB Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor Rosie Thierer in April 2009.
      After assessing Hickey’s work environment, Theirer secured some work equipment, such as two large monitors and ZoomText software, which magnifies text and uses audio and enhanced color options to help the user see what is on the screen, and by June, Hickey was using the equipment at work. At her home she also received a computer program with speech to help her learn keyboarding skills. Hickey also began receiving books on tape from the Department’s Library.
      “Rosie provided recommendations and training she knew would assist me daily, not only in my job but in my personal life as well,” said Hickey, who has had vision loss since birth. “I didn’t realize how behind-the-times I was. There have been so many advances in technology that I didn’t even know about.”
      While Hickey said she is still learning how to use her new system, it has already helped in areas she would not have expected. “I didn’t realize how much I leaned over in my chair to get as close to the screen as I could,” she said. “It’s so nice to be able to sit back in my chair and still be able to read the screen.”
      The many screen options with ZoomText has greatly enhanced her workspace. “There are color choices to help reduce glare. Dark text on a light background has always been a problem for me and caused a lot of eye strain and headaches. That’s all gone now with the ability to have light text on a dark background,” Hickey said.
      “The IDB training has been great,” Hickey added. “I was always current on my work, but now I feel I can be a lot more thorough and hopefully a more productive employee.”
      Thierer said Hickey was unsure about switching equipment at first, but after a month she was “amazed” at how much easier her job had become. Hickey also was less tired at the end of the day, Thierer said.
      “Sue is now a believer in technology and the help that it has given her,” said Theirer. “While Sue has 30 years of employment with the DOT, she was not yet ready to retire, and this new technology will help her keep working until she is ready to go.”
      Office of Driver Services’ Director Kim Snook said Hickey is a very positive person and a great employee. She added it is nice to see her looking more comfortable in her job. “We are very pleased with the outcome of this cooperation with the Department for the Blind.”
      Hickey said she has always rolled with the punches in life. “This is just a part of me,” she said. “You learn to adapt and just accept what you can’t change and ask for help when you need it. This new equipment and the way it has changed how I do my job is a tangible benefit that resulted from cooperation between the DOT and Department for the Blind.”

      Employment specialist wins award for her dedication

      Brenda CriswellBrenda Criswell, a job placement specialist with the Iowa Department for the Blind, received the Commissioners’ Award in October 2009 for her work helping blind and visually impaired Iowans seek and retain competitive employment.
      The award is presented as part of the Governor’s Annual Awards Program through the Iowa Commission of Persons with Disabilities.
      Criswell, who has worked for the IDB for 31 years, works as a liaison between employers and blind and visually impaired clients, often using her persistence and personable demeanor to place clients in well-suited, career-oriented jobs.
      “The Commission is honored to bestow this award on Brenda Criswell,” said Jackie Wipperman, disability counselor with the Division and Commission of Persons with Disabilities. “Brenda puts those ideals into action every day in the work she does.”


      The IDB rehabilitates about 100 people a year, saving taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. Forty rehabilitations a year would pay for IDB’s entire budget.

      Talking tech with Curtis Chong

      “The 64-Bit Conundrum”
      When we first began using Windows back in the mid to late ‘90’s, the computers we purchased were built around 32-bit processors.
      I will not bore you with all the technical details, but suffice it to say that a 32-bit processor represented the foundation upon which everything was built--the operating system, speech or screen enlargement access technology, and all of the programs used to perform ordinary tasks on the computer.
      At the time these processors were built, few people thought computers would need to address more than four gigabytes of memory. Today, when you go to the store to purchase a new computer, you are almost guaranteed to get a 64-bit processor.
      Because the 64-bit processor is only now becoming ubiquitous in the computer marketplace, you need to ask whether the computer you are buying uses a 32-bit or a 64-bit processor.
      Armed with this very important data, you can ensure that your new computer will work properly for you.
      I have checked with leading vendors Freedom Scientific, GW Micro and Ai Squared, and all three assured me that the latest versions of their respective programs work on a 64-bit computer.
      However, you should be aware that there is a problem with support for refreshable Braille displays.
      Simply put, if you are buying a new computer and you want to use it with a particular Braille display model, you should first check with the access technology vendor to be sure the display you want will work in the 64-bit environment.
      For example, we found that in JAWS for Windows, the number of refreshable Braille displays supported in its 64-bit version dropped off dramatically as compared to the 32-bit version.
      Also, if you have an older scanner, printer, or some other external device that you want to use with your new computer, you should take great care to ensure that a “driver” for this device can be obtained for your new 64-bit computer. The best way to do this is to check with the company that sells the particular printer or scanner.



      Digital talking books combine ease and quality

      By Beth Hirst
      Contributing Editor
      The digital revolution is under way! The Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped received its first shipment of Digital Talking Book Machines (DTMs) in May 2009, as part of the pre-launch testing program for the National Library Service (NLS). The testing was concluded in July, and regular monthly shipments began in August.
      All library patrons on the original waiting list for machines have received players and are now enjoying the benefits of high-quality sound and ease of operation. Those patrons who have not yet received a digital machine are invited to call the Library at 800-362-2587 to request one.
      DTBs consist of a flash memory cartridge, about the size of a cassette tape, with a large finger hole near one end. A single cartridge, which does not have to be turned over or rewound, will hold an entire book. The mailing containers are blue and about half as thick as the green cassette boxes.
      The library has received about 1,000 DTB titles for circulation, with additional books arriving every day.
      “Patrons who have tried the new format are thrilled with the sound clarity as well as the simplicity of navigation,” said Library Director Tracey Morsek. “This digital format also makes the books more durable so we can continue to have a sizeable collection in prime condition.”
      A new feature of the digital player that has received rave reviews is the sleep button. When this button, shaped like a crescent moon, is pressed, a timer is engaged. The player will shut off after 15 minutes. Each press of the button will add 15 minutes to the timer, up to one hour. The timer will save the reader’s place in the book in case he or she falls asleep.
      Because the cost of materials for a DTB is considerably more than that for a cassette book, the library is asking patrons to return all digital books and magazines when finished with them.

      Library to honor stalwart mail carriers

      Postal Workers will be recognized for their work by the Department.The Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped celebrates its 50th anniversary in July, and without the collaboration with the United States Postal Service, library service statewide would not have been so swift and easy.
      Faithful and tireless mail carriers have delivered countless Braille and large-print books, records, cassettes, videos, playback machines and digital books between the Des Moines headquarters and our many patrons throughout the state.
      In July the Library will honor this legacy by recognizing individual postal workers who have touched the lives of our patrons with their caring service.
      Do you have a mail carrier who goes out of his or her way to ensure you receive your library material? Help us say thank you by submitting a name for nomination by May 1 to your reader advisor or library secretary Dawna Ray at (800) 362-2587 or Provide the carrier’s name, post office address and phone number and details as to why you are making the nomination.

      Volunteers’ donation to increase locally-produced digital audio books and sacred texts distribution

      The Friends of the Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped presented Library Director Tracey Morsek with a $10,000 check in December 2009, to help with sacred book distribution and with the transition to digital book format.
      This was the third year in a row the Friends donated $10,000 to the Library. Morsek acknowledged the gift as an important and exciting contribution to the Library’s ongoing effort to provide the public with accessible books and magazines.
      “The Friends make a difference every year,” Morsek said. “The work they do increases our ability to serve our patrons and grow our collection. We are grateful for their dedication to our program. I cannot praise the Friends board enough.”
      Friends President Louise Duvall said the money raised is generated completely through volunteer activity and donated to the library as a gift. There are no overhead costs.
      She praised the donations as going to pay for “real things that we can put our hands on.”
      Previous gifts have helped furnish a reading room, and supported events, such as the Iowa Braille Challenge, the Perowsky Volunteer Luncheon and the summer reading club.
      This year’s gift is separated into specified amounts toward several projects--the largest amounts going to the purchase and distribution of sacred texts and to the transition from analog to digital audio book format. The donation will pay for digital book cartridges to be played on the new National Library Service digital talking book players.
      “Our transition to digital audio makes our books more accessible for our patrons,” Morsek said. “Our ability to produce high-quality recordings augments the national collection, and the enhanced navigation allows our borrowers to read more independently.”
      You can support the Library by joining the Friends or making a donation.
      Write to:  
      Friends of the Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
      P.O. Box 93046
      Des Moines, IA 50393-3046
      or e-mail:

      Independent living-Library liasion to connect services

      By Beth Hirst
      Contributing Editor
      Lance Blas (right) demonstrates how to operate a digital talking book player.Lance Blas is something of a rennaissance man. As the Department’s new Independent Living-Library liasion, Blas will travel statewide to visit patrons, assist with library services including the new digital talking books, teach independent living skills, and develop support groups and book clubs. 
      Blas was hired in October 2009 and now travels the state connecting Independent Living clients with library services and Library patrons with independent living services.
      “I love the idea of helping people to open the doors to their world through literature,” said Blas. ”Whether it is someone discovering the joy of reading for the first time or getting reacquainted with their favorite books that they thought they could no longer read. I feel honored to be a part of this. It’s exciting to see people gain independence by embracing the services that we offer at the Iowa Department for the Blind.”
      It has been more than 20 years since the Library had a staff member assigned to meet with patrons in their homes. When the Department came into some federal stimulus money, the decision was made to create a position that would combine the services of an Independent Living teacher with a Library representative. The timing was perfect to take the new digital player on the road and introduce it to our senior patrons.
      If you would like to have Lance visit you or speak to a group in your area, you can call: 800-362-2587 (toll-free in Iowa), 515-281-7724, or e-mail:

      From the librarian

      As our Iowa winter lingers, readers looking for some warm reading may want to order our Winter Reading Club booklist: Fireside Reading. 
      Ranging from cozy and comfortable to a tad more dangerous, all of the titles on the list offer an escape from the wind and biting cold of an Iowa winter. Best of all, each time you borrow one of the Fireside Books, you’ll be entered in a drawing to win a Winter Reading Club prize. Call your reader advisor to request Fireside Reading and join the reading club.
      On July 1, 1960, the Library circulated its first book. We will be marking this milestone with a 50th anniversary celebration this July, and we need your help. We would love to hear your memories and stories about the Library. So we are inviting our borrowers of all ages and backgrounds to write to us, explaining what the Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped means to you.
      Do you remember what it was like to be a blind Iowan before our library opened? Has the Library made a difference in your life? After 50 years, we want to chronicle how far we have come as we map our future of providing access to information for blind and disabled readers throughout the state. 
      Happy reading,
      Tracey Morsek


      At the Movies
      Teens and movies go together like…popcorn and butter. But some of the most interesting movie characters first started out as characters in books. Readers young and old may enjoy these novels for junior and senior high readers that served as inspiration for some recent motion pictures. 
      DB/RC 57232 Eragon by Christopher Paolini
      Fifteen-year-old Eragon bonds with the baby dragon, Saphira, that hatches from a mysterious blue stone. They train in magic and martial arts and, refusing to serve the evil king, sally forth to encounter warriors, dwarves, and others battling the empire. Some violence.
      BR 13276, DB/RC 44343, LT 7052 The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman
      A tale set in Victorian England on an alternate Earth. Young Lyra Belacqua and her daemon enjoy an idyllic life among the scholars at Jordan College. Then her friend Roger and other children are abducted by the Gobblers. Venturing north in pursuit, Lyra encounters an alien and sinister world. Violence.
      BRD 21236, RC 51524 The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot
      Fourteen-year-old Mia keeps a diary of her problems -- she’s too tall and flat, she’s flunking algebra, and her mom is dating her teacher. But then her dad arrives from Europe to announce that Mia is really a princess and the heir to his throne.
      BR 18146, DB/RC 62066 Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
      After 17-year-old Bella moves in with her dad in Washington state, she falls in love with high school senior Edward Cullen. Bella discovers that Edward and his adoptive clan are vampires. Though they feast on wildlife rather than humans, Bella is still in danger.
      Book Spotlight: Driftless by David Rhodes
      Driftless by David RhodesThe Iowa Center for the Book has announced the 2010 All Iowa Reads title: Driftless, by David Rhodes, who grew up near Des Moines. The following information was provided by the Iowa Center for the Book. With Driftless, Rhodes returns to the midwestern landscape he knows so well, offering a fascinating and entirely unsentimental portrait of a town apparently left behind by the march of time.
      Home to a few hundred people yet absent from state maps, Words, Wisconsin, comes richly to life by way of an extraordinary cast of characters. Among them, a middle-aged couple guards the family farm from the mendacious schemes of their milk co-operative; a lifelong paraplegic suddenly regains the use of her legs, only to find herself crippled by fury at her sister and caretaker; a woman of conflicting impulses and pastor of the local Friends church stumbles upon an enlightenment she never expected; a cantankerous retiree discovers a cougar living in his haymow, haunting him like a childhood memory; and a former drifter forever alters the ties that bind a community together.
      At once intimate and funny, wise and generous, Driftless is an unforgettable story of contemporary life in rural America.
      Request LT8806, DB 68424 or BRD23872. If you would be interested in joining a book discussion on this title, contact Lance Blas, 515-281-7724 or

      Orientation Center


      Celebrating 50 years of ‘building cathedrals’

      By Rebecca Swainey
      Contributing Editor
      Jim Witte receives an award for his dedicated years of service to the Department for the Blind from Dave HaugeAt 5 p.m. on the evening of Oct. 31, 2009, a group of 182 gathered in the Assembly Room of the Iowa Department for the Blind for a banquet to celebrate the success of an experiment that began on Nov. 1, 1959.
      Orientation Center alumni, current students, present and former staff, family and friends all came together not only to celebrate the golden anniversary of the Iowa Orientation and Adjustment Center, but to honor one who was there at the inception and who played an instrumental role in the success of this innovative training program.
      Sandy Tigges, Orientation Center administrator and a 1966 graduate of the Center, welcomed everyone to the festivities and introduced Cindy Ray, a 1965 alumnus of the Center, for the invocation before the meal was served.
      Each table contained a basket of rolls. Servers came around to ladle bowls of “dirty water” shrimp soup. The entrée consisted of a delicious stuffed pork loin accompanied by mixed vegetables and a wild rice dish with mushrooms and celery. For dessert we had cheesecake with a berry compote drizzled on top. Once everyone had enjoyed their meal and time to chat with their table companions, Sandy rose again to act as program moderator.
      Our own well-loved poet laureate, James K. Crawford, was on hand with his tribute to the evening.
      Ed Sheppard was also on deck for the reading of the list of attendance. 
      A new twist was added when Terry Brannen, a student who had just completed Center training, was presented his certificate during the program.
      Then came the main event; Karen Keninger, Director of the Iowa Department for the Blind, spoke of the history of the Center, its inception and creation, and of the role our guest of honor, one L. James Witte, played in its formation and success.
      She called Dave Hauge forward to present Jim a beautifully framed picture of him sitting in his “log cabin” office in 1986 when he was Orientation Program Administrator. Under the picture was a plaque with the words “L. James Witte, Cathedral Builder,” a tribute to the wisdom of Jim’s own comments about the Center during a banquet address given shortly after his retirement. It was an emotionally moving moment as everyone rose to their feet in his honor. 
      Jim took a moment to gather himself, then with his ever-present sense of humor commented that the picture was of a much younger fellow, and he didn’t recognize the man Karen had spoken of earlier.
      He went on to say he felt he should set the record straight and tell everyone how it all really started. It was a treat to hear him reminiscence about those early days when, together with Ruth Schroeder and under the guidance of Kenneth Jernigan, they pioneered what came to be known as “The Iowa Model.”
      Following Jim, Karen again took the podium to give the evening’s banquet address. She gave further insight into the history and the role Dorothy Kirschner, then a Commission Board Member, played in bringing Mr. Jernigan to Iowa and in obtaining the building at 524 Fourth Street. Karen gave respectful recognition of all that has been accomplished in the 50 years since the Center began. But she also admonished her audience not to be complacent. She reminded everyone that we have come a long way in 50 years, but we still have a long way to go before blindness is truly put in its proper perspective and equality achieved.
      We’re gathered here to take our bows, for work we’ve done --renew our vows. We greet old friends, we make some new; we keep on learning things to do. But most of all, I guess you’d say: “Let’s carry on with Alumni Day!” — Jim Crawford 10/31/09

      Recent graduates off to work, school

      Two of the Orientation Center’s recent graduates have completed their months of training and started on with the rest of their lives.
      Terry Brannen, who graduated in October, has entered the Department’s B.E.P. program as a licensed operator. and is learning the ropes of operating an independent vending business.
      Kaylee Hill has returned to her native Council Bluffs and enrolled as a full-time student at Iowa Western Junior College.
      Their graduations are representative of the many successes produced through the valuable training that leads to increased self-confidence, motivation and independent living.
      Cane Tracks, a blog about life in the Orientation Center written by its students is online at



      Blind teens learn job prep skills during retreat

      By Tai Blas
      Contributing Editor
      Keri Osterhaus (right) helps a transition student with preparing for job interviews.In November, six blind and visually impaired teens in the Iowa Department for the Blind’s Youth Transition Program got some experience pounding the pavement during a weekend retreat in Montour, Iowa.
      While a main intent of the retreat was to have fun and meet other people with similar experiences, the retreat also focused on job readiness.
      “Too many blind and visually impaired students graduate from college with no job experience, leaving them ill-equipped to compete when applying for full-time work,” said Megen Johnson, IDB transition employment specialist. “This retreat provided them with skills and practice for getting that first job.”
      Participants learned interviewing etiquette and other job-related skills, such as filling out applications and making a good first impression.
      They also learned about the Americans with Disabilities Act and questions that are illegal for employers to ask. The youth learned different techniques for addressing their blindness or visual impairment during the application process.
      Johnson explained that with the poor economy, the job market is tight, especially for entry-level jobs, for which these students would be competing. To land that first job, she added, it is important for the students to be prepared.
      “The retreat offered the students a safe setting to learn some functional tools they can take with them into the job market,” Johnson said.
      Each student created an employment portfolio that included job applications and references. Johnson will work with the students to continually update these portfolios over time.
      “During the retreat, the students knew the information they were getting was useful and worthwhile,” Johnson said.
      Some of the participants had never seen job applications before; they have not been expected to work because of their disability, Johnson said.
      “But when they get into the job market thinking they want to be a teacher, land the job, then discover they don’t like teaching, there is a problem. Getting them work experience before they graduate from college will help them figure out their career paths,” Johnson said.
      “Employers see the need to diversify their employees,” she continued. “There are incentives, and they can see that. If you can prove to them that the job can get done by a blind person, they are typically willing to try it.”
      The students didn’t just work during the retreat, however. They also had fun, taking hikes, playing career bingo and hanging out around a bonfire.
      “The intent of these weekend retreats is not only to teach valuable independence skills, but to provide a social setting for blind youth to relax and have a good time with each other,” said Keri Osterhaus, one of the retreat organizers.

      Business Enterprises


      New manager uses honed skills to build operation

      By Roger Erpelding
      Contributing Editor
      Carl Drees runs the vending operation out of the Wallace Building in the state Capitol complex.It is our mission in the Business Enterprises Program to create and maintain profitable businesses for blind managers. Part of this mission is to make these blind managers truly independent business folks.
      The program—part of the IDB’s vocational rehabilitation services—works conjointly with a federal-state government partnership that reserves food service operations in government offices for our program participants.
      On the federal level, this is known as The Randolph-Sheppard Act. On the state level, it is simply referred to as 216D, the numeric reference to the Iowa Code citation.
      The Department purchases the necessary equipment to operate these food service facilities. Since the program is perpetual, the Department maintains title to the equipment, and replaces it upon obsolescence. The Department also assures an initial product inventory for the incoming business manager.
      But it doesn’t stop here. Under the law, the Department, through the B.E.P., conducts ongoing management assistance or monitoring of all of our facilities.
      Keep these things in mind as I introduce you to Carl Drees, our newest blind manager.
      Drees, 48, became manager of the Wallace Building Vending Route on April 1, 2009, after completing several months of training to learn the skills and attitudes of blindness at our Orientation and Adjustment Center.
      Since our businesses are small, and the manager needs to work hard and be visible, the ability to deal positively with blindness is essential.
      Drees lost his vision in 1993 due to optic atrophy. He turned to the IDB because he had heard about the B.E.P. program and thought it would provide him an opportunity to earn a good living and spend more time with his family.
      “It took me a while to convince myself that I would be able to do a lot of these things,” he said.
      After completing training in the Center, Drees entered into B.E.P. training, where he learned our rules, regulations and requirements along with practical knowledge of how our program worked and how our facilities were structured.
      When Drees came on board, the vending machines were already in place, and a base product inventory was on hand. He was an easy fit for our program, as he has business experience in day care, locksmithing, farming and operation of a bar in a small town in northeast Iowa. He served food as well as beverages in his bar and, therefore, had a great deal of familiarity with sanitation requirements.
      Since our “food service” locations are now almost exclusively in the area of vending machines, his concentration in training was in their operation, maintenance, repair, pricing, programming and vending customer service.
      The Wallace Building serves as headquarters for this operation. Drees also serves customers in several other nearby state buildings on the Capitol Complex, along with some city locations.
      Drawing on his experience as an independent business man, Drees set out to hire employees, get his vehicle ready for the route, hire an accountant to assist with bookkeeping, set a schedule to service the vending machines and ascertain customer needs and preferences in the vending arena.
      He went to a nearby vehicle auction with the hope of purchasing an additional vehicle. Being always on the lookout for opportunity, he asked why no food or drink was being catered, and if he could have the chance to do so. The vehicle dispatch folks were more than willing to give him this opportunity. As a result, he catered their vehicle auction on Nov. 14.
      Not knowing quite what to expect, the auction catering was a learning experience, and he will do things differently (and more profitably) the next time.
      As plans unfolded for the state of Iowa to purchase and occupy the Mercy Capitol Building just a few blocks from the Wallace Building, Drees used his contacts (and now friends) to get his vending “foot in the door” at that location.
      His efforts were assisted by the probability that a considerable amount of personnel currently occupying offices at some of his buildings would be moving to this location after remodeling.
      On Dec. 15, the state formally obtained possession of this building; of course, Drees has been serving the architects and state planners snacks and beverages for several months. Occupancy plans are still far from certain at this writing, but this looks like a good bet for expanded business opportunity and profit for Drees.
      It has been said that “the harder I work, the luckier I get.” Drees has proven this to be the case
      Drees now is able to take pride in his work while supporting seven children and a wife. He even has time to attend his kids’ activities, of which he has “missed far too many” in the past. He also has enough income to provide a better life for his family.
      “It is a very good fit,” he said. “I am certainly glad I made this step.”

      Did you know?

      All the vending services at rest-stops along Iowa highways are operated by blind Iowans in the Business Enterprises Program.