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From Listener to Advocate: How Nonprofit Work Transformed Penn’s Life

Penn has been with AINC for nearly two years. Penn is blind, and, she has spent most of her adult career working with that community. Growing up with vision loss, she had many amazing organizations which came to her aid, so she understands firsthand the impact nonprofits can have. Now, working with these types of nonprofits is her way of giving back.

Despite having only worked at AINC for two years, Penn has listened to AINC for decades; in fact, AINC changed her life. Blindness and vision loss can close off parts of the world that others take for granted: newspapers were never a big part of Penn’s life because of the sheer fact that they weren’t accessible to her. AINC’s audio recordings of newspapers changed that.

“When I first started listening to AINC, it opened up my community to me because there were things going on: even [just] knowing what was going on at the movie theater, or, you know what festivals were coming to town. It really opened up my world to my community not in and also the world.”

Even before officially joining AINC’s staff, Penn has been involved with the organization since the ‘90s. Seeing as Penn and AINC always worked in the same communities and orbited the same conventions and resource fairs, she became very familiar with the staff. The executive director of AINC at the time, David Dawson, would use Penn as a guinea pig, testing new equipment and resources on her. She was a perfect test subject since she lives in Estes and “if something worked in Estes, it would work anywhere.” (More often than not, the equipment didn’t work, since the signal wasn’t strong enough). After the pandemic, when Penn heard of a position at AINC opening, she applied, despite already having a full-time job working for the state. 

“My job is not just a job. I want to be passionate about it and I want to care about it and I want to feel like I’m impacting other people’s lives.”

Penn is the Development and Outreach Director for AINC. On the development side, she finds new revenue streams: when she first came to AINC, they had a strong foundation of grants which funded them, however, they had never tried to do any fundraising. Penn changed that, organizing fundraising events such as a Bringing Print to Life Hike and a Concert in the Dark. When organizing these events, her priority is ensuring that they cater to the people AINC works for- the blind and low vision- and not just their sponsors. She ensured that there were blind and low vision  hikers on the Bringing Print to Life Hike and that at the Concert in the Dark, the performers and artists were blind or low vision. She also strives to ensure anyone who is blind or low vision can attend the events if they want to: giving them major discounts.

“I want to make sure that the fundraiser is not just for our sponsors and to look pretty. I want our sponsors to meet our listeners. I want our board to meet our listeners.”

The outreach side of Penn’s job involves going out and telling the world what AINC does, both to gain new listeners as well as to establish new partnerships with other organizations. She coordinates outreach events and does lots of public speaking. She is also involved in nearly every other sort of aspect of the organization as well: programming to facilitating low-vision support groups to hosting a podcast.

“I kind of have my hands in every bucket just because as the development and outreach director, I need to know what’s going on in the other areas and inform them about what’s going on in my area as well.”

To Penn, the most important role AINC plays in the community is exactly what the organization sets out to do: give access to print. Access is the key word. She stresses the fact that when it comes to blindness and vision loss one size does not fit all, and AINC works so that all listeners, no matter what age or what resources they have (whether or not they have wifi or technology) can access its content. She hopes to one day expand AINC beyond just Colorado- especially in States that are dead zones- so that people around the world can have access to the services AINC provides.

Penn’s philosophy is that: 

“If you’re blind or have low vision, that’s just part of who you are. It’s not who you are. It’s just part of who you are. And life is freaking awesome out here. If you know, have the courage to step outside.”

 Penn works to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to step outside: to have access to their communities and the larger world so they can experience life for all its awesomeness.

By Kaatje Vanderberg


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