Seedlings Braille Books for Children
Who could have imagined back in 1984 that a small seed of an idea would eventually grow to become one of the world’s foremost supportive organizations of literacy for visually impaired children and their families? Debra Bonde, founder and executive director of Seedlings Braille Books for Children, can scarcely believe it herself—and it was her brainchild.
It was 1978 when Debra began wondering what she could do to make a difference in the world. She stumbled into Braille transcription almost by accident after speaking with a transcriber. She soon signed up for a community-based class and immediately fell in love with the detailed work. But it wasn’t until she spoke to another student in the class—a mother with a visually impaired daughter—that she realized how few books for children were ever produced in Braille.
After volunteering as a transcriber and giving birth to her daughters, Anna and Megan, Debra turned her attention to transcribing books for children exclusively, and in 1983 Debra acquired one of the first computer Braille-transcribing programs. Her father, Ray Stewart, stepped in and modified her antiquated Perkins Brailler from manual to electric and Debra began printing the books from her basement. In the first year Seedlings developed twelve books for the catalog. By 1985 Debra produced 221 books in her basement office and by 1990 Seedlings was producing five thousand books per year. At last count, Seedlings, which employs nine people and uses dozens of volunteers, has produced a total of over 200,000 Braille books for blind children all over the U.S., Canada and over fifty countries around the world.
Not surprisingly, Seedlings has moved out of Debra’s basement and into an office not far away. But despite the increased cost in keeping Seedlings afloat, Debra does everything she can—from using volunteer labor to recycling—to ensure the books sell for an average of only ten dollars.
In the past years Seedlings has expanded its scope to offer programs to encourage children to love the written word. The thriving nonprofit organization offers The Rose Project, which provides free encyclopedia articles in Braille. Seedlings also offers a "Keep Kids in Touch" summer reading program, which ships out two free Braille books to kids in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin so they can keep reading over the summer. "Hooray for Braille" kits introduce Michigan families of blind babies and preschoolers to Braille literacy. Debra hopes to open the programs to other states if funding increases.
But the project closest to Debra’s heart is "Anna’s Book Angel Project." Five years ago a drunk driver killed Debra’s nineteen-year-old daughter, Anna, as she was on her way to New Orleans to tutor disadvantaged children. Memorial donations immediately flooded in. Today that money is used to send at least ten free books out to children in Anna’s name each week.