In 1957 a family with two visually impaired children moved to St. Petersburg. The County Superintendent of Schools promised all the assistance needed for the children to attend public school. The first itinerant teacher for special education was then employed.
At the same time, the Temple Beth-El Sisterhood was seeking to extend its community services into the St. Petersburg community. Recognizing the opportunity to pursue one of its national goals (service to the blind), the Sisterhood established a class to train volunteer Braille transcribers. Their first class was offered to the women of the Temple under the tutelage of Mrs. Syble Cass.
From this modest beginning, the Pinellas Braille Group was formed and has been sponsored by the Temple Beth-El Sisterhood since. It is an autonomous, non-denominational group of volunteers. The PBG produces Braille and digital recordings for use in the schools and for anyone who requires Braille services. Instruction and workshops are conducted to train additional volunteers in these two media.
The Braille volunteers produce literary works and textbooks. Some braillists specialize in mathematics, science and foreign languages. At the recording studio, which is located at the Talking Book Library in Clearwater, work of outstanding quality is produced. This group has had an 8 week training course and has also learned to use new digital methods of recording.
Once a year the PBG gives the Mildred Shavlan Achievement Awards to visually-impaired students attending grades 6-12 in the Pinellas County School System . This award is given in recognition of educational achievement, mobility and development in independent living skills. The award honors Mildred Shavlan, one of the early members of the PBG and the Sisterhood.
Braille classes are held regularly for volunteers who are interested in learning Braille transcription. It is a nine month course taught by one of the Braille volunteers. All materials, including Braille machines, paper and books are provided at no cost to the students. When the course is completed, the students must pass a test in order to be certified by the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.
The PBG has hosted the VAVF (Visual Aid Volunteers of Florida) conferences, as well as the 1983 NBA (National Braille Association conference). It is a pleasure and an honor to be a part of these organizations.