Betty Nobel, President
Betty Nobel is a native British Columbian. She has been a Braille user since age five, and still loves to read and write Braille. After graduating from Killarney Secondary School in 1969, Betty attended UBC where she graduated first with a BA and later with a diploma in adult education and a MA in Higher education. Betty worked at Vancouver Community College for more than 30 years teaching adults who are blind and visually impaired. She taught Braille and computer courses and was the Department Head for much of that time. Her many volunteer activities include serving as the Past chair of the board of the CNIB Library for the blind and Past Chair of the board of the Canadian Braille Authority which is now called Braille Literacy Canada. Betty is the Vice Chair of the board of Accessible Media Inc, and serves on the executive of the International Council on English Braille.
Throughout her life, she has been committed to Braille as a primary literacy format for people who are blind. She believes that Unified English Braille will make Braille easier to learn and more available to those who need it.
During her career, Betty served as the Division Chair of Adult Basic Education. She also worked as Special Advisor on Disability Issues for the Ministry of Advanced Education. In the year 2000, Betty received the YWCA Woman of Distinction award in the category of Education Training and Development in recognition of her community work and innovative educational leadership.
Peter Moroney currently serves on the Board of Blind Beginnings as Vice President. He has been a founding Board member since 2008, having previously served as President, Past-President, and Treasurer. He is Director of Program Standards and Assessments with the BC Industry Training Authority, and previously served as a Program Director with Continuing Studies at the University of British Columbia. He holds an MBA from Western Governor’s University, an M.A. in Political Science from Western University, and a Bachelor of Political Science and Sociology also from Western University.
Since 1990, Peter has held a number of management and leadership roles in university continuing education. His areas of interest include apprenticeship, continuing education, program innovation, strategic partnerships, internet technologies, entrepreneurial models and organizational effectiveness. He has also been actively involved in the development and commercialization of web-based services.
Peter resides in Vancouver, British Columbia with his family and was introduced to the world of blindness with the birth of his daughter, Alethea. Peter was fortunate to meet Shawn Marsolais within the first week after Alethea’s birth, and it was Shawn’s positive and determined attitude that convinced him that there was no reason Alethea could not have a rich and fulfilling life.
Meeting and discussing issues with other families became a priority for Peter and his wife, Winnie. They found that attitudes and expectations of others were largely based on early experiences – whether positive or negative. They became convinced that even with the support of existing health and social services, there needed to be more proactive support for families to help them develop the attitudes and competencies that would give them confidence in the future – not only for their blind or visually impaired child, but for themselves, siblings, extended families, and the broader community.
Peter and his wife support Shawn Marsolais in the founding of Blind Beginnings because of her vision, energy and demonstrated commitment to the support of blind and visually impaired children and their families.
COLETTE MITCHELL, Treasurer
Colette Mitchell is an implementation specialist for Payworks Canada and has 30 years of payroll and accounting experience. Colette is married to Jay (Big Daddy) Phillips who sang at several of the Blind Beginning Spring Galas. She enjoys music, golfing, gardening, sewing, reading and her grandchildren.
The value of volunteering was instilled in Colette by her parents who contributed to their community through volunteering their whole lives. Her association with Blind Beginnings began by way of their Volunteer Committee where she was able to see firsthand Shawn’s positive attitude and effective leadership of their programs. She’s excited to be part of such a worthwhile organization and share her expertise as a board member.
jessica rathwell, secretary
Harjinder has been on the Blind Beginnings Board since 2016, serving as the youth representative. She graduated from Aldergrove Community Secondary School in June 2017 and is now in the Faculty of Arts at the University of the Fraser Valley. She is hoping to be accepted to the teaching program and later become a social studies teacher.
Harjinder has been blind since birth, diagnosed with Bilateral Microphthalmia. She was not exposed to other children who were blind while growing up. This caused her to be sheltered from a young age, as her parents were not aware of the services and programs that would help her learn the skills she would need to be independent in life.
When she was 14 years old, Harjinder joined Blind Beginnings as a participant in the Youth Leadership Program. Due to being her first time having to be more independent than she was used to, she felt it to be a true challenge. However, this motivated her and her family to challenge the beliefs they had previously held about her abilities as a Blind Person.
Harjinder continued with the program and became the chair of the Card Making Committee and started doing presentations to schools to educate students on blindness. She has found this to be something she highly enjoys and will continue with. Harjinder joined the board because she wants to be an advocator and educator for other blind children and their parents who are unable to speak up for their needs and are not aware of the services available to them. Being from a small town where services for people who are blind are scarce, Harjinder hopes to represent a diverse group of youth from all parts of BC.
matthew alvernaz, member at large
Matthew began participating in Blind Beginnings programs when it was founded in 2008. He is an active Youth Leader and has been a member of the Board of Directors since 2012. He hopes to be accepted into the British Columbia Institute of Technology in January to further his studies in his field of interest: computer science.
Since joining Blind Beginnings, Matthew has increased his confidence and skills through volunteering, while meeting many new people and making friends. One of his current volunteer commitments is in line with his strong interest in computer science. He is one of the facilitators of the Getting Together with Technology group, where he teaches blind adults about the technology that can support them personally and professionally.
Matthew’s independence has increased significantly since participating in the programs Blind Beginnings offers. He was inspired by the organization’s founder, Shawn Marsolais, to get a guide dog and he will be travelling on his own to California in November to get his new companion.
In addition to Matthew’s personal contributions as a volunteer, his family is also very involved with Blind Beginnings. His grandmother is a monthly donor and a member of the fundraising committee, along with his mother. His brother is also a monthly donor and volunteered as a sighted guide for the 2017 Do The Grind Blind Challenge. And his father has been an annual supporter of the Blind Beginnings Gala Dinner & Auction and youth talent show.
Matthew is happy to be a part of the organization that fills such a large gap in services for blind and partially sighted youth in BC.
shawn bishop, member at large
Shawn Bishop, a new member of the Board, works as a senior support specialist in IT Infrastructure for the City of Vancouver. He has been visually impaired since birth and has a passion for promoting the no limits philosophy. In his off time he founded and continues to run The Dividing Line Broadcast Network, a successful and well respected progressive rock internet radio station. He is married to the most amazing woman known to all of humanity and enjoys composing music, boating and photography when time permits.
TOMMY LEUNG, member at large
Tommy Leung was born in Hong Kong and moved to Canada with his family upon completion of elementary school. He began participating in many new activities, developing friendships and learning about Canadian life throughout school and the early years of university. In the year 2000, Tommy was diagnosed with Glaucoma and lost all eyesight in the coming months. Because of this devastating loss, he went through a period of hopelessness and depression, withdrawing from school, church, and even from friends and family. Thankfully, Tommy’s family and friends did not give up on him, gently supporting and encouraging him during the difficult times. With their loving support, Tommy began his journey of recovery through rehabilitative and dog guide training, along with counseling to deal with his loss. As the result of these treatments, Tommy successfully completed his studies in university, receiving a Bachelor’s degree in psychology, and subsequently completed his studies for a Master’s degree in counselling psychology.
In addition to pursuing his education, Tommy also participated in many areas of community service. At first, Tommy resumed some of his leadership roles in his church with children and youth ministries, as well as college and career groups; Tommy even participated as an interpreter for different gatherings and functions at the church. Later on, Tommy was trained and became a crisis-line volunteer, helping distressed callers through listening and referrals. As Tommy became more confident, he started to reach out and help others in similar situations offering support as a peer counselor with CNIB, and visiting families both locally and overseas in China for technical and emotional support.
Currently, Tommy is working as a group facilitator for CNIB, continuing to apply his skills and experiences to help others struggling with blindness. Having gone through the pains of struggle and the joy of recovery, Tommy learned the importance of support from community, friends, and family. With that knowledge, Tommy desires to give back to his community in a greater way by serving on the board of Blind Beginnings since 2016.
HEATHER TOPLEY, member at large
Heather is an accomplished salesperson with 10 years experience in sales and marketing, representing a wide variety of products and services. With a high level of emotional intelligence, she specializes in building relationships.
Heather’s family have been active supporters of the blind community since 1997 when they became involved with the BC Guide Dog Association. They have provided several dogs with early education through ‘The Puppy Training Program’, as well as providing support to the organization through sponsorship of their ‘Puppy Naming’ gift program. They have also been actively involved in fund raising events with the CEO and Co-Founder, as well as the Director, Puppy Raising and Breeding and Co-Founder, husband and wife team, who also happen to be neighbours and friends.
Heather graduated with honours from the Sauder School of Business at UBC with a degree in Commerce, specializing in Marketing Co-op and International Business. She received a scholarship to study abroad at ESADE Business & Law School in Barcelona, Spain, where she spent six months focusing on her international business studies and practice of the Spanish language.
After graduation, Heather spent 2.5 years developing her skills in sales and relationship building with Danone yogurt. From there, she moved to London, England for four years, where she began her ten-year career in advertising agencies. As an Account Director, she became an expert in sales, relationships and marketing planning. She served to understand client business objectives, planning how to meet those demands, and generating sales for her companies as a result.
Heather first became interested in Blind Beginnings when her Uncle and mentor, introduced her to the organization. He spoke of Shawn’s resolve, power and influence, and the ground-breaking accomplishments of her work. Heather is passionate about equality, and Blind Beginnings’ ‘no limits’ philosophy aligns perfectly with her core values. She is eager to apply her passion and skills to the growth of Blind Beginnings.
MARIA ZELDIS, member at large
Maria graduated with a B.A. from UBC in 2006 and went on to complete her law degree at the University of Toronto in 2009. She specialized in commercial real estate at a national law firm, and currently acts as legal counsel for an international real estate company.
While at UBC, Maria was an active volunteer and fundraiser for the CNIB and Service for Sight. It was not until a decade later that Maria would have a personal experience with blindness.
Maria and her husband became involved with Blind Beginnings in 2014, when their eldest daughter became blind at just one year old. Since that time, the family has actively participated in the Pre-School and Junior Explorers programs with their blind daughter and her sighted little sister. The family has benefited immensely from the resources offered by Blind Beginnings, the network of other families they have met, and most of all from the positive outlook that Blind Beginnings has instilled in them about their blind daughter’s future potential.