- Massachusetts Commission for the Blind
Alan White enjoys interacting in person with his colleagues at Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB). For almost 39 years, he’s supervised staff and led teams to provide service to individuals who are blind and visually impaired across the Commonwealth. When COVID-19 presented challenges to providing in-person service, Alan motivated his colleagues in Region 4 of Boston to rise to the challenge of remote work. He organized virtual meetings for the team to come together despite the distance to ensure that service never stopped.
“I’ll always be a teacher,” said Alan. “Once a teacher, you’re just always teaching no matter what.”
Alan’s team agrees. That’s why they’ve learned to listen to his advice over the years, especially during the past few weeks when Alan announced his upcoming retirement from MCB.
“Retirement will take a while to sink in,” explained Alan. “Work becomes your life, and I know the transition will be difficult initially because I don’t do leisure very well.”
Despite being “happiest when I’m the busiest and working,” Alan said that he is glad to leave MCB in the hands of a good regional team.
“I've only worked at MCB for six months, and it has been remote the entire time, but during that time, Alan has not only been able to train me, but made me feel part of the team and understand the intricacies of the work,” said Molly O’Brien, Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) and Children’s Services Supervisor in Region 4. “Above all, Alan has demonstrated and communicated MCB's commitment to our clients through his leadership. I also have observed the amount of respect that staff have for Alan's leadership which is very impressive to see.”
In the early 80s, Alan received his master’s degree in education from Boston College, completing a practicum at MCB in 1981 followed by a three-month internship in Detroit. After that, Alan was offered a full-time position with MCB as a Rehabilitation Teacher in the Fall River office, working with individuals in towns and cities such as Abington, Brockton, and Attleboro.
“I still remember the name of the first person I went to see in their home on behalf of MCB,” said Alan. “It’s one of those things that sticks with you because it set the course for my entire career.”
Alan taught Rehabilitation Teaching to graduate students at UMass Boston in the 90s, and several of his students are now employed at MCB.
“Alan’s attitude has been the highest motivator with a strong sense of humor through it all,” said Donna Nicolai, Rehabilitation Teacher in Region 6. “We will miss him so.”
Many of the consumers that Alan also served over the years have achieved success in their careers and are also employed by MCB with a desire to give back to the blindness community, like Alan.
“Deputy Commissioner John Oliveira was a consumer, and I helped him with Assistive Technology (AT) when he was in high school,” remembered Alan. “I could tell that he was going places.”
“Alan inspired me with his dedication to MCB and our mission,” said Deputy Commissioner Oliveira who has worked with Alan for more than 30 years, supervised Alan since 2011, and credits himself for introducing Alan to a combination of peanut butter and fried dough. “He is an extremely organized individual and a go-to person at MCB when looking for information regarding past events…his knowledge, experience and support have been recognized by current and former staff. He is a strong advocate and supporter of Region 4 consumers.”
Alan was promoted several times at MCB holding positions such as VR Supervisor and currently Regional Director for Region 4, a position he has held since 2008.
“People move on and up in the agency, and it’s super rewarding,” said Alan. “Internships with MCB are so important.”
Alan has been married to his wife, Kathi, for more than 30 years. They met in high school in Medford where Alan was one of 2 students out of 4,000 with a visual impairment. Their first date included a game of mini-golf (Kathi won) and Chinese food.
Kathi became a Rehabilitation Teacher and found employment at MCB also. Today, she is still employed at MCB as Social Rehabilitation and Rehabilitation Teaching Supervisor in Region 6, and she knows firsthand just how much Alan’s team relies on him as a resource and leader.
“If anybody has a question, they call him,” said Kathi. “He always listens and always tries to hear the other person’s point of view. He leads by example and doesn’t have to delegate because he just leads his team to perform that way. He is not afraid to get his hands dirty and work. He loves what he does.”
One of Alan’s favorite memories includes an in-person visit with a consumer in their home where he hoped to teach independent living skills. Instead, the consumer said, “Why would I want to learn these things? I don’t want to mop the floors and clean the bathrooms! I thought you were a homemaker.”
Alan explained, “There are those who want to succeed and be independent, and those who don’t. Sometimes you have to start very small, but it’s nice to leave someone with something that might improve their quality of life, even if it’s a 20/20 pen or just advice.”
Alan’s best advice as he wraps up his final weeks at MCB is simple, yet wise.
“I try to lead by the golden rule of treat others the way that you want to be treated, and I give people my time whether it’s just to listen or be there as a resource.”
Thank you for sharing your time and talents with all of us at MCB, Alan! You have made a difference for the better in our agency and in the lives of the people we serve.