Helping Works

Inmate Braille experts save Idaho money, give something back

Inmates at work transcribing Braille. The program teaches skills for inmates, while saving the state money and making educational materials and more available to Idahoans who are blind or visually impaired.
Inmates at work transcribing Braille. The program teaches skills for inmates, while saving the state money and making educational materials and more available to Idahoans who are blind or visually impaired. Idaho Department of Correction

Inmates at Idaho’s prison facilities south of Boise have a long tradition of giving back to the community, channeling their time behind bars into good works that help people and animals.

Programs, each of which the Idaho Statesman has featured in the past, include the annual farm project that has produced thousands of pounds of produce for the Idaho Foodbank, the Inmate Dog Alliance Project of Idaho, a partnership with the Idaho Humane Society that works with shelter dogs to make them more adoptable, and an in-house knitting and crochet project that provides blankets, baby items and more for local hospitals as well as sweaters for shelter dogs. Here’s another.

The Braille Program at the Idaho State Correctional Center is one of just 35 such programs in the U.S. Inmates learn Braille, then transcribe textbooks, literature, sheet music, even maps and math and science graphics for use by students at Idaho Educational Services for the Deaf and the Blind, the Boise School District and other projects for the Idaho Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. The transcription program has operated since 2011. Currently, 17 inmates are working as certified Braille transcribers. Four more inmates are working toward certification.

Of the 49 inmates who have become certified since 2011, only two have returned to prison.

“This is an example of a prison program that actually saves taxpayers money,” said Idaho Department of Correction director Kevin Kempf. “By transcribing things like textbooks, standardized tests and voting material, these inmates have saved the State of Idaho about $2.7 million since the program started.”

But the biggest value of transcription may be increasing access to material for Idahoans who might not be able to use and enjoy it otherwise.

“It’s about accessibility,” said Brian Darcy, administrator for the Idaho Educational Services for the Deaf and Blind.

The agency has its own Braille transcription production center to produce educational material for students in public schools and the agency’s own programs.

“But we can’t keep up. We use the Idaho State Correctional Center often,” he said, adding that the prison program has produced around 55,000 pages of transcribed Braille for IESDB.

Blind and visually impaired students at the university level rely on the Nemeth Code, a Braille code for mathematics and science notation that allows students to study complex math, like calculus and other subjects. There are very few Braille transcribers who know Nemeth Code, said Darcy. One is in the prison program.

“People think that with technology the use of print for the blind or visually impaired is gone. But it’s not, you still have to have those skills,” said Darcy.

In addition, transcribers have learned to repair manual Braillewriters. Without this local service, people who use the writers would have to ship them out of state for repairs, said Darcy.

Marshall Bautista, an instructor who oversees the transcription program, said that while a few inmates may work on Braille just to pass the time, they’re in the minority.

“Probably most see it as a way to give back to the community. There is a passion and an investment put into the work that they do,” said Bautista.

Checking in: 21 homeless veterans, vouchers in-hand, still no homes

The Statesman has kept an eye on the local homeless veteran situation, including the number of veterans who have housing vouchers thanks to Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Developments’ supplemental housing program for homeless veterans known as HUD-VASH, but who are still looking for homes. In addition to high rents in the Treasure Valley, landlords are often hesitant to rent to veterans whose pasts can include substance abuse, poor credit, criminal convictions or other issues.

The local VA office that serves homeless veterans recently received another 15 vouchers for Boise City/Ada County and the Twin Falls area to add to the more than 200 vouchers now held by veterans. Still, 21 local veterans with vouchers are homeless, said Anna Johnson-Whitehead, health care for homeless veterans program manager at the Boise Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

If you have space to rent to a homeless veteran or would like more information, call the VA at 208-422-1039.

The voucher program offers certain attractions for landlords willing to participate, including a guaranteed rent and the presence of case workers who make sure veterans are being good tenants.

Read about local veterans and their struggles despite HUD-VASH at

North End Neighborhood celebrates its 40th anniversary; seeks public input

Boise’s North End, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, is known for its community activism and involvement. It’s home to multiple local businesses, the annual Hyde Park Street Fair, some of Boise’s most beloved iconic buildings, neighborhood schools and miles of shady streets that are good for walking and biking. The North End Neighborhood Association has its very roots in activism. Neighbors founded it 40 years ago because they were concerned about the welfare of the neighborhood at a time when Foothills development was picking up, increasing traffic and affecting the character of the neighborhood. The association, known as NENA, became the city’s first incorporated neighborhood association.

The association will celebrate its 40th birthday with some kind of public neighborhood event, possibly a block party, later this year. In the meantime, association members are working on a new project to collect any and all documents, news clippings, vintage issues of the “North End News” newsletter, photographs, handouts and more that pertain to NENA and the Hyde Park Street Fair (which is already 37 years old itself and closely associated with the founding of the neighborhood group). Information and documents about traffic flows or zoning in the area are also welcome.

Members have made arrangements with the Boise State University Special Collection and Archives to hold the collection and make it available to researchers and historians.

“We wanted to get our historical documents all in one place,” said Mark Baltes, a NENA board member. “The university was the obvious choice, and they were anxious and receptive to the idea.”

One benefit of keeping the collection at Boise State is that it will be available to researchers and historians, even as librarians are archiving it.

“NENA is a living, breathing organization that wants to save history while being able to access it,” said Baltes. Many of the issues that were relevant in the 1970s — growth and quality of life, zoning and traffic —are as relevant in 2016, he added.

NENA members have collected several items, including newsletters dating back to the 1980s. They’re hoping their fellow neighbors may have other items stashed away that they’d like to donate to the collection. If you can help, contact Baltes at 208-794-0369 or

Volunteers needed: Boise Front 4J Butterfly Count

This year, volunteers will gather at the Albertsons parking lot at 16th and State Streets at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, July 10. From there, after imbibing free cinnamon rolls and orange juice, they will carpool to various sites outside of the city, including Military Reserve and Bogus Basin, counting butterflies all the while. It’s a long day, ending at around 6 p.m., but organizers say volunteers typically catalog 40 to 45 butterfly species during the day, or nearly one third of the species found in Idaho. Volunteers should be prepared for a day of hiking with sunscreen, lunch, etc., as well as a $4 registration fee, $3 of which will go to the North American Butterfly Association, which compiles the results of the nationwide survey.

A butterfly identification workshop will take place the day before the count from 11:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 9, at Boone Hall at the College of Idaho in Caldwell. There is no charge for the workshop. You don’t have to come to the ID workshop to attend the count, and you don’t have to plan to attend the count to attend the workshop. The public is welcome at either or both.

RSVP and information: Paul Castrovillo at 208-332-8627 or

The latest: FDR was here

Here’s the latest on the efforts of neighbors in the North and East Ends of Boise to commemorate the 80th anniversary of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s sole visit to Boise in 1937.

David Klinger and Andy Brunelle, residents of those neighborhoods, have been gathering recollections and photos from local folks who were there to see the president, or whose families were, or who have stories from the big day. The response has been good, said Klinger. Eleven Statesman readers have offered up stories and/or research suggestions, as well as personal photographs.

In related news, the city of Boise will hire a part-time researcher to compile information about the Roosevelt visit. Using that research and the local stories they’ve collected, Klinger and Brunelle will start designing an exhibit including texts and photos. The end goal is to place permanent historical interpretive markers in some of the neighborhoods Roosevelt visited in his motorcade. The project received a $15,000 neighborhood reinvestment “placemaking” grant for support. In addition to coverage in the Idaho Statesman, Boise State Public Radio and the North End Neighborhood Association newsletter have also done stories about the project.

Have memories to share? Email David Klinger at Read the Statesman’s feature about the project online at

FUNDSY raises $240,000 for Camp Rainbow Gold

FUNDSY (an acronym for “funds serving the Y), has been supporting capital projects since the 1960s when the FUNDSY charity auction raised money for a new and improved YMCA building in Downtown Boise. Every two years, the still-thriving FUNDSY organization chooses a beneficiary to receive the proceeds from its auctions. This year, Camp Rainbow Gold, the summer camp for children with cancer, got the nod. FUNDSY recently presented the camp with a check for $240,000 raised at its 50th anniversary gala in May and its golf tournament last September.

Camp Rainbow Gold Executive Director Elizabeth Lizberg said the FUNDSY award paid for a state-of-the-art pediatric mobile medical clinic for the camp, meaning more children, particularly those who are medically fragile, can participate. Camp Rainbow Gold provides a range of free programs to enhance spiritual, mental and physical health. The organization offers five camps, year-round teen support groups, and additional family events. In addition, Camp Rainbow Gold started a college scholarship program seven years ago that has awarded more than half a million dollars to campers seeking further education.