Calliandra Bowman-Tomlinson, a Utica High School senior who lives in Sterling Heights, spent hours of her time teaching a fellow church member Braille so that it could be included with art that was being put on the walls at New Life Presbyterian Church in Sterling Heights.

Calliandra Bowman-Tomlinson, a Utica High School senior who lives in Sterling Heights, spent hours of her time teaching a fellow church member Braille so that it could be included with art that was being put on the walls at New Life Presbyterian Church in Sterling Heights.

Photo by Sarah Purlee


Utica student helps teach, introduce local church to Braille

By: Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published April 15, 2019

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UTICA/STERLING HEIGHTS — A young Utica High School student helped a local Sterling Heights church earlier this year introduce Braille to art that was being installed on a wall in the church.

Calliandra Bowman-Tomlinson, a Utica High senior who lives in Shelby Township, spent hours teaching a fellow church member Braille so that it could be included with the art.

Bowman-Tomlinson attends New Life Presbyterian Church at 1300 19 Mile Road in Sterling Heights. She also is a member of the National Honor Society and is required to have at least 10 hours in which she tutors an individual.

“I recently updated our church hallways and fellowship hall with bold colors and words such as ‘love,’ ‘pray,’ ‘hope,’ ‘joy,’ ‘courage,’ ‘faith,’ etc. I thought it would be wonderful to include the Braille spellings of the words for Calli and her brother Acer, as well as anyone else that is visually challenged,” Marge Kunz, an elder of worship and communication at New Life Presbyterian Church, stated in an email.

“I decided to ask Calli to teach me Braille so that we could include the Braille words with the words that we have in the halls and the Fellowship Hall. Ten hours of Braille tutoring commenced, with the culmination of applying dots to the walls for anyone visually impaired,” Kunz said.

Bowman-Tomlinson and Kunz worked together to add Braille to the art.

“Calli introduced me to the Braille alphabet. This is a series of six dots. Calli explained that  each combination of dots, these six dots, is equal to a letter in the English alphabet. Calli then explained the Braille cell learning card to me. It is a card that is about 3 inches by 2 inches and has ‘cells’ that you can pop. Calli then introduced me to the Braille writer — which seems like a typewriter, but it has the Braille alphabet dots for literacy.”

Bowman-Tomlinson said it was cool that the church and Kunz would do such a thing to include those who can’t visually see the art.

“I found inspiration from her, and she said (she) found inspiration from me. And from the church’s aspect, that our church was willing to accommodate other people … I thought it was really cool that they would do this and it would be one of a kind,” said Bowman-Tomlinson.

Kunz painted the words and dots onto the wall. The Braille is located under or above the words.

“I may have learned about Braille as a second language, but I also learned about a new life ... or a new way of life. It was astonishing!” said Kunz.

Kunz said that the art and Braille have already received a good response.

“New Life Presbyterian Church also hosts a number of groups to use the building, such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Al Anon, Al Teens, Boy Scouts Troop 210, Anxiety Support Group, Creative Employment Opportunities, LaLache League, Lutz, Pulmonary Support, Venture Crew and Orchard Family Services. The addition (of) the Braille spelling to the walls where each word is has generated immense positive response — more so than the paint colors and the words!” Kunz said.

She said they have found it interesting, fun and enlightening.

“Ultimately, someone in each group would figure it out that it was Braille and they all would walk around feeling the dots,” she said.

Bowman-Tomlinson is involved in other aspects of the community.

She is an ambassador of the Children’s Miracle Network. She has participated in Utica High School’s cross country and track teams, swim team, and choirs. Bowman-Tomlinson is a youth elder at New Life Presbyterian Church and has participated in the church’s choir, praise band, food basket assemblies and deliveries, Macomb County Rotating Emergency Shelter Team and vacation Bible school. She also has volunteered and worked for different camps for the blind.

In 2014, she survived a brain bleed from an arteriovenous malformation.

“Calli is fearless and a remarkable example of what a determined woman is,” said Kunz.

Bowman-Tomlinson will be attending Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania in the fall, with the goal of earning a doctorate in physical therapy.

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