Deaf Community Center

Maryland Deaf Community Center President Linda Stoltz, right, and Vice President Lori Bonheyo in the conference room of the group’s new home, which will open to the public on Oct. 16.

Though Linda Stoltz is from New York, she has called Frederick home for nearly 40 years. It’s where her kids grew up and where they are now raising her four grandchildren, who attend the city’s Maryland School for the Deaf.

When her father got older, he moved to the area, too. But he was confused — in New York, there had been so many clubs and social gatherings for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing people. He didn’t understand why the same wasn’t true for Frederick.

“I felt bad because I was focused on my work and my family, and my father felt really alone,” Stoltz signed as an interpreter translated. “That actually really bothered me as I’ve gotten older. I don’t want to be like him and be all alone.”

And with such a huge Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing population in Frederick County and Maryland, Stoltz said she didn’t think she should have to be. The community needed somewhere it could come together.

In just a couple of weeks, it will finally have such a space. After roughly two years of planning, the Maryland Deaf Community Center — a nonprofit in Frederick — will officially open its new community center to the public on Oct. 16. It’s the first of its kind not only in the county, but the entire state, Stoltz, the center’s president, said.

“I’m hoping that my father is proud of me,” she said, smiling.

Located in the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association building on Aviation Way, the Maryland Deaf Community Center encompasses 2,500 square feet and includes office space for club meetings, a live streaming-equipped auditorium, a conference room and a kitchen, among other amenities. Fire alarms with flashing lights are installed on the center’s ceiling and the building features an elevator and a wheelchair ramp.

On a recent morning, bright sunlight streamed through the large windows that frame the center. Written in pink and blue marker on the glass wall of one office, accompanied with a big smiley face, was a note: “This could be your SPACE.”

Stoltz and MDCC’s vice president, Lori Bonheyo, have high hopes for what the community center will mean for Maryland’s Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing population.

Deaf organizations — about 26 in Frederick County, Stoltz said — will finally have a place to meet that isn’t the homes of their members, local fire stations or Wegmans. Frederick’s American Deaf Cornhole club will be able to host tournaments in the field outside, Stoltz said, and the local South Asian Deaf organization will be able to welcome people to the center from all around the state for regular meetings.

The center will be a place where Deaf organizations and businesses will be able to host workshops on topics like financial and retirement planning, leadership training and training for what to do during mass shootings and other emergencies. Organizations will also be able to host classes at the center on activities and subjects like yoga, fitness, nutrition and first-aid. And MDCC will use the space to teach American Sign Language and host events like art exhibitions, cultural and diversity celebrations, deaf festivals, mobile vaccination clinics and more.

The community center won’t just be a place for social activities, Stoltz and Bonheyo said. Often, Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing people will call the Maryland School for the Deaf if they need help finding resources, Stoltz said, but providing that sort of guidance isn’t the school’s mission. Instead, Bonheyo and Stoltz hope the community center will become a place where Deaf, Blind and Hard-of-Hearing people — and the parents of Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing children — can stop by, ask questions and get the information they need.

The center will be useful for making referrals for people experiencing domestic violence, according to Stoltz and Bonheyo — something that has spiked during the pandemic. They also want to help caregivers and nursing home staff members learn ASL and to teach first responders some basic signs. And Sorenson Communications is providing the center with a video phone — a device that initiates a three-way conversation between an ASL interpreter, a deaf and signing person and a hearing person.

The center will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. from Tuesdays through Fridays and on weekends and evenings as needed, Stoltz said. Beyond providing a space for Deaf organizations and businesses, Stoltz said the center will be a place where Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing people will be able to come together and socialize.

“The Deaf community really feels like this is their home,” Stoltz said. “They want to come here and just socialize and bond with other deaf individuals in the county. So that’s what we’re currently working on.”

Down the road, Bonheyo and Stoltz said they hope the city of Frederick, Frederick County and the state will provide funding to MDCC through grants. Recently, they met with the county’s chamber of commerce, which shared several grants they could try applying for.

In the meantime, though, Bonheyo stressed that the community center needs donors and sponsors. Currently, MDCC is supported entirely by volunteers. Though Bonheyo and Stoltz are both retired, five of the organization’s nine board members are still working full-time jobs. The nonprofit needs paid positions, Bonheyo said — staff members like an office manager, an executive director and a grant writer. The center also needs equipment like computers, laptops, TVs and dry erase boards, she added.

MDCC is currently partnering with Corps Access Foundation, an organization that helps deaf people who are aspiring or current business owners. All of the furniture now in the center were donations from the foundation, which has an office in the community center. The nonprofit is very grateful for the foundation’s support, Stoltz said.

There is already so much excitement for the center’s opening among the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing community, Stoltz and Bonheyo said. The county’s Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing senior organization has already booked the center for its bimonthly meetings and social activities. And when the nonprofit set up a booth at Frederick’s “In The Streets” festival earlier this month, its members experienced an avalanche of support.

Two weeks ago, a social worker from the Maryland School for the Deaf contacted the center, asking if the hearing parents of deaf children could come to the center to ask questions. The answer, Bonheyo said, was “Yes, absolutely!” Same goes for adults who have just recently lost their hearing, Stoltz said.

“We want them to know that the deaf community center supports them, and this is here for them,” she said. “This is their home.”

Follow Angela Roberts on Twitter: @24_angier

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