Twenty-two different deaf organizations in Frederick County are banding together to create a Maryland Deaf Community Center, which would be a central location for deaf services as well as a community meeting place.
Linda Stoltz, president of the MDCC, said there are plenty of deaf organizations in Maryland, many of which are in Frederick, but none of them have a physical office or center.
“We felt like we needed to have a facility,” she said this week through a sign language interpreter.
About 40 members of the deaf community gathered at C. Burr Artz Public Library on Monday night to discuss the possibility of a center.
Frederick has a large deaf population as it is home to the Maryland School for the Deaf, and is close to Gallaudet University. Frederick Community College estimates Frederick is home to about 3,000 deaf people. Stoltz said that the deaf population might actually be higher, since about 20 percent of Americans are deaf or hard of hearing in at least one ear, according to a Johns Hopkins study from 2016.
The MDCC estimates the deaf and hard-of-hearing community of Frederick County to be closer to 50,000.
Marsha Flowers, community liaison for MDCC, said Frederick is generally a deaf-friendly city, and there is a good chance of somebody knowing American Sign Language (ASL) wherever she goes. However, the fact that Frederick does not have a deaf center, when cities such as Las Vegas and Sacramento, California, do, is troubling.
When Lori Bonheyo visited her daughter in Nevada, she was astounded by all the deaf services available to the community. She was optimistic after finding out that Maryland allows nonprofit organizations to access both private money and grant money, while the Nevada centers were funded on grant money alone. Those centers still had many different services and full-time employees.
Flowers said deaf seniors could especially benefit from a community center. After they retire, seniors are often likely to be isolated, and even more so if they are deaf and do not know where to meet other deaf people. After the group initially proposed the idea to Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner at a public budget meeting in December, a woman in attendance told Flowers that her aunt is deaf and retired, and would benefit greatly from a community center.
Flowers urged the attendees of this week’s meeting to consider what they want in a deaf community center. She listed senior services, interpreting services, and job and internship placement services as just a few.
Attendees said that while the Frederick Senior Center offers meeting space, it often doesn’t have enough availability for consistent meetings. The group has been meeting there on the last Friday of every month, but has not been able to secure much space beyond that.
The group understands that they will probably have to move into a vacant building rather than constructing something entirely new. Stoltz said that she has located about 80 vacant properties in Frederick.
Gardner said she does not see using county-owned property as much of a possibility, and could not yet comment about how much county money could be used for a project like the MDCC. However, she will have county staff meet with members of the group next week, she said.
She also acknowledged that if any county resources were to be used, they would be competing in the budget with other public works projects such as schools and roads.
“I do understand the need for a location for them to meet and have a variety of support services for people in the deaf community,” Gardner said in an interview this week.
There are still other steps to becoming a more deaf-friendly city, Flowers said. One would be traffic lights that include a flashing light for when an emergency vehicle is coming by with its siren on. Those lights are used in Rochester, New York, a city where about 90,000 deaf people live.
The group has already begun obtaining the documents needed to become a 501©(3) nonprofit at the state and federal levels.
Flowers is sure that the next meeting, which will be at 6:30 p.m. March 2, in the same location, will be even bigger.