Enhanced transcript of board members Ella Mae Lentz and Judy Gough’s story on starting the Deafhood Foundation.

JUDY: Do you remember how the Deafhood Foundation started? It was quite a ways back.

ELLA: Yes, it started when we began our consciousness raising through the local Deaf think tank where we discussed various Deaf issues.

JUDY: We met regularly and we did some discussion on economics concerning Deaf people and started to realize the connections the Alexander G. Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing had with foundations and corporations that made huge profits off Deaf bodies.

ELLA: We found out about GuideStar and started researching other foundations that is connected to hearing loss or deafness and learned how much money they have raised. We also looked at the profits cochlear implant corporations have been making as well as the auditory-verbal therapy (AVT) industry and connections with AG Bell Association. It was quite an eye-opener and distressing to see the amounts of money in those organizations, especially their power and influence on Deaf children’s families, education and lives. 

Oh, we also took classes.

JUDY: Right, at the California School for the Deaf in Fremont. We met every Wednesday night for two semesters, had a lot of heated and healthy discussions.

ELLA: Provided by Ohlone College.

JUDY: Yes, through Ohlone College.

ELLA: The classes were Advanced Deafhood courses.

JUDY: Correct, and the discussions were extremely beneficial.  Do you remember Clark Brooke’s presentation?

ELLA: Yes, I do. He was talking about stocks of one cochlear implant corporation. Its profits were good that the stocks are at mid-cap level, the same level of several well-known, huge corporations. That corporation was truly huge business, but its customer base (Deaf people) is very small compared to the other companies in the same mid-cap stocks level. That was quite surprising and shocking to us.

And the corporation does not give back to the Deaf community to support enrichment of ASL in our lives, respect for Deaf culture, or to spread awareness to stop audism. It does not justify for it to profit that much off our ears only and not benefit us at all.

That awareness instilled in us a passion to do something to counter that, to start focusing on shifting economics concerning Deaf people.

JUDY: And your storytelling presentation about “The Museum” helped us realize how much our natural talents, gifts, power, and history have been neglected. You mentioned the profound message George Veditz shared in his film “The Preservation of Sign Language.” The industry concerning Deaf people have been focusing on curing deafness, on hearing technology, on the Oralism practice and exclusivity. Access to ASL and Deaf culture has been seriously dwindling for our Deaf babies. That caused us to feel alarmed. We could hardly find any foundations that have missions that does not have medical, pathological or social welfare dimension on Deaf people.

ELLA: Right, we did research and at that time, it appeared to us that there was ZERO foundations with the Deafhood dimension, the positive view of Deaf people, their history, their gifts, their possibilities. There were some foundations that were “Deaf or ASL friendly” but they appeared to have a restricted focus such as a particular School for the Deaf, or supporting a curriculum that uses the bilingual approach with ASL and English.

After talking with a Deaf financial expert, Danny Lacey, who had experience in setting up the TSD Foundation (with main purpose of meeting special needs of the Texas School for the Deaf), we realized it was totally possible to set up a new Foundation focusing on the Deafhood dimension.

We started recruiting potential founding board members, mostly from northern California and a few from other areas of the US. They were people who had studied Deafhood for a while and/or had experience with investments and finances and having positive views of Deaf people and ASL.

Finally, we had a gathering, the first one was where?

JUDY: Right, we met at the Asilomar Conference Center and had a wonderful brainstorm for three days. It was a huge boost, empowering, and enlightening. Exciting.

ELLA: We worked on what the Foundation’s vision would be and what we would be doing with the Foundation.

JUDY: Yes. And we met again six months later at another retreat at Costanoa.

ELLA: There, we narrowed down from the vision and mission to possible action plans. Oh by the way, our business, ASL Presents was deeply honored and thrilled to sponsor these retreats.

We met at a third retreat.

JUDY: Yes, at the Newark Ohlone Center, a beautiful building, all green and environment friendly!

ELLA: And highly technical. Very modern. It was a wonderful place to work.

JUDY: Ohlone was generous to let us use that facility and we worked hard to narrow down the action plans to specific ones.

ELLA: And we started by applying for the 501(c)3 non-profit tax exempt status.

JUDY: Right.

ELLA: We voted to hire someone to research and prepare the application and other official documents for the Foundation. That was early 2009 and near the end of 2009, we got the official non-profit tax exempt status from the federal government! With that, we now can formally request donations, raise funds and apply for grants to give to others.

JUDY: We can now encourage people to give to the Foundation and for what purposes?

ELLA: This website has a link “What We Do” explaining the four goals or areas of focus: consulting, outreach, networking and grants. Grants are the critical part of the Foundation, to give funds to organizations to build up the Deafhood dimension in various areas.

JUDY: Wow!

ELLA: Exciting!

JUDY: Yes!

ELLA: 2010 is going to be a huge year for the Deafhood Foundation!