Deafnet celebrates expansion

June 11, 2011|By MAEGAN CLEARWOOD |
  • Allyson Drake, left, Yuri Randall and Reuben Drake chat in sign language Friday at a Deafnet open house.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

More than a dozen Deafnet volunteers, staff members and participants snipped the yellow ribbon to their expanded building on Friday.

The three-story expansion will provide extra room for offices, meetings, training and more.

Deafnet Director Harold Bible said the organization began in 1987. He had been providing interpretive services along with a full-time job, but needed more people to better serve the community.

"This is a big difference from when it first started," he said. "Deaf people do the same things we do, they just need communication and special equipment. We try to help people out."

Deafnet's first home was in a tiny office in downtown Hagerstown. The 100-square-foot office provided free 24-7 telecommunication relay services.

With the addition, the Deafnet building now has 8,000 square feet, a full- and part-time staff, a board of directors and many volunteers.

Bible said that there are other interpreting agencies in the area, but Deafnet provides other services. Along with interpreting services for four states, the organization has American Sign Language classes, activities, access to auxiliary equipment and more.

Most importantly, he said, Deafnet provides a sense of community for the deaf population.

According to Bible, there are between 100 and 150 deaf people in Hagerstown, and Deafnet helps between 1,000 and 1,500 people.

"There are lots of people who need it," board President Kim Monhollen said. "You always have bugs that come up, but the construction was all-in-all good. The outcome is very nice, more roomy."

On the ground floor is an expanded kitchen, a computer and VideoPhone room, offices and a meeting room. The new basement will be a game and computer room, and the upstairs has a new boardroom and staff offices.

Bible said funding for the expansion came from donations, fundraisers and state bonds.

Former Maryland state senator Donald F. Munson and Del. John P. Donoghue, who helped the agency get funding for construction, were at the open house. Both have been involved with Deafnet from its beginning.

"Harold Bible is an incredibly inspirational leader," Munson said. "He's been so persistent over the years. He never gave up in the face of adversity."

Julianna Albowicz, representing U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, gave Bible a certificate in honor of the expansion and his years of service.

Architect Mike Gehr also was in attendance.

Bible's granddaughter, Madison Bible, sang "America the Beautiful" in honor of the occasion, and Bible's son and Deafnet Assistant Director Matt Bible gave tours of the building.

Although Deafnet has come a long way, Bible hopes the organization can start providing even more services. He said there are plans to help deaf people apply and find jobs.

"It's hard now for deaf, not to mention hearing people, to find jobs in this economy," he said. "It may be way down the road until it comes to fruition, but it will happen."

The Herald-Mail Articles