Graffiti in Sign Language / Ze’ev Barkan

March 26, 2016; Sarasota Herald-Tribune

When the Community Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Sarasota, Florida, closes at the end of April, its end will be a far cry from the sudden shutterings we have documented over the coming year. For instance, the board chair, Patrick Jaehne, is making himself available to inform the community fully, letting them know that their traditional revenue sources had dried up.

“We couldn’t really charge for our services because they’re functions that need to be done in the community for free,” Patrick Jaehne said. “We’ve also been dependent on grants, but those have dried up. It wasn’t sustainable for us to keep going.”

Howard A. Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf, says the center is not alone in its experience. “More and more, state and local governments are cutting funding for social services, including to centers that provide valuable services to deaf and hard of hearing people who need such services,” Rosenblum said.

Judith Wilcox, executive director of the center, says that technological advances have altered the need for particular services. Additionally, the number of people seeking help from the center has been in decline as other agencies are also supporting those with impaired hearing.

As it prepares to close, the nonprofit will transfer its assets to the Gulf Coast Community Foundation in Venice, out of which a special hearing-related grant program will be run. Grants from the fund will support groups in Sarasota or Manatee Counties that run programs like those that the center will be ending, with the center’s current board members advising the grants process. All clients will get referrals to nonprofits that agree to serve them.

What the news report does not say is that the leadership of the center has acted as a model for how to handle a closing. Lee Bruder’s “Nonprofit Dissolution: What to Do When Closing the Doors,” covers the ideal steps toward closing an organization responsibly, revealing the importance of good planning and advice as well as emotional maturity. In this case, T’s crossed and I’s dotted, Wilcox and Jaehne are still sad to call it quits, but at least they can count themselves proud for a highly responsible handling of what is undoubtedly a very sad moment.—Ruth McCambridge