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May 11, 2003

Fun and fund raising

From: Fresno Bee, CA - May 11, 2003

Valley Deaf Festival reaps cash for a bigger Fresno center for the deaf and hard of hearing.
By Louis Galvan
The Fresno Bee

Cheryl Dodd laughs when she thinks about the number of times people acted surprised when they found out she can drive a car.

Dodd, you see, is deaf, not blind. And physically, there is nothing wrong with her that would keep her from driving a car or do anything else "hearing" people do.

"I don't consider myself disabled or handicapped," she said, using Joshua Shaewitz, a professional sign language interpreter, to help her get her message across.

"I don't like those words."

Dodd, 28, who was born deaf, is the current holder of the "Miss Deaf and Hard of Hearing Service Center" title, which she won last October and is scheduled to hold until 2005.

She represents the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Service Center Inc. at all of the organization's functions, which is why Dodd could be found Saturday at the organization's annual Valley Deaf Festival at the Fresno Fairground.

Dodd is a student at California State University, Fresno, where she will be getting her master's degree in deaf education Friday.

Her job is to be a role model, especially for children and teenagers who need to know that being deaf or hard-of-hearing does not mean giving up.

The festival, held in the Industrial Building from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., featured games; numerous speakers; Surround Sign, a group of deaf and hard-of-hearing entertainers; and Vikee Waltrip, who bills herself as the "Deaf Comedienne."

The theme this year was, "Butterflies: Spread Our Wings and Soar!" The butterfly is a Native American symbol for the deaf, said spokeswoman Denise Lanier.

Rosemary Diaz, the group's executive director, who was born hard of hearing, said the festival is one of the biggest fund-raisers for the group's new headquarters at North Fresno Street and East Barstow Avenue, currently a vacant church building. It is is expected to be ready late this month.

The new center will replace the present one at 5070 N. Sixth St. at East Shaw Avenue and will be double in size, Diaz said, using sign language interpreter April Davies to assist her.

The organization serves eight counties: Fresno, Tulare, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, Monterey and San Benito.

The region has an estimated deaf and hard-of-hearing population of 131,520.

In addition to the Fresno office, there are offices in Merced, Salinas and Visalia.

The group is one of eight agencies in the state that receive funds through the State Department of Social Services Deaf Access Program.

Other funding is provided from the Department of Rehabilitation, the Employment Development Department, the city and county of Fresno, the Harden Foundation, the Community Foundation of Monterey County, the Bertha & John Garabedian Charitable Foundation and private donors.

Saturday's event was sponsored by MCI Global Relay and Sprint Relay.

© 2003, The Fresno Bee