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July 21, 2004

Founder of deaf center wins acclaim for selfless concern

From: Randolph Reporter, NJ - Jul 21, 2004

RANDOLPH TWP – Sheila Shuford is a woman who not only learned to deal with being profoundly deaf, but also reached out to help others living with the same problem.

Shuford, a township resident for the past 23 years, received the "Russ Berrie Award for Making a Difference" at a ceremony on Thursday, May 27, at Ramapo College of New Jersey.

The award recognized Shuford's efforts as founder and director of the Deaf Contact Center of Morris-Passaic, formerly based in Succasunna. The center closed after the state took over the services.

The all-volunteer, non-profit agency relayed phone calls between hearing impaired and hearing people, and provided services such as information and referral, reassurance, and phone friends.

Shuford also received a $2,500 prize and a Russ Teddy Bear, made by the company founded by Russell Berrie for whom the award was named.

"I didn't know I had been nominated for the award," Shuford said. "When something came in the mail I just threw it away thinking they were asking for money, not giving it."

Shuford's determination and desire to help others deal with their deafness has not gone unrecognized. Her pastor, the Rev. Cathy L. Deats, of St. James Episcopal Church in Hackettstown, submitted her name to the Russ Berrie Awards committee.

"Her devotion is not just to the population of deaf persons but to hearing persons as well," Deats said. "Her gift and her vocation are teaching us about communication and eliminating barriers between us."

Center Opens

The Deaf Center first opened in 1981 at St. Dunston's Episcopal Church in Succasunna and continued to serve the Morris County area until 1993 when the state established a statewide telephone system for the deaf.

The side effects of a medication caused Shuford's world to begin growing silent when she was only 14. The steady progression led to further loss of hearing and Shuford wore a hearing aid through high school. She had lost all her hearing by the time she was 30.

"When a person loses their hearing it feels like they are losing everything," said Shuford. "You have to make a very big adjustment. It isn't easy."

Deats said she first met Shuford about 20 years ago when Shuford was seeking funds to open the deaf center. A trained social worker, Deats had encountered several deaf children and decided to be certified as an interpreter for the deaf. Shuford was one of Deats' first clients.

"Sheila is not a degreed professional," said Deats. "She is what we call a "natural star," with the born ability to organize things and communicate."

Shuford has exhibited her talents for nearly 30 years by serving on numerous advisory committees, boards, and councils that provide services to people living with handicaps. In Morris County, she has served on the Morris County Youth Services Advisory Committee, Morris County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Advisory Committee, Morris County Advisory Committee on Disabilities, Morris County Park Commission PARC 504 Committee, and the Morris County Advisory Committee on Aging, Disabled, and Veterans.

Statewide, Shuford has also served on the state Division of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community Service Committee, New Jersey Protection and Advocacy Board, the State Independent Living Council, Divisioin of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Speakers Bureau, and was a presenter for the Department of Human Services Division of Developmental Disabilities.

She graduated from St. Lucie County High School in Fort Pierce, Fla., and the Tobe-Coburn School of Fashion in New York City. Shuford then attended the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, N. C. where she took classes in deaf education. From 1976-79, she was a volunteer teacher's aide in Charlotte and Greensboro, N. C.

Relocating to New Jersey; Shuford obtained her conversational sign language certificate from County College of Morris in 1981.

She lives on Sorman Terrace with her husband, Sydney. They have one son, Andrew, a graduate of Randolph High School who now lives in Los Angeles, Calif.

Now retired and at an age she declines to disclose, Shuford is embarking on another career that is also geared toward helping deaf people within the Episcopalian ministry.

"I did not know anyone who was deaf when I lost my hearing," said Shuford. "But I had a community that helped me. All I've wanted was to give back and help others."

Shuford has completed her training as a deacon in the Episcopal Church and intends to continue pursuing her deaf ministry, hoping to become ordained within the coming year.

"Sheila and I helped to found the deaf ministry in the Episcopal Diocese of Newark," said Deats, who is now pastor at St. James Episcopal Church in Hackettstown.

Shuford then began a Bible Club for deaf children at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Mountain Lakes that she directed for 10 years. The program taught Bible stories and gave religion instruction to children who are deaf and hard of hearing.

Deats said that when Shuforddecided to train as a deacon, the diocese placed Shuford at St. James Church because of her training as an interpreter.

"She is a wonderful woman, and we are lucky to have her. We recently obtained a grant from the Diocese that will allow her to continue working as a deacon here at St. James," Deats said.

©Recorder Newspapers 2004