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April 13, 2005

A monthly rendezvous

From: Charleston Gazette, WV - Apr 13, 2005

• Coffee chat provides social outlet for the deaf

By Amy Robinson
For The Charleston Gazette

Once a month, people gather at Rendezvous Coffee House in Teays Valley for a night of coffee and chatting. What sets this monthly meeting apart is that its participants are deaf.

The event, called Deaf Coffee Chat, provides a place for people who are deaf and hard of hearing to socialize. Friends Shelia Evans and Diana Ramsey started it after discovering the lack of social opportunities for the deaf.

"Diana and I found there was no place for the deaf and hard of hearing to get together and communicate, so we decided to start one ourselves," Evans said. "The deaf need association. They're very limited in that they're cut off from people, so this is an opportunity for them to have the association they need."

The idea for the chat came about after Evans encountered one such event while visiting California.

"It is one of those things that's all over the U.S.," Evans said. "They usually hold it in a Starbucks. When I was in San Bernardino, I walked into a Starbucks and they were having one. It's just all ages. They come in, have coffee and they talk."

Ramsey, a substitute interpreter for Roane County schools who herself is hard of hearing, then went online to see what she could find out about the event.

"I found the Web site [] and saw there was nothing going on in West Virginia, so Shelia and I talked, and she talked to her sister who owns [Rendezvous Coffee House]. We decided to see if we could establish something here," she said.

They did, creating the first Deaf Coffee Chat in West Virginia. The event is held the first Friday of each month from 5 to 10 p.m. at Rendezvous. According to, it joins chats in 34 other states and Washington, D.C.

During the chat, members simply discuss whatever is on their minds. "It's a good time to get together, improve your [signing] skills, communicate, find out what's new in the deaf community and be supportive of that," Evans said.

However, the chat is not exclusively for the deaf and hard of hearing. Family members and students who wish to improve their sign language skills are also encouraged to attend.

The chat attracts a mix of people. "There are deaf people who have been deaf since birth, students, people who are hard of hearing who have to learn sign language now for when they're totally deaf and some family members — it's everybody," Evans said.

And the numbers for the chat are slowly increasing. In March, the group's fourth meeting, 14 people attended, including Jimmy Harrison with the West Virginia Association of the Deaf. In April, that number jumped to about 20, including a new family who recently moved here from Missouri.

"We just sat and chatted. We introduced each other and the new people, then we just talked about local topics and things of that nature," Ramsey said of the April meeting.

In fact, things are going so well that Ramsey is considering increasing the number of monthly meetings. (Evans is moving to Tennessee later this month, leaving the chat in Ramsey's hands.)

"[The idea] has come up to increase the meetings to two times a month, but we're not sure about that yet. We'll have to see how much support we'll get before we start that. I know a lot of the sign language students would like to have it more than once a month, though, because the more practice they get, the more comfortable they feel signing," she said.

It is unlikely that Ramsey will work to expand the chat to other areas of the state. However, she is willing to work with others who wish to do so. "We have been talking to people in other areas and showing them the Web site. We do want to help others get one set up in their area," she said.

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