Christ the King Deaf Church, West Chester is a small congregation that has a large impact on its community. Its Deaf Community Action Network – DeafCAN! – provides classes and support for more than 200 hearing-impaired persons across eight counties in Southeastern Pennsylvania.
“DeafCAN! gets the concept that Deaf people can do anything,” says Pastor Beth Lockard, who is also executive director of the non-profit.
Last year, powered by a $1,000 grant from the Forward Together in Faith Campaign, DeafCAN! started offering citizenship, drivers education, and sign language courses for Deaf and Deaf-blind immigrants and refugees.
Through the years, Pastor Beth Lockard noticed that people from other countries were joining English and sign language classes offered by DeafCAN!. The grant allowed the organization to “make an intentional effort to make contact with Deaf refugees and immigrants,” she said.
The grant provided start-up funds to pay teachers to offer courses at St. John’s in Northeast Philadelphia. “We used it up quickly,” Lockard said, “but it gave us a good start.” The classes served 23 refugees/immigrants from Mexico, Bhutan, Cambodia, Nepal, Philippines, Puerto Rico and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Because these immigrants are hearing impaired, sometimes visually impaired, and in a foreign culture, many service agencies have difficulty communicating with them. “You can imagine if you can’t hear and you can’t see, how isolated you would be,” she said.
In early October, DeafCAN! was called by the local refugee resettlement agency, Bethany Christian Services, to assist with a new family with three Deaf members, recently arrived from Syria.
“So we began working with them, which means that we’re going to have to learn some Arabic sign language,” Lockard said.
DeafCAN! started in 2010 when another Deaf services agency closed and people began asking Christ the King for help. With the encouragement of Calvary Lutheran Church, Christ the King’s host congregation, and the Synod, the agency was started to meet the growing, unmet needs of the region’s Deaf community. In 2015 DeafCAN! Served 219 people, including Deaf workers with developmental disabilities, Deaf inmates at Graterford State Prison, Deaf-blind individuals, victims of domestic violence and a homeless family. The organization provided sign language and interpreting services for more than 150 people and contracts with Chester and Delaware Counties to provide case management services for 53 people.
Other than the contracted case management services, DeafCAN!’s offerings are supported by donations from individuals and a number of partner congregations, including: Calvary, West Chester; St. Andrew’s, Audubon; Messiah, Downingtown; St. Peter’s, Hilltown; St. Andrew’s, Perkasie; and Christ United Methodist Church, Lansdale. — Article and video by Bob Fisher
Learn more about DeafCAN! at https://www.deafcanpa.org/about/