Behind the scenes
While traveling with the Semester at Sea program (thanks to two scholarships from BYU and UofV), I was able to meet Deaf in 12 countries. Time and time again, my new Deaf friends expressed their angst at wanting to go to college but being unable to (either because of societal biases or lack of financial means). Each of these encounters led up to a moment on a plane flight from Tibet. After witnessing the terrible oppression of the Tibetan people, I felt with my whole soul that I needed to do something with this once-in-a-lifetime experience I had been given.
STEP OF FAITH
For the entire three hour flight from Tibet to Chengdu, I wrote down ideas. They flowed to my mind steadily and I knew they were God-given. I decided that although I knew nothing about starting a nonprofit organization or building a website or applying for 501(c)3 status or putting on fundraising events, I would figure out a way to launch The Deaf Dream.
As you can glean from the old video below, The Deaf Dream started out as a sort of "Entertainment 720" kind of organization. (Any Parks and Rec fans?) I wanted to fix EVERY problem I had seen in my travels. This meant that the organization had no focus and had no clear end goal.
I thought change would only happen if we had significant funding. So I competed in the San Diego University Social Innovation Challenge and Brigham Young University's Hunger Banquet, met with local non-profit founders, put on small fundraising events, found a few partners and set up a governing board, and learned how to build a website.
For almost 3 years, nothing seemed to work. We weren't getting adequate funding for a Gallaudet education, the paperwork for setting up a NPO was overwhelming, and I found that my volunteers (though good-hearted and well-intentioned!) were not as committed to the cause as I was. The ONLY reason I didn't quit was because I had promised Khiem (whom I met in Vietnam on Semester at Sea and who later became our first Deaf Dreamer) that I would help him get his education.
Each semester I barely collected enough donations for Khiem's tuition.
MUCH NEEDED CHANGE
After putting all of my time and effort into The Deaf Dream for a couple of years, I was offered full-time employment at a large non-profit organization. I knew that with my new job and my health struggles, I wouldn't be able to keep up my prior pace working on my little organization. One day at work, we were invited to read a book called Simple Church as a department. This was an answer to prayer and completely turned The Deaf Dream around!
SIMPIFIED AND REDUCED
I learned through Simple Church (and later on, a book named ReWork) that success would come as I focused on the ONE thing we could do well and cut out everything else. I realized I was spending 90% of my time trying to keep my volunteers engaged! I decided that the one thing that we could do best, and that would have the greatest impact, would be to sponsor Deaf college scholarships. By going to their home universities, the costs would be minimal ($1,000 to $2,500 USD total for an entire degree) and greatly increase their impact on changing their country's perspective on deafness.
A NEW DEFINITION OF SUCCESS
With this massive simplification, I was able to keep ahead of my necessary responsibilities for The Deaf Dream. Instead of slowing down what little progress I had made so far, in the last 4 years we have been able to sponsor 5 more Deaf Dreamers! Khiem in Vietnam has graduated, leads nation-wide disability rights campaigns, and now teaches at the university that originally turned down his application. Victoria in Ghana has completed her student teaching and is eager to begin officially teaching at a Deaf school soon. Patricia from Kenya, and Jerry, Amuge, and Phina from Uganda, are all currently studying on our scholarships and making steady progress toward their dreams!
BEHIND THE SCENES COSTS
When I launched The Deaf Dream, I wanted to make sure that every online donation would go directly to the student. 100%. No questions asked. It continues this way today. But for all of you who understand how a nonprofit works, you know there are behind the scenes costs. If you would like to help support my work in some way, I would be most grateful. Please contact me below.
Yep, that's me!
It's been a beautiful journey (though slightly painful at times ;) ).
I am in awe each day that God has given me the opportunity to take part in these miracles. Thank you for your encouraging emails, consistent support, generous donations, and care for these students who mean so much to me!