SCARBOROUGH — With seed money from a New Hampshire-based endowment fund, Pine Tree Society is looking to “transform the educational experience of children who are deaf and hard-of-hearing.”
The society, which offers support and services to Mainers of all ages with either physical or cognitive disabilities, announced Dec. 18 that it was one of six nonprofits in New Hampshire and Maine to be awarded grant funding of $15,000 from the Roger R. and Theresa S. Thompson Endowment Fund.
Noel Sullivan, Pine Tree’s president and CEO, said the agency will use the funds to research and launch a Teacher of the Deaf program, primarily out of its Scarborough facility, connecting educators in southern Maine with the resources and training they need to teach the deaf and hard of hearing.
Sullivan said the organization is best known for its camp in Rome, which began in 1945 as a summer program for children with physical disabilities. Over the years, it has evolved into a place where children and adults with disabilities are able to participate in all the recreational activities all year long.
“It’s exciting to see kids come back every year as they get older,” Sullivan said, noting that enrollment each year opens in January and is normally full by February. “Sometimes, it’s the only chance they have to really get away from where they live for a bit.”
The society also offers year-round educational, community and career development support to people with disabilities at offices in Bath and Auburn.
Services include case management, day programming, audiology and speech therapy, assisted technology research and training, senior programming and interpretive services.
According to a news release from Pine Tree Society, the fund was established in memory of Roger R. and Theresa S. Thompson, who recognized to work of organizations whose effort was “in the best interest of the local community.”
“Theresa and Roger Thompson believed that their best legacy, as individuals and together, was to assist organizations whose work they admired and fit their definition of what was good for the community any given year,” managing trustee Charles Doleac said in the announcement.
Sullivan said the society has been applying for grants and receiving support from the Roger R. and Theresa S. Thompson Endowment Fund since 2000.
Last year, a grant was used for a pilot program designed to support employment for individuals who are deaf.
“Through our research and work to launch that pilot, we discovered that the very foundation of employment for people who are deaf lies in the individual’s education from kindergarten to the senior year of high school,” Sullivan said, noting that only 12 percent of parents with deaf children communicate with them using sign language.
“Children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing have a dramatically different educational experience than their hearing counterparts,” Sullivan continued. “… With that there are critical issues that might develop.”
In their research over the past year, Sullivan said the society found that 46 percent of adults in Maine who are deaf are also unemployed.
“We see a barrier originate when the individuals are children,” he said. “… There’s a critical lack of teachers and expertise.”
With an estimated 450 deaf students in Maine, Sullivan hopes that learning how best to implement a program to provide Teacher of the Deaf services in southern Maine will, in turn, reduce the deaf community’s rate of unemployment.
“This seed money is really important, we depend on it,” Sullivan said. “(The Thompson Endowment Fund) has been wonderful. They’ve given us the launching pad to have a greater impact.”