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NVRC History

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The 1970s
Elaine Shaffer When Elaine Shaffer became a sign language teacher for the Fairfax County Adult Education Department, she quickly found herself the go-to person for fielding question

s about finding sign language interpreters, schools for deaf children, and much more.

On February 14, 1977 the concept of having an official place where people could go for information first started to gain momentum. Twenty five people met to discuss the needs of people who were deaf at Annandale United Methodist. They agreed that a priority was to have a resource and information center “on questions concerning the deaf.”

An October 27, 1977 story in The Washington Post reported that testimony was given at a hearing of the 11-member Fairfax County Task Force on the Handicapped about the need for an information and counseling center for the deaf. Most of the 80 persons attending the hearing at King’s Park Library were deaf.


On June 1, 1981, Fred P. Yates, Executive Director of the Virginia Council for the Deaf (now the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing), spoke to the Fairfax County Commission for the Handicapped about the needs of deaf and hard of hearing persons in Northern Virginia.  Yates had previously tried unsuccessfully to obtain state funding for at least six regional centers for deaf and hard of hearing individuals. After his presentation, the Commission voted to create a task force to review the community needs of deaf citizens and make recommendations for improving services.

This Deaf Task Force held its first meeting in Fall 1981, and met seven more times by Spring 1982.  Chaired by Elaine Shaffer, its members included Reuben I. Altizer, Don and Leona Ames, Raymond Baker, Anita Beard, Elvera Burton, Mary Campbell, Nate Drown, Ralph Esquivel, Pat Gaither (Beech), Judy Glossman (Winston), Lois Herberger, Joe Kolash, Edwin and Kay Martin, Don McGee, Brenda Mitchiner, Tamara Osborn, Wayne Shook, Paul and Ruth Tester, Karen Therrien (Kolash), and Gary Viall.  One of the task force’s 19 recommendations was to explore the development of a community resource center for the deaf “to be a focal point for the deaf community for all their services.”
Reuben AltizerTask Force member Reuben Altizer is thought to have been the first known person to articulate the need for a community center. His vision was of a center where deafindividuals would have meeting space and receive services with no barriers to communication.  He passed away in January 1984 without seeing his dream realized.

The report from the Task Force was presented to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on March 7, 1983.  The Board of Supervisors later approved recommendations made by Fairfax County staff and requested a feasibility study on developing a community center.


  • In early 1984, the Northern Virginia Association of the Deaf reorganized its Resource Community Center Committee and selected Gary Viall as its chairperson, with Barbara Larson (Sidawy) as assistant and Pat Beech as secretary.  The committee worked long and hard to research the need for a community center and present ideas and options for its services.  Extensive outreach was done by the committee to involve representatives of many other organizations, gathering additional information about the needs of hard of hearing individuals, deaf-blind individuals, parents, and professionals.
  • This outreach led the Resource Community Center Committee to envision a center that provided a broad range of services.  Gary Viall made trips to Salt Lake City and Toronto, where he took pictures and gathered information about their successful community centers for deaf and hard of hearing persons.
  • A five-member Resources Community Center Proposal Writing Subcommittee -- Gary Viall, Pat Beech, Nate Drown, Steve Williams and Elaine Shaffer -- labored for many months before eventually completed a 117-page proposal.  They were assisted by an advisor, Dr. Roger Beach of Gallaudet University.  Their proposal spelled out the need for “a resource community center that provides a comprehensive program for the hearing-impaired and deaf community.”  Its basic goal was a center with “programs geared to meet immediate needs of the hearing-impaired and deaf-blind community as well as its communication needs.”  The proposal was presented to the Fairfax County Executive on March 27, 1985.



  • Gary Viall, Louise Crume, Dr. Latham Breunig, and Jack Wright testified on April 6, 1987 before the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. On April 20, 1987 the Board
    of Supervisors voted to provide funding of $106,639 for the Center.  An agreement was signed October 19, 1987 with Gallaudet University to help get the Center off the ground.
  • Gallaudet University’s College of Continuing Education, under Dean Roslyn Rosen, provided oversight for the Center and contributed $27,000 of in-kind support for its first year.  Earl Elkins was hired to serve as Project Manager.
  • The Center was named “Fairfax Resource Center for the Hearing Impaired” (FRCHI).  Its facility search committee picked a location for the Center in Merrifield, VA.  The new Center’s bylaws were developed by a committee headed by Vinton Cerf.



  • Gerald Nelson became the Director of the Center in January.  The FRCHI Advisory Board held its first meeting at the Center on January 23.
  • The Center’s five original goals were: identifying needs and resources, coordinating and developing services,
    Signing-of-Contract-to-Open-the-Centerproviding a focus for community organizations and advocacy, increasing knowledge and access to services, considering the establishment of new services when none was available.
  • An Open House was held on May 24 with nearly 500 people in attendance.  Speakers included Gallaudet University President Dr. I. King Jordan, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Audrey Moore, Lee District Supervisor Joe Alexander, Deputy County Executive for Human Services Verdia Haywood, Gordon Landes of the Fairfax County Commission on the Handicapped, Northern Virginia Association of the Deaf President Russell Cardwell, and Hilda Altizer, widow of Reuben I. Altizer, who assisted in a ribbon-cutting ceremony.  Gary Viall served as Master of Ceremonies.


  • An interim board was established to advise the Center until it became independent of Gallaudet University.  The Center was incorporated in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  The Internal Revenue Service lost the Center’s nonprofit application and a second application was eventually hand delivered in January 1990.
  • The Center’s first programs were held and by the year’s end it had completed 17 trainings, workshops, and presentations.  An average of 118 information and referral requests was answered each month.
  • The staff worked on creating a strategic plan for the future of the Center.


  • Fairfax County provided transition funding to replace some of the $18,000 per year being contributed by Gallaudet University through “in kind” services.
  • A new program was established to offer family memberships as well as individual memberships.
  • The Center, in cooperation with Holy Trinity Ministry of the Deaf, Mt. Vernon Center for Community Mental Health and the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, offered pilot parenting classes for deaf parents with hearing children.



  • Cheryl Heppner became Executive Director in January, succeeding Brenda Talley, who served as interim director after the resignation of Gerald Nelson in mid-1990.
  • The Center began holding Community Roundtable educational and information-sharing meetings with representatives of various community human service agencies in an effort to collaborate and improve services for deaf and hard of hearing individuals.
  • The Center received a state grant to establish a parenting program for deaf parents of hearing children.


  • Volunteers successfully mobilized after the Fairfax County Executive’s budget proposed to discontinue funding for the Center. Funding was cut by only one percent.
  • Arlington County began contributing to the Center for the first time and the Center received its first corporate grant, $15,000 from the MCI Foundation.
  • To emphasize its broader reach of services, the name officially changed on July 1 to Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons (NVRC).


  • Hildas-80th-BirthdayNVRC moved to Democracy Lane in Fairfax, held an open house to dedicate its Altizer Meeting Room, and adopted as its mission statement “to serve as a catalyst in the empowerment of persons who are deaf and hard of hearing.”
  • Working in collaboration with the Virginia Association of the Deaf, NVRC received a one-year grant of $10,000 for state-wide coalition building.
  • The first Deaf Humor program, “Elaine Shaffer and Her Friends,” was held at King’s Park Library, co-sponsored by NVRC and Fairfax County Public Library.


  • NVRC funding got a big boost with donations from the Regional Bells ($7,500), West Lynch Foundation provided ($2,000 for a new computer system), and a second year grant for statewide coalition building ($10,000).
  • Creative Incentive Grant funding was also awarded by the Virginia Assistive Technology System for a Compu-Pals program to provide accessible computer classes, which were very popular when initiated in 1995.
  • The staff of NVRC celebrated Hilda Altizer’s 80th birthday, and in conjunction with recognition by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Gary Viall Day was celebrated on November 7 with a dinner and program in his honor.


  • NVRC-Staff.pngNVRC actively participated in the metro area Deaf Cultural Festival in Washington, D.C. in September, and held a mini-conference for late-deafened adults.
  • The Center received three Rehabilitation Services Incentive Funds grants: one for demonstrating realtime captioning services, one to create a series of fact sheets, and one to provide additional outreach to Arlington County.
  • NVRC was an active participant in the Total Access Project with the TV For All coalition, to push for captioning of local news programs and captions on videotapes.


  • Loudoun County began to provide funding to NVRC outreach services for the first time.
  • After Fairfax County proposed a 50-100{31ab897a4370feb218155abc15d7b38f5bba01528a749bd66fe114ec092a63fc} cut in its funding for NVRC’s services, community support was once again successful and full funding was retained.
  • The Center began a pilot program to contract with the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing to provide additional outreach services.


  • Vladimir Bazoev of Russia joined the growing list of distinguished international visitors to visit NVRC.
  • The July/August issue of NVRC Update proved to be the all-time most popular newsletter with its focus on “Parent Wisdom” and information from the SHHH Convention.
  • Workshops such as Smart Start for Businesses, Stress Free TV, So You Think You Want a Hearing Dog, Sign Language Classes for Hard of Hearing People, and Free Volunteer Income Tax Assistance were held at NVRC.



  • The board approved a new NVRC mission statement, “To empower deaf and hard of hearing individuals and their families through education, advocacy and community
  • NVRC’s website ( was significantly improved after a state grant was awarded for this purpose.
  • The Center celebrated its 10th Anniversary with a Gala at the Gunston Hall Plantation at Mason Neck in Lorton, VA with 150 guests.  Its theme was “Remembering the Past, Recognizing the Present, Ready for the Future.”  The special guest speaker was Dr. I. King Jordan, President of Gallaudet University.



  • The City of Alexandria began funding outreach services by NVRC, and a $5,000 donation from the Betty Franks Foundation was received in support of programs to benefit children.
  • The Center’s e-mail news expanded from regional readership to reach subscribers throughout Virginia with funding from the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
  • More programs were offered than ever before, including Career Workshops with Dr. Sue Pressman, Speechreading with Dr. Scott Bally, CPR, Free Legal Consultations, Accessible Telecommunications, Being and Effective Advocate, and a Police, Fire and Rescue Open House.


  • NVRC again had many workshops throughout the year, including another series of Career Workshops, CODA workshops, and TTY clinics.
  • Three committees met frequently at NVRC to plan for national conferences being held in the DC or Virginia:  Association of Late-Deafened Adults (ALDA-Potomac), National Asian Deaf Congress (GWADA), and National Association of the Deaf (VAD).
  • Ronald L. Lanier, Director of Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, was the guest speaker at the annual meeting.


  • The Center participated in funding projects with Joe’s Pasta & Pizza in Fairfax, Fresh Fields (now Whole Foods) in Vienna, and Zany Brainy in Fairfax.
  • NVRC had a capacity crowd for its Employer Panel and helped support Saturday night socials for deaf and hard of hearing teens.
  • Claude Stout, Executive Director of TDI, was the guest speaker for NVRC’s Annual Meeting, and NVRC’s first Recognition Award was presented.


  • The Center held its first annual Celebrate Communication event in May at Landmark Mall in Alexandria with great success.
  • A state grant of $9,000, matched by funds from NVRC, helped to support improved services for the “Bright Beginnings for Babies” program.  This was 2003?
  • NVRC assisted with Deaf Way II, which brought more than 9,700 people from around the world to Washington, DC.


  • During a.three-month delay caused by completion of construction and permits for its new office, the staff maintained services while working from their homes.  NVRC relocated its office to 3951 Pender Drive, Fairfax in May. An Open House was held on September 7 to recognize past and current board members, and current staff and contractors.
  • A Gannett Foundation grant of $3,500 helped to cover the expenses of relocation and expansion of Center offices, programs and technologies to meet the increasing need for services.
  • The first annual NVRC Gala was held at the Waterford at Fair Oaks, Fairfax with 150 people in attendance.


  • NVRC became one of four regional centers chosen by TDI for activities under a U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant to develop model community education programs with emergency first responders and volunteer organizations.
  • In partnership with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Consumer Advocacy Network (DHHCAN), NVRC’s highly acclaimed national report “Emergency Preparedness and Emergency Communication Access: Lessons Learned Since 9/11 and Recommendations” was released in December.
  • The second annual NVRC Gala took place at the Waterford with entertainment by highly acclaimed actor Bernard Bragg.


  • A grant of $15,000 from the Grace Abelson DeFries Memorial Fund was awarded to NVRC to help meet the needs of seniors with hearing loss and enhance NVRC’s Coping with Hearing Loss series.
  • The Center’s staff began conducting a highly popular workshop on “Communication Strategies,” designed to involve the audience and assess their awareness of myths and truths about hearing loss.
  • A capacity building grant from Arlington County enabled NVRC to purchase new hearing assistive technology and replace its aging copier.


  • NVRC continued to attract national and international attention, with information requests from Canada, Japan, Spain and United Kingdom as well as in many states.
  • Focus groups were held at NVRC to assist in the Accessible Alerts grant activities of WGBH’s National Center for Accessible Media, and NVRC also supported National Public Radio’s efforts to make captioned radio programs a reality.
  • NVRC broke new ground by hosting Virginia’s first 2-day AARP driving classes for seniors in American Sign Language.


  • The recent trend toward fewer people coming to the Center for services or to attend programs or meetings, and more requesting off-site or home trainings or consultations continued.
  • NVRC marketed its meeting space for rent to outside organizations and businesses to raise additional income, resulting in use by Princeton Review, Oak Valley School and Music Together of Vienna.
  • Bonnie O’Leary’s services in Arlington County grew to include serving on the Arlington Commission on Aging, Arlington Senior Center Committee, Madison Senior Center Committee and Public Information Committee in addition to her other activities.


  • The first comprehensive NVRC Strategic Plan in 18 years was completed and adopted by the Board to guide NVRC operations, programs and services.  It addresses five primary areas:  outreach and education, technology, advocacy and law, community center, and fundraising.
  • Celebrate Communication celebrated its fifth year with another fun-filled day at the George Mason University’s Center for Performing Arts.
  • For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2008, NVRC set a new record of 1,196,983 contacts with the public through its various programs and services.



  • NVRC Celebrates it's 25 years of proving service to the Northern Virginia Community.NVRC Celebrating 25 Years
  • Celebrate Communication celebrated its  eleventh year with another fun-filled day at the George Mason University’s Center for Performing Arts.