Friday, April 18, 2008

Sophia's Tiny Hands

Dear Blog Readers,
Those of you who know me are familiar with my love of Signing Time! I hear Signing Time! success stories from friends often, but here is one I felt compelled to share with you. Inspired by Rachel Coleman, Signing Time!, and her own daughter, this blog is for a mom who has found a way to help others.

I've known Bridget for over two years through the Signing Time! forums and finally got to meet her in October 2006 at the Signing Time! event in Harrisburg, PA. Bridget is as sweet in real life as she is online.

Not only is Bridget an authorized retailer for Signing Time!, but she and her husband Chris have founded The Sophia's Tiny Hands Education Foundation (TSTHEF), a 501(c)(3) Non-profit charity. Their mission is to provide opportunities of higher education to Deaf children and to future ASL interpreters. Please read their mission statement here. She kindly agreed to let me interview her for my blog.


Chris and Bridget

K: Where did the idea for The Sophia's Tiny Hands Education Foundation originate?

B: The idea for TSTHEF originated from our retail business, Sophia's Tiny Hands. We are independent retailers of Signing Time!, the DVD series created to teach American Sign Language to children. Rachel Coleman was an incredible inspiration to us and the Signing Time! video series changed our life as it gave our youngest daughter, Sophia, her "voice." From there, my husband said, "I want us to start a non-profit granting scholarships to deaf students nationwide for college." For the full story of how it all started, visit http://www.sophiastinyhands.com/.


Shiori, Rachel (with Sabrina), Bridget (with Sophia), and Chris at the Buddy Walk of Northern Virginia, October 2006


K: In 'Our Story' on http://www.sophiastinyhands.com/ , regarding the decision to start a home-based business, it states that 'Bridget could think of no better way to thank the company who gave her daughter a voice than to become an Independent Authorized Retailer of Signing Time!'. I know that as a retailer, you've heard many success stories about using Signing Time! with children of all abilities, but not many of those parents go out and accomplish what you and your husband have. Why you?

B: The best answer I have is "Why not me?" Honestly, I have been through a lot in my life and it has made me into an incredibly strong-willed woman. However, there are others out there whose life circumstances have done the opposite. When Sophia was first diagnosed with hearing loss I wanted to learn everything I could and went into an almost survivalist mode. It was a "now what do we do?" type situation. We found Signing Time and watched what it did for our daughter. It's one thing to hear or read about a person's experiences. It's quite a different one to experience it and go on. I watched my daughter totally blossom. I saw how Signing Time quickly became Family Time as well as creating an even more immense bond among all of us. I can't think of anyone who wouldn't want to share that with everyone. Going to events and talking to people about both companies and our experiences is something I love to do.
Rachel and a beautiful pregnant Bridget at the October 2006 Buddy Walk in Northern Virginia.

K: Are there many organizations out there like yours?

B: No, not that we have found anywhere. There really are not many organizations like ours. There are some that will grant small scholarships, say approx. $3000, to students but there are geographical restrictions. Our foundation is looking to grant full scholarships and we do not limit ourselves based on geographic location other than being in the United States or one of it's territories. Because our foundation is so specialized, it has actually made it difficult to find grant money. There are no specific grants for what we are doing and even the department of education is at a loss for how to assist us.

K: How much of an education did you get while researching what it would take to start a non-profit foundation? ;)

B: We have actually gotten quite a bit of an education in the process. It's quite a scary figure to find that 80% of deaf children worldwide never see a classroom, let alone college. That's honestly been quite a bitter fact to accept and we hope to help change that. I think some of what we have learned has been overwhelming at times, but the information is so valuable. The more we are learning, the more we can really help others.

K: Do you feel that maybe the foundation will enlighten people in the Dept of Education that there is a void here that needs to be addressed?

B: I really hope that it does. The people in the Dept. of Education don't know what to say. They all realize that this is an incredible foundation we have, but just aren't sure how they can help. A statistic is just a statistic, but when you think of the 80% that I mentioned previously and put that into people with the thought that 1 of every 1000 children is born deaf, that's a lot of people that never see a classroom. We are proud to be at the forefront, trying to change that statistic.

K: I see that Linda Bove (of Sesame Street) is on the Board of Directors. How did she become involved with TSTHEF?

B: Yes! We are very pleased that both Linda and her husband, Ed Waterstreet, are on our Board of Directors. When we started the foundation last year we needed a list of potential people for the Board of Directors. I told my husband, Chris, that we should ask Linda Bove to join the board. His challenge to me was, "find her." Little did he know I already had that information! We contacted Linda and Ed through their theatre company, Deaf West Theatre , and they accepted.

And in addition, we didn't stop there. Greg Gunderson is an honorary member of our board as well. Greg is the first deaf race car driver whose mission is to prove that, "deaf can do anything but hear." Greg is definitely doing that and we support him! He is an honorary member as it is one of our foundation's objectives to help to sponsor his race car in the future. By helping with his sponsorship, we will be able to really spread the word about the foundation as well.

K: How did it feel when The Sophia's Tiny Hands Education Foundation was granted the 501(c)(3) approval? Did you scream with joy, because I would have!
B: I was at work when the approval came through. Chris sent me a text message in all caps to let me know we were approved. I was screaming with joy on the inside, jumping up and down with excitement, and was so thrilled that I couldn't work for the rest of my shift. My mind was going a million miles a minute with all of the things that we needed to get started.

K: The Sophia's Tiny Hands Education Foundation provides the opportunity to help Deaf children pursue higher education or people who would like to be an ASL interpreter a chance to realize their dreams. What was your dream when you were growing up?

B: I wanted to be an astronaut. I also wanted to take on the world, in a good way, and help bring about world peace. I also loved languages, so I wanted to do something with that as well. I have always had an incredible passion and zest for life. That passion carried over into adulthood and I still want to take on the world and bring about change. In addition, I wanted to be a mom of 4 kids. Little did I know I would be blessed with 5 children!

K: Do you ever pinch yourself?

B: Yes, quite frequently. My kids help too! All joking aside, we are living a dream. Both Chris and myself are very passionate about the foundation and have made some incredible contacts. Friends of ours were so inspired by our children that they started a "Silent Night" once a month at their store for ASL only time, inviting customers to come learn to sign. They have a donation jar at their front counter and on the event night we play Signing Time for any of the kids that come.

K: If someone wanted to help but did not have the extra money, in what other ways can they support you?

B: There are many wonderful opportunities to help other than only donating money. Some of these are:

- Use http://www.goodsearch.com/ for all of your internet searches and list 'The Sophia's Tiny Hands Education Foundation' as the charity you search for. This is a Yahoo-powered search engine that donates half of it's advertising revenue to listed non-profits. For every search, GoodSearch will donate $0.01 to your listed charity. While that may not seem like a lot, if 100 people make just one search a day that's one dollar already generated.

- Use http://www.goodshop.com/ or http://www.igive.com/ for all of your online shopping needs. Both of these organizations have teamed up with over 600+ merchants including Apple, Old Navy, ebay, Staples, etc in which a percentage of your purchase, up to 30%, will be donated back to your charity of choice. All you would need to do is list 'The Sophia's Tiny Hands Education Foundation' as your charity of choice and start shopping!

- Spread the word! Help spread the word about our mission to family, friends, and acquaintances via email, blog posts, word of mouth. You can even refer them to any of the above listed websites! The websites themselves have a standard email that you can send out to everyone.

- Add our chip-in widget to your website, myspace, facebook, blogger account, etc. Log on to our website http://www.thesthef.org/. Each page has a chip-in widget placed on it. By clicking the "COPY" icon on the widget itself, you can copy the code right onto your site/page. This will allow others to make donations to our foundation directly from your site/page.

- In-kind donations or consignment: Donate or put on consignment, items that we can use in one of our silent auctions or on ebay. We do a tremendous amount of auctions through ebay and all of the events we are currently planning will have silent auctions. Items for auction are always welcomed and needed.

- Become a direct seller on ebay for The Sophia's Tiny Hands Education Foundation. If you are an ebay seller, you can donate a portion, starting at 1% up to 100%, to the charity of your choice through ebay's Giving Works partner Mission Fish. Just log on to http://www.missionfish.org/ and find our charity, The Sophia's Tiny Hands Education Foundation. Follow the instructions and you can be set up within minutes as a direct seller for our charity.

- Keep your ears and eyes open for corporations or grants that may be a good fit for our mission. As I said before, because of the specialization of our foundation, finding grants to fit our mission has been difficult. If you find/see something, email us directly at sthef@sophiastinyhands.com.

I would also like to add that many large corporations, such as Bank of America, offer their employees gift matching contributions where the corporation will match dollar for dollar, starting at $25, every donation that their employee makes to a non-profit up to a specific amount per year. This type of program most likely varies from corporation to corporation, so I would encourage people to look into their company's policies on charitable giving. Some corporations also have volunteer policies in which an employee's volunteer time to a non-profit may qualify that charity to receive a check from the corporation itself. If you become a direct seller for our charity, or you are finding grants or corporations for us to contact, that counts as time you have volunteered to our company.

If you think of any other ideas or have questions regarding the foundation and ways to help please do not hesitate to contact us via email at: sthef@sophiastinyhands.com.
Sabrina and Rachel

Shiori (holding Calvin), Sophia, Sabrina and Emily.

Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions Bridget.

Blog friends, please stop by Bridget's retail site and the foundation site. If you can, make a donation. And please, let others know about their charity.

Thanks!