A valid criticism leveled at non-profit organizations is their inability to keep professional staff. Indeed, development officers come and go so fast it is difficult to establish meaningful relationships with a non-profit when the faces are constantly changing.
One of the exceptions in the Atlanta community is Deborah Brilling, Executive Director of the Auditory Verbal Center (AVC). This is her 19th year as the leader of the organization that teaches deaf and hard of hearing children, starting as young as 2 months old, how to listen and speak without the need of sign language or lip reading. And Brilling was recently awarded the prestigious Wendall Todd Lifetime Achievement Award for her dedication to deaf and hard of hearing children.
“We serve more than 160 families a year who have deaf or hard-of-hearing children,” Brilling states. “Our families come from all over the state, for one-hour therapy sessions each week. Many of them cannot afford internet or computers for online instruction. So, as the pandemic shutdown was occurring last year, we found the money to purchase the technology for each of our families who didn’t have it. We raised funds from supporters, and we were completely online in February 2020, well ahead of the complete shutdown. You can’t hit the pause button on that critical time when children are learning. You can’t get that time back.”
The AVC is a leader in the field of pediatric listening and spoken language intervention services, adult auditory rehabilitation, and post–implant services. It serves the state through its established teletherapy model and works closely with local audiologists to better serve deaf and hard of hearing children.
Amazingly, there are only 760 certified auditory verbal therapists in the entire world. AVC employs six of those certified therapists in their Atlanta and Macon centers. Through the center, children learn how to listen — not just hear noise, but to interpret the meaning of sounds they hear — and how to speak.
The Center is expanding the Auditory-Verbal Therapy department and looking to hire two more certified Auditory-Verbal Therapist, or a Speech-Language Pathologist, committed to becoming certified in Auditory-Verbal Therapy. All of the center’s six therapists have earned certification.
“We already have two bilingual therapists,” commented Brilling. “We have increasing demands for additional bilingual services.”
Deafness, or hearing impairment affects 200+ children a year in Georgia, as a result of genetics, illnesses, or accidents.
“Eighty percent of a person’s learning occurs by the time they are three years old,” Brilling continues. “In order for them to learn to listen and to speak, the child has to learn how to understand what they are hearing. Synapses in the brain have to connect sounds to their learned meanings during early childhood, or else those connectors wither and die.”
So, what kept Brilling in the same seat for 19 years?
For her, it was personal. Both of her children were born with hearing impairments. She was a divorced mother, working in the mortgage industry , and knew that she had to take the additional responsibilities of special needs children. She found AVC and enrolled her children. Later, she joined the board as a volunteer, and eventually became the Executive Director in 2002.
Like all good stories, this one has a happy ending. Both of Brilling’s children were fitted with Cochlear implants, graduated from the Auditory Verbal Center, and were mainstreamed in public schools. Today, her son Jonathan serves as Development and Community Engagement Coordinator for AVC. He makes frequent presentations in the community for United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta. Daughter Samantha Downton serves as the organization’s Marketing Coordinator.
In addition to the long hours of running a robust non-profit, Brilling has been a long-time member of Kiwanis in Atlanta, having started and joined several clubs. And one of her hobbies is camping. Debbie and her children frequently spend weekends and holidays camping in one of Georgia’s State Parks.
“It was a way for me to spend time with my children when they were growing up,” Brilling commented. “Camping is an economical and affordable way to take a vacation, and it is restful. Today it is a great way for us to stay close to each other as adults, and spend time outdoors together. Georgia has some fabulous state parks.”
Wesley K. Wicker, Ed.D. is a partner and principal of Columns Fundraising in Atlanta. Columns is a full–service consulting firm that works with non-profits in Georgia and in 22 other states. For more information, go to columnsfundraising.com. For information on the AVC visit www.avchears.org