MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A local non-profit is under scrutiny after an audit showed stolen money, forged checks and fake financial documents.
Sheila Chappel and Janie Zweig are among hundreds of deaf and hearing-impaired people in the Mid-South who say they’re unable to handle day-to-day business, like going to doctor’s appointments or court appearances.
That’s where Deafconnect is supposed to come in.
It’s the only state-funded agency in the mid-south that’s supposed to provide interpreting services, education for the deaf and hearing-impaired and most importantly, advocacy. But some say that’s not what’s happening.
“With so many individuals needing an interpreter for the hospital, for the courts, for everyday things. It’s like Deafconnect only worries about the money,” Zweig said. “They are an agency for the deaf and hard of hearing, and they don’t provide anything for us.”
The deaf community in Memphis says they’re also not getting many answers as to why the services dried up so quickly.
“We are deaf, and right now we’re not getting the services that we need or deserve,” Chappell said.
Teresa Wilson is acting as a consulting manager for Deafconnect and is trying to get things back on track.
“We’re facing some challenges. We’re doing some reorganization, and I know it’s upsetting when those changes are made. But that is what we’re doing at this point.”
According to Wilson, three employees were let go and the majority of the board resigned.
“There are financial challenges. That is the whole crux of it.”
The State Department of Human Services audited Deafconnect in 2018.
According to the audit, when Deafconnect tried to reconcile its books it accused its finance director of forging bad checks totaling nearly $25,000. But the audit couldn’t determine if the stolen money came from your tax dollars or other revenue, because of poor record keeping.
The audit also accused the executive director of not reviewing financial documents.
That executive director is no longer employed with Deafconnect. Neither is the finance director.
Services are still being offered, but they’re scaled-back. Leaving those directly impacted wondering how they’ll be able to conduct routine business and do the things most hearing people don’t give a second thought to.
“Right now the deaf community, we want to make sure that our voice is being heard. And all of these changes that impact us, we want to know what’s going on. We don’t want to be left with out jaw dropping all the time,” Zweig said.
They won`t sit around waiting for the other shoe to drop though. That’s where a newly created petition comes in.
“We’re hoping that this petition is going to help in Nashville that we`re going to send to the Deaf Council. We can show them that services are lacking, and things are not being done by the grant a non-profit is supposed to have.”