Archive for October, 2006

Argus Leader: Laurent eyes small towns

Monday, October 30th, 2006

Note: We are looking at Spencer, however, we are also looking at other locations including one in other state.

Sign language community shifts plans to redevelopment


The co-founders of a proposed McCook County town for sign language users have opted to discard their plan for a new town and look at redeveloping a small one.

Spencer town officials confirmed Friday that M.E. Barwacz and her son-in-law, Marvin Miller, have asked about lots in Spencer in the past few weeks.


A Victory for Gallaudet

Monday, October 30th, 2006

When I landed in Minneapolis on way to home from Brattleboro, VT, my pager buzzed with a cryptic message from Roger Kraft of He only typed in his subject line: “Hallejulah!” Ok, I thought to myself… that message definitely had something to do with Gallaudet.

It was either that or Roger invented a car that runs on water.

I frantically called up on my Blackberry, and my suspicion was confirmed: The Board of Trustees did the right thing and terminated Jane K. Fernandes. It was a brave move on their part. It showed a certain strength and humility to recognize that a decision was flawed in the first place.

Now, onwards to healing!

An Interview with Sam Hawk of Hawk Relay on $150,000 Sponosorship

Thursday, October 26th, 2006

The Laurent Institute, a non-profit 501c3 organization, received a major boost in the form of $150,000 a year sponsorship. Hawk Relay hopes to extend the sponsorship for additional 3 years for a total of possible $600,000! This all depends on Hawk Relay’s growth in call volume. More calls they process, the more money they can give to The Laurent Institute.

Some of you may ask, “Why would they be that generous?” I decided to interview Sam Hawk of Hawk Relay. Here’s the interview. Enjoy!

Marvin Miller: Can you tell us a little about Hawk Relay?

Sam Hawk: Hawk Relay is the first and only deaf and hard of hearing owned and operated relay service provider. Hawk Relay currently provides video relay service (VRS) and we pride ourselves in providing our own communities with high quality video interpreters to support consumers’ telecommunication needs. Hawk Relay does not focus on specific videoconferencing equipments and this enables us to focus wholly on ensuring that our consumer experiences the finest service level every time.

MM: Why did you decide to start Hawk Relay even though there are plenty of other competitors?

SH: I am not sure if I would agree that there are plenty of other competitors. Hawk Relay was born when a gentleman visited me a year ago and asked, “Why don’t you start a relay service?” This gentleman argued that the relay service industry has grown more than 10 times since the inception of the ADA and the benefits of the deaf and hard of hearing communities had not grown at the same pace. The influx of private businesses entering the VRS industry in the recent years poses a real, imminent danger for further reduction of benefits. Additionally, as a VRS consumer myself, I have observed a serious decline in quality of service as the industry blossoms. Being directly involved in the industry as a VRS provider allows me, through the Hawk Relay team, to respond to consumer expectations and demands for continuing service level enhancements.

MM: Where do you see Hawk Relay going in the next 2 to 3 years?

SH: I see Hawk Relay being the top player in the industry. The Hawk Relay team has been working hard to develop exciting new technologies that allows consumers to experience a whole new level of telecommunication access. Unfortunately, I am not able to discuss those new technologies but I tell you, the stuff Hawk Relay is developing is truly eye-popping and we are very excited about bringing them into the market.

MM: What on earth possessed you to sponsor The Laurent Institute and our efforts to build world’s first fully integrated town for signers?

SH: Signing communities provides greater opportunities for employment and business ownership among the deaf and hard of hearing—how can one not want to support the endeavor?

MM: What do you hope to see come out of this sponsorship?
SH: That the community is developed as quickly as possible. From my communications with the board of The Laurent Institute, it seems your group is just weeks away from announcing the opening of the first signing community. I expect at least 100 new jobs for the deaf and hard of hearing to be created in the first year of the community and this will create unprecedented opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing individuals to try their hands in starting and running a business. When — not to be confused with if — this happens, the Hawk Relay team will be content that the goal of the sponsorship arrangement has been accomplished.

MM: Any other thoughts you’d like to share with our supporters?

SH: Hawk Relay delights in making the impossible happen. Hawk Relay is the first deaf owned and operated relay service provider, previously thought impossible. We are a proud sponsor of who serves over 5000 unique visitors daily, a number previously thought impossible within the deaf and hard of hearing niche, and ASL Films, who has produced a full-length feature film in ASL utilizing only deaf and hard of hearing talents throughout the entire production process, also said to be impossible. Hawk Relay strives to create a sense that deaf people not just can do anything, but deaf people can do the impossible.

MM: Thanks!

SH: Thank you for having me today!

Small Town Spirit Shown Throughout

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

What I love about living in Salem is I get to see the community spirit expressed on window panes, shirts, signs, posters and more throughout the town. All businesses contribute in different ways including donating money to support the school sports programs. I’d imagine that the “average” enrollment size of a residential school in this country is about 140 students from K through 12. That size usually reflects a town size of 400 residents. Salem has 1,371 people plus farmers surrounding the area, and their total student population is a little over 350, I believe.

Even small towns can be a healthy and vibrant place to be! It depends on what YOU make of it in the town. What can you bring to our town?


First Dakota National Bank.


A chiropractic clinic showing their spirit.

A hairstylist salon.

Hawk Relay to Give $150,000 a Year to The Laurent Institute!

Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

We are pleased to announce a major gift from a South Dakota based company, Hawk Relay, of up to $150,000 per year for our non-profit organization, The Laurent Institute. This gift will enable the non-profit organization to move forward with the vision of building world’s first fully integrated and accessible community for sign language users in South Dakota.

The support is made possible by Hawk Relay and the continued support from our community through placing calls and using Hawk Video Relay Service.

If you want to show your support towards building world’s first sign language town, you can donate money to The Laurent Institute AND make calls and use Hawk Relay. The more you use their service, the better our chances of realizing full $150,000 gift within the year.

We are very excited about this sponsorship, and guess what? This is just the beginning of many new announcements coming out of The Laurent Institute!

Support Laurent. Donate today and use Hawk Relay.

Thank you!

Living in a small town — a taste of Gallaudet and something different

Friday, October 20th, 2006

I have lived in Salem, S.D. since February 22, 2005. Town has a population of 1,371 according to a road sign welcoming people to the town. I can drive to Sioux Falls within 40 to 45 minutes, and to Mitchell within 30 minutes.

My dear friends, Deb Kuglitsch and Jodi Oates with their children, Kathi, Travis and Sami Jo, has been our neighbors as well since last fall. They live in a beautiful, 1910 white farm house on the edge of town. Their view is maginificent. They can see sunrise over their white fences and two horses.

My children’s grandmother and my business partner, M.E. Barwacz, also lives 4 blocks away. My kids are free and able to walk over to her house for a visit. She loves to teach them how to bake, cook and mix things up.
Kathi plays for McCook Central High School volleyball team, and she does play well. We have a family season pass and we go watch her and her team play at the school. I am constantly amazed at how large the school is with students, parents, alumni and community members mingling and watching the games. The school has approximately 340 students in their K-12 program, I believe. A size similar to Indiana School for the Deaf, maybe? A very healthy size, believe me! There were a plenty of girls playing on the team, and to my amazement, there were even more girls and boys in a marching band playing for the audience.

“Wow, plenty of kids to go around! Even in a small town like Salem.”

Living in Salem reminds me a lot of being at Gallaudet University. I can see the community cohesiveness, togetherness and a sense of pride in their hometown. Gallaudet has that. I think many people who visited, stayed and attended Gallaudet will tell you that they will always consider Washington, D.C. 20002 their second home.

Yet, Gallaudet is not a town.

There are no independent businesses competing for people’s business, no independent services, and no city council elected by the population. There’s no staff and faculty and their families living on the campus — ok, a few. Gallaudet is a quasi-private University, a place focused on higher learning.

I think that’s where we all get our hearts “mixed up” at Gallaudet. It’s not a home town. At least, not in a real sense. It is a mecca, to be sure. It is a place cherished by many, including myself. We all feel shock, frustration and most importantly, almost powerless when the University administration decides to do things “differently”.

My heart goes out to the protesters because I do understand.

Back here in Salem, I can see how businesses ranging from a wonderful hardware store, drug store, food store, bars, restaurants, gas stations, barber shop to banks contribute to a sense of security, a sense of belonging. People who live here in Salem can truly call this place their home.

I hope to find a place to call OUR home very soon. I know we will.

With our hometown, we will be doing so many wonderful things. Participate in creating a vision for a better future. A fully accessible and integrated community where we can really feel at home.

Some of my friends express their concern about lack of privacy, “I can’t imagine having other deaf or signing people as my neighbors. I would feel like I have no privacy.”

I would ask this friend, “Did you ever go to Gallaudet or NTID or CSUN?”

When my friend answers yes, I say, “Do you remember what it felt like living there 24/7? Did you feel you had no privacy?”

A big smile and a dawn of realization as if my friend is remembering all warm, fuzzy and immersive feelings of being at Gallaudet.

A smile that says it all.

Our Thoughts & Prayers Are With Gallaudet

Monday, October 16th, 2006

Last Friday, President I. King Jordan ordered arrests of the protesters. It was a sad chapter in Gallaudet’s history — the situation was allowed to escalate to this point, and unfortunately, the responsibility lies with the leadership.

When a Board is not listening to the community, you can always guarantee there will be problems. Education is being disrupted. Lives traumatized on both sides. We do feel for both sides of the protest.

We have experienced this with the Board of Regents who runs South Dakota School for the Deaf. We had to resort to drastic measures in order to be heard, and we were finally heard some months later when they replaced the superintendent.

Protests are NOT fun. Students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members are not doing this for “the heck of it”.

We also recognize the fact that Universities are not a democracy — and the Administration is fearful that if they “cave in”, they would be setting a dangerous precedent for future boards and presidents.

True, but only to a point.

An effective Board of Trustees is the one who listens to the community it serves and governs. True leaders are really servants of the community. Leaders are not bosses. They do not accomplish much pushing people around. They listen, they motivate, they inspire… the bottom line is, they should LEAD. If the Board was really effective in the first place, the community would have simply be satisified with the processes and system in the place for them to be heard. No protest would have taken place.

This is a very divisive protest. We urge the Board of Trustees, University leadership and FSSA leadership to work together and resolve this as soon as humanely possible so the University can begin to recover and once again serve as a beacon of hope and light worldwide for signers.

New web site — A work in progress

Tuesday, October 10th, 2006

We’ve consolidated our web hosting services into one simpler package, and we have moved away from (an excellent content management system) to WordPress — another excellent blog/content management system as well.

This site will be rather “plain” for time being. We are fully focused on the alternate plan for building world’s first sign language town, and each day has brought us concrete progress towards that goal.

In meantime, we are working on securing a sponsorship package with one of deaf/hard of hearing owned business for the non-profit, The Laurent Institute, and we hope to announce that soon. That will provide a much needed financial boost to the non-profit, and shortly after that, we will recruit board members for the organization.

Recommendations for board members are definitely welcome. Comment away!

The audacity of hope — A fitting description for what we are going to do

Friday, October 6th, 2006

Illinois Senator Barack Obama, apparently a possible 2008 candidate for U.S. President, will be publishing his new book titled, "The Audacity of Hope", and it will basically spell out the future vision of America. Whether you are a Democrat or Republican, you gotta love this book title.

When I first saw that phrase, it resonated with me. Audacity. Hope. This is exactly how we feel now. We are hopeful — despite the fact that the news about our progress has been negative lately.

Definition of audacity: fearless, daring, or aggressive boldness.

Hope is all that.  Our hope is audacious. We will build the town. Despite setbacks we are currently experiencing, we have a real reason to hope that our signging community will soon be able to build a town where we will work, play, worship, govern, relax and live in a fully integrated and accessible fashion.

 No, we are not just repeating this mantra to ourselves and just "crossing our fingers", hoping that things will magically work out.

We are actually working on something substantial.

We have a reason to hope. A leader of deaf youth Frank R. Turk often quotes his schoolteacher , "Good work is never lost."

Indeed. The audacity of hope. 


Laurent, S.D. — Wounded, but still alive and moving towards becoming a reality.

Thursday, October 5th, 2006

I just want to respond to one item from Minerva Shine [a poster on Gally-L e-mail discussion group] stating that, "laurent, sd is dead and marvin miller is more than half a million in debt."

As Mark Twain said, "The reports of [our] death are greatly exaggerated." :-)

We are still here. We are working out of my home, and we are continuing to work towards building a healthy, thriving signing community in South Dakota.

It is true that The Laurent Company is in debt, and the company will no longer be active. In debt to whom? $300,000 to our town planners, Nederveld Associates and $16,000 to deaf architect John Dickinson of Winter & Company. John Dickinson has generously offered to waive his fees. They have been — and still are — our strong supporters. They truly believe in the vision. The other $200,000 is from my partner/mother-in-law M.E. Barwacz. She and I invested our entire fortune into this project. Several close friends and family also loaned us money in expectation of being repaid immediately when our funding arrived as promised.

The funding never showed up. It was a classic case of a frog in water pot, and the frog slowly boiled to death. At least, in our case, we didn’t die — we just got hurt badly, but we are grateful to be still alive and capable of working full time on this project now. The funders say they are still working towards funding the project, and we wish them well. We are moving on without them. If they do come through for the project, our community will benefit tremendously. If not, we will still build this community and it will be a great thing to behold because of your support, involvement and so on.

We have never taken money from the signing community in general, in terms of deposits or services. We have received one unasked for $500 deposit from one person on the reservation list, and we put it in a separate savings account, untouched.

We have received over $1,000 in cash donations from the community to The Laurent Institute, a non-profit 501c3 organization. We do need more. We just received a generous offer of PowerMacintosh Dual G5 computer from Chad Taylor of in return for deferred payment at a later date. We will be working hard in the next few weeks to get the ball rolling in building our own fully integrated and fully accessible signing community, and we are confident we will have an announcement soon.

I am receiving feedback from the community that y’all want to be more involved in this process, and I agree. I have been gun-shy in involving more people because I did not want to pull you in and get hurt. I much rather that only we are exposed to the risks of this endeavor.

In meantime, perhaps y’all can help us select new board members for The Laurent Institute?

Thank you for your kind thoughts, prayers and support. Our hearts go out to those pushing for a positive, meaningful change at Gallaudet University.