After 75 years of service to the deaf community, the Toledo Deaf Club might be forced to close its Adams Street doors.
The recent loss of its six-year tenant, Whole Self Massage Therapy, and the rent money the business provided leaves the Deaf Club struggling financially. Club President Terry Struve and Secretary Shannon Odneal said the club -- which provides social and support services to the deaf community of Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan -- might have to sell its property in a few months to remain afloat if it fails to find a new tenant and increase membership.
The club will hold a town-hall meeting Saturday to discuss its future.
"I would just hate to see that this building becomes another empty store spot in Toledo. Since '65, we've been in this building. We've supported the city in various ways. I'm just afraid it might not be enough anymore," Ms. Odneal said.
Founded in 1936, the club has been a gathering place for the deaf community, a source of job information and news, and a "home away from home" for many youths with hearing disabilities, Mr. Struve and Ms. Odneal said. The club has also hosted and participated in several events ranging from bowling tournaments and basketball games to Miss Deaf Ohio pageants, board members said.
The club sustained itself by collecting membership dues, fund-raising, and renting office space and the apartments above the main meeting room.
Mr. Struve said the club earned 60 percent of its funds by renting the apartments to lower income Toledo residents -- mostly who were deaf or hearing impaired.
But that source of income ended four years ago, Mr. Struve said, when the city condemned the living spaces. Despite the club's exterior renovation in 2004, the apartments were considered not up to building codes in 2007. Without enough funds to refurbish the apartments, the club has relied on membership fees and renting out the office to pay for the property.
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But the club lost its office tenant in June. Whole Self filed a 30-day notice with the Deaf Club at the end of June and began moving its belongings on July 6, Whole Self founder Connie Schepflin said.
"With the apartments closing they were still able to maintain their head above water. But when the massage parlor gave its 30-day notice, that was the kiss of death," said Denny Seger, a member of the Deaf Club.
Though Ms. Schepflin said she and her company were happy with the "beautiful [office] space" they rented from the club, the area posed a few threats -- including theft and break-ins -- to her business.
"One of the therapists had their car broken into," Mr. Seger said. "We can't fault them for leaving …They were saying, 'how can we give massage therapy if no one can relax?'"
The Deaf Club also has faced instances of breaking-and-entering since the apartments were condemned, Mr. Struve and Ms. Odneal said. Ms. Odneal pointed to a pillow resting on the balcony as she recalled cases of people breaking into the upstairs apartments for shelter at night.
Despite those issues, Mr. Struve said he and many board members would like to remain in the building the club has occupied since 1965.
"There's a lot of history here, a lot of sentimental value to the community," Ms. Odneal said as Mr. Struve gestured to trophies that date back to the 1940s, encased in a display stand near the entrance.
With membership steadily dwindling, the club has lost a portion of the funds it usually receives from membership fees. Mr. Struve said the club currently has 45 members compared to the 68 it had in 2010 -- down from the more than 100 members it had the year before.
Ms. Odneal attributes this decrease to the economy and recent technological advances. The club has historically been the main source of information related to employment, retirement, and social events for the deaf community, she said. But, with the ability to text message friends and surf the web for information, members have fewer reasons to visit.
"This would be their home away from home, their new family. With technology now, they can get the information they need on the computer, typing," she said. "Still, the physical interaction, that's always the number one."
Mr. Struve and Ms. Odneal said the club is planning future social events, like a statewide bowling tournament in 2013, to bring members together.
Mr. Seger said the club's potential closure and the dwindling membership worries him.
"That's one of my concerns, as technology improves, we might lose some kids -- and that [the club] is where they learn to be deaf, learn about their community and culture," Mr. Seger said.
Mr. Struve and Ms. Odneal said that during Saturday's meeting the club's board plans to ask members and others in the community for ideas about how the club can draw more members, improve and sustain itself, and keep its building. The meeting will take place at 2 p.m. at the club at 1809 Adams St.
Contact Traci Tillman at: email@example.com or 419-724-6050.