Jefferson Award Winner Founded Deaf Plus Adult CommunityBy Sharon Chin

NEWARK (KPIX 5) Life can be quiet and lonely for people who are deaf. But this week’s Jefferson Award winner is opening doors to a brighter, fuller world.

Imelda Rivas has seen a transformation in her 25-year-old son, Antonio.

“Before, it was, ‘Oh, don’t touch me,’ just looking down,” Rivas remembers. “Now, he comes home, he looks up and he makes sure he gives everyone a hug.”

Antonio is deaf, has autism and cerebral palsy. Rivas feared his future would be quiet, and isolated.    Then he started coming to the nonprofit, Deaf Plus Adult Community, or D-PAC.

“It gave me hope that my son was not going to end up just in front of the TV, just passing his life in front of the TV,” Rivas explained.

Nancy Eddy co-founded D-PAC in Newark in 2013. It’s the only Bay Area nonprofit that accepts deaf adults who also have other disabilities and behavioral challenges.

“It’s amazing, and I just feel so blessed that I’ve been able to do something like this,” she said.

Eddy’s own daughter, Christy, is deaf with disabilities, and when she became an adult, she aged out of public education programs. So Eddy developed D-PAC to offer a range of activities, from academics and life skills to creative arts and exercise for six hours on weekdays. Supported by government and privates funds, it’s free of charge to participants like Emerald Brown.

“I like zumba a lot,” the 26-year-old said. “We dance all the time.”

About 30 adults enrolled in D-PAC go on weekly field trips, led by some 20 staff members, many of whom are also deaf. They also serve the community with projects like picking up litter and volunteering at the food bank.

“Their esteem builds in, ‘I’m doing something worthwhile,'” Eddy said.

Not everyone knows sign language when they get to D-PAC, but it’s a place where they can learn.  And communication leads to friendships.

That’s important to Gillian Baldwin’s son, Walter.

“They don’t feel an outcast,” Baldwin said using sign language. “They feel like they’re a common community and they’re excited to be here.”

She can’t thank Nancy enough.

“She has a deaf heart,” Baldwin said of Eddy. “She knows how to work with the deaf community.”

So for helping to create a program to enrich the lives of the Deaf Plus Adult Community, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Nancy Eddy.