This originally appeared in The Tactile Mind Weekly in Trudy’s ON HAND column.

I’ve been a lifetime member of the National Fraternal Society of the Deaf–since I was a baby. I remember going to “Frat meetings” held at the local bowling alley’s meeting room, and I’ve always had a keen interest in NFSD’s insurance business and its social activities. The company has done great things for the deaf community, including giving away scholarships to college. NFSD, unlike many businesses in today’s society, has no serious financial problems, and has a strong board full of experienced leaders.

In spite of its grand history and contributions, many feel (and I do, too) that NFSD is experiencing a slow, drawn-out death. According to the most recent issue of NFSD’s newsletter, only 3,000 copies of the company’s newsletter are distributed each quarter. Each issue usually has a long list of death notices, probably because the majority of members are of senior citizen age. NFSD’s membership and recognition factor are becoming a distant memory. I only know a handful of people my age (late 20s) who are members, and whenever I mention NFSD to friends, they give me a blank stare, not knowing what the acronym means. Just before he passed away, former Grand President Frank B. Sullivan told me that he felt NFSD would not last much longer.

I’ve long said NFSD needs to reach out to youngsters and college students. Heck, Gallaudet used to have a NFSD chapter way back when NFSD has certainly tried to reach out, by granting All-American honors to deaf high school athletes (who get no-frills certificates and are listed in the newsletter). Even so, there are many additional steps NFSD could take to slow down the decline.

For one thing, the NFSD website could be redesigned–it’s not very visually appealing right now. The newsletter could be improved and become more timely/relevant to NFSD (two of the stories in the current issues were similar to ones that I had written many months earlier). The current version has pages of dull, detailed chapter news that are rarely even remotely interesting–I’m more interested in what these chapters have done for their communities.

NFSD advertises in Deaf Digest, but the ads are filled with ditties (short, rhyming songs or poems)–which many deaf readers tell me they do not enjoy, since the ditties are usually sound-based (check http://www.nfsd.com –there’s one on the very front page). The board roster includes a lot of big names, including Benjamin Soukup and Dr. Peter Seiler–yet none of the members are younger than 35.

NFSD is near and dear to my heart, and I’ll definitely be getting involved with the local chapter for a long time. I believe the current president, Al Van Nevel, has done amazing things for the company in many ways, but there are more factors involved than just good leadership. I fear NFSD will soon become another casualty of the deaf community’s shrinkage, and this saddens me.

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