The Alder Springs Deaf and Blind Community is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year with a full complement of happy tenants and strong indicators of future growth.
The senior living apartment complex houses 21 units designed for deaf, blind, deaf/blind and hard of hearing individuals, according to a previous News Herald article.
“We had much input from those communities about the design of our building, and then we prioritized the things we thought were important features,” said Sam Avery, Alder Springs Deaf and Blind Community board member.
The apartments are equipped with a variety of smart technology features that make life easier for deaf and blind people, including light- and vibration-alerts and video door panels. Deaf/blind individuals are provided with a belt that vibrates with a variety of signals to alert them to things such as visitors or fire alarm activations.
The facility is owned by the North Carolina School for the Deaf at Morganton Foundation Inc. The foundation is a nonprofit that operates independently of NCSD and receives no government funding.
“The deaf consider Morganton and Burke County to be a deaf-friendly place, and that’s largely because the North Carolina School for the Deaf has been here since 1891,” Avery said. “There are quite a few people around here who are hearing who know a little sign language.”
The foundation conducted a survey of the local deaf population about a decade ago to find out what issues were important to them, and found many wanted to have a local retirement community built in Morganton specifically for deaf and blind individuals.
“We paid for a market study to determine the population of deaf people who were 50-years-old and older living in North Carolina and in western North Carolina,” Avery said. “We did a demographic survey through the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. At that point, we felt confident there was enough of a demographic need in North Carolina, and we also knew that there were no other facilities like this that we were aware of in any neighboring states.”
The foundation partnered with local residents, deaf and hearing, blind and sighted alike, to launch a monumental team effort to raise funds for the facility. Alder Springs became a reality in 2015 due to vigorous fundraising, grants and a mortgage. The building sits on a 4-acre site at 450 S. College St. in downtown Morganton.
Avery said they were expecting a “slow lease up period” for the apartments, since moving residences is a major decision for people, so in the beginning, they rented to tenants outside the target population to generate enough funds to cover expenses. Over the past five years, a lot of hearing/sighted people have moved out, and now about 80 percent of residents at Alder Springs are deaf, blind, deaf/blind or hard-of-hearing. Every apartment is currently being rented.
“Our residents seem very, very happy at Alder Springs, our target population residents especially,” Avery said. “They like it because it has features that make their lives easier, and it is a very safe and secure place. They like very much living in a community with peers. They look out for each other, like good neighbors do.”
Posts on the Alder Springs Deaf and Blind Community’s Facebook page shared before the coronavirus pandemic hit the area show residents meeting regularly for potluck meals and holiday parties.
“I am so fortunate to live in a wonderful place like Alder Springs, where I can feel safe and also have some nice people around me instead of being alone in the house,” said deaf resident Georgeanne Crowe.
The original plans for Alder Springs included two more apartment buildings and a deaf/blind community center. Avery thinks there is enough interest among the senior deaf and blind population here and across the country that the foundation may soon consider the possibility of moving forward with plans to construct a second apartment complex.
“We have the plan to ultimately expand,” Avery said. “Now what we want is to market and attract more people who are willing to live in a second apartment building. That would trigger the whole process again. We don’t have to design the building again. We know what we want, with a few little changes that we’ve learned. But we will have to raise the money to build the building. We feel that the demand is there, because over the last two years, we’ve had steady demand to move into Alder Springs from our target population. We’re getting increasing inquiries from out of state.”
Barbara Palmento is a deaf Alder Springs board member who has witnessed the growing interest in the facility.
“I took in a lot of video-phone conversations with many deaf people across the country when the community was in the process of building and also after when the building was completed,” Palmento said. “It has been an amazing journey for me.”
Board chair John Greene Jr. shared his thoughts about the success of Alder Springs.
“I’m really happy that the occupancy of the building is now at 100 percent,” Greene said. “The residents, especially the ones who are sight- or hearing-impaired, seem to be very happy. I want to compliment some of our board members who have done an excellent job seeing that the needs of the residents are taken care of and making it a home for those people.”
Deaf, blind, deaf/blind and hard-of-hearing people interested in finding out more about Alder Springs can visit aldersprings.org. Avery said the foundation will relaunch the website soon. The new website will include a rental application portal. For more information, contact Andrea Totty at 828-443-8001 or on the VP (video-phone) line for interpreted calls at 828-544-0181.
To learn more about supporting Alder Springs, NCSD or the local deaf population in general, visit the North Carolina School for the Deaf at Morganton Foundation Inc. website at ncsdfoundation.com.
Staff writer Tammie Gercken can be reached at email@example.com.
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