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Meet Dr. Erica L. Payne of Deafinite Pathways in Metro Atlanta

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dr. Erica L. Payne.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
One of my fondest childhood memories is playing “school” with family and friends.  I always wanted to be the teacher.  Why?  Because I wanted to make learning fun so that everyone could reach their potential.  Little did I know that my career path would date back to my formative years.

I remember watching family members volunteer their time and skills to those less fortunate, which inspired a sense of voluntarism in me as a young child.  Throughout my years, I strived to give back to others what my mentors and teachers instilled in me; thereby “passing the baton” and “paying it forward”.  Similarly, there are three principles on which Deafinite Pathways was established: “It takes a village to raise a child” (African Proverb), “Each one, teach one” (African Proverb), and “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see” (Mark Twain quote).  Essentially, the heart and soul of Deafinite Pathways is public service!

Believe it or not, Deafinite Pathways began as a casual conversation amongst friends regarding the current state of affairs in Deaf Education.  After learning American Sign Language (ASL) in high school, I was more frequently exposed to Deaf culture.  Then, after interning at the Virginia School for the Deaf, attending Gallaudet University, and working as a School Psychologist in various public schools, I noticed that some Deaf youth were graduating high school with second to fourth grade reading and math levels.  That was appalling news.  Consequently, my vision became clear as I continued to read alarming statistics about Deaf learners being at risk for underachievement despite specialized public school programming; therein lies my rationale for creating my nonprofit organization.

Deafinite Pathways was founded in 2013 as a nonprofit organization purposed to provide educational, personal, and vocational enrichment services to the Deaf community in the Atlanta metropolitan area.  Recognized as a 501(c)(3) organization in 2014, Deafinite Pathways is the result of a business vision that combines my skills in teaching, school psychology, counseling, tutoring, mentoring, and ASL.  As a 20-year veteran educator, I am fortunate to use my professional repertoire of skills to bring about positive educational change in the Deaf community.  I am proud to say that pursuing my passion was one of the best decisions I ever made.  And, I must emphasize that I didn’t choose my path, IT CHOSE ME!

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
No, as with any start up business, there are roadblocks. The biggest challenge has been finances. Being a nonprofit organization, my Board and I must creatively brainstorm funding sources.

Another challenge has been marketing. In this social media era, it has been difficult determining where to put our marketing money (e.g. website, social media sites, flyers, business cards, etc).

One other challenge has been determining the best location for office space. We were originally housed in Decatur (Memorial Drive) near GA Center of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (formerly known as GACHI). We have since relocated north of downtown, but still share office space with GREAT DAY Inc (professional counseling and behavioral health services for the Deaf) in Decatur.

Our most recent challenge has been securing contracts with local school systems to conduct school-based skill sessions based on one of our signature programs, Legacy Launchers. Many district personnel verbally express interest but have not sealed the deal…. yet! 🙂

Deafinite Pathways – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Vision Statement: To inspire a legacy of leadership and entrepreneurship in the deaf community.

Mission Statement: Deafinite Pathways Inc is a youth development program established to promote scholastic, interpersonal, and vocational skills for deaf adolescents and young adults in the Atlanta metropolitan area.

Purpose: At Deafinite Pathways Inc, we strive to enlighten, encourage, and empower deaf youth in their career pursuits.

Core Principles:
1) A commitment to promoting personal and professional development among deaf youth.

2) A commitment to raising community awareness and cultural sensitivity about deafness and deaf culture.

3) A commitment to developing traits of leadership and entrepreneurship in deaf youth.

Signature Services: Tutoring (including cognitive skills training and college entrance exam study skills sessions), Mentoring, Life Coaching, Career Development (resume writing, job interview skills, image consulting/dressing for success).

Additional (Leveraging) Services: Coaching, training seminars, sign language services, motivational speaking engagements, & a writer’s boot camp.

We specialize in/are known for providing educational, vocational, and mental health services to clients who are deaf or hard of hearing. We are known for our individualized services as well as our signature programs i.e. 1) Legacy Launchers, which is a tutoring/cognitive skills training program; 2) V.I.R.T.U.E., which is a character education/social skills program, and 3) the Writer’s Boot Camp (assisting students with translating ASL to written English using correct grammatical structure). Soon, we will launch community workshops for Deaf youth and their families.

We are most proud of extending educational services beyond the K-12 classroom. We know that, often times, students’ needs cannot fully be met during the school day for a multitude of reasons. We take pride in offering programs and services to assist adolescents and young adults in becoming well-rounded individuals and productive, contributing members of society.

Our niche sets us apart from others. We are not aware of another program that offers such services for the Deaf community in Atlanta. Our skills in ASL, psychology, education, leadership, and learning theory afford us opportunities to identify learning patterns, strengths, and weaknesses in our clients, and then we create and implement a uniquely designed program to set them on a path toward reaching their goals–be them personal, professional, or both.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
Generally speaking, we view success as the INTENTIONAL PROCESS of pursuing and achieving one’s goals, realizing that each step of the way is a vital component of learning, growing, and maturing. In other words, we view success as a celebrated journey, not a destination.

Given the above-mentioned definition of success, our criteria for success includes the following markers:

– Heightened Self-Awareness
– Leadership Skills
– Goal-setting and (the continuous pursuit of) goal-achievement
– Community outreach (giving back to the community what you have learned/gained)
– Increased enrollment of Deaf individuals at colleges and technical schools

We do not view success numerically (although most people do) but rather qualitatively. Our best marketing tool is word of mouth, and many of our clients return to us for additional services. But for those who want to know the numbers, here are some examples of our (numeric) successes:

– We have a 100% success rate of our tutored clients being accepted into college. And, each of those clients “reached back” to encourage and help another client to conquer the same challenges.

– We have a 100% success rate of our career coached clients getting a job and/or getting a promotion.

– We have a 100% success rate of our (younger) clients improving their achievement test scores after participating in one or more of our programs.

– We have an 85% success rate of assisting clients with finding a job relative to their interests.

How do we get such great outcomes? 1) Well-defined goals, 2) a well-planned continuum of programs/services, and 3) well-designed evaluation protocols.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
© Anthony Commodore/MalaCom Production, LLC
© Jorge Mayorga/Mayjay Photography

Getting in touch: VoyageATL is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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