In 1974, Don and Mary Burkes, a deaf couple, and Betty Steed, a local nationally certified interpreter and Pastor of Eternal Mercy Lutheran Church, recognized and acted on the need for an organization to facilitate American Sign Language interpreting in Memphis. Together they founded Interpreting Service for the Deaf. United Way of Greater Memphis provided our initial funding and we were housed at the Child Development Center. In 1978 ISD became a division of the Memphis YMCA, and services were expanded to include telecommunication devices for the D/deaf, relay services, advocacy, job placement assistance, public education and awareness. In 1987 we became a department of St. Joseph Hospital of Memphis. To reflect the incorporation of more programs for the community, in 1995 ISD changed its name to DeafConnect of the Mid-South and became a separate 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Today DeafConnect provides 12,000 hours of interpreting services annually.
Mary Gill is DeafConnect’s full-time interpreter, interpreting from spoken or written English into ASL and reverse-interpreting ASL into spoken English. She has extensive experience as a professional interpreter, having worked for the University of Mississippi, the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services, Northwest Community College and the North Mississippi Regional Center. She has earned an Associate of Arts degree, an Associate of Applied Science degree in interpreter training and a Bachelor of Science in interpreter training. She is pursuing a Master of Science in general ASL and English interpreting. She has completed the Compass professional interpreter program and has earned the highest level of certification, Level III, in the Mississippi Quality Assessment Screening program. She holds a Mississippi Interpreter Registration and is a member of the Mississippi Association of the Deaf.
Special Events Coordinator
Rita Santi Grivich is a retired teacher from White Station High School’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Department. With teaching credentials in deaf education and English, she taught for 48 years, some at the Shelby County Penal Farm. Her interest in and love for bringing out the theatrical skills of her high school students prompted her to found the Deaf Drama Club, nationally recognized as the first of its kind. She now works part-time at DeafConnect where she assists in coordinating special events, in particular the annual Deaf Family Reunion held each fall. She is a member of the East Memphis Quota Club.
Social Media Specialist
Trent Harper, who was born completely Deaf, graduated from Gallaudet University with a bachelor’s degree in theatre. He also earned an Associate of Arts degree in speech and theatre from Northwest Mississippi Community College. He joined the staff of DeafConnect in the spring of 2020 as the social media specialist.
President of the Board
Billy Leavell is president of the board for DeafConnect. He was born Deaf in Montgomery, Alabama, and was educated at hearing schools in Montgomery and Birmingham. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from David Lipscomb University and established Light for the Deaf, a publication for the deaf. He was a full-time minister of a church in Nashville before moving to Memphis to minister to the d/Deaf at East Frayser Church of Christ. In 1998 he and the d/Deaf group relocated to White Station Church of Christ. His wife, Marilyn Allgood, is an interpreter for the deaf.
Scheduling Coordinator and Interpreter
Madison Manley graduated with honors from Troy University’s Interpreting Training Program. She spent five years immersed in D/deaf culture, learning to be an effective ally and working under the standards of the Code of Professional Conduct developed by the National Association of the D/deaf and the Registry of Interpreters for the D/deaf. She joined DeafConnect as scheduling coordinator and interpreter in the summer of 2019 and continues to serve the D/deaf and hard of hearing community through interpreting, advocating and allyship.
Natasha Parks joined DeafConnect in 2019 and was named CEO on July 1, 2020. She is mom to two beautiful daughters. As Parks was helping her autistic daughter learn to read, she devised a system to help her young student better understand what she was reading. The system Parks developed landed her a yearlong fellowship with 4.0 Schools to create a reading program using visual images and representations of stories for children with different abilities. She has a heart for empowering different abilities and sees non-verbal communication as an important tool. She is learning American Sign Language, teaching ASL to her family and developing an understanding of D/deaf culture. She is a business and accounting professional with extensive experience in nonprofit organizational structures. She earned her Bachelor’s of Business Administration from the University of Memphis.
DeafConnect’s newest director, Steve Pike, is an accomplished not-for-profit and public sector executive. His desire to serve the D/deaf community comes from seeing the effects of his father's hearing loss late in life and his own partial loss of hearing the last few years. For 17 years he led the Pink Palace Family of Museums, one of the largest groups of cultural attractions in the Southeastern U.S., including natural and cultural history museums, temporary exhibits, three historic houses, an education complex, a planetarium, a giant-screen theater, a nature center and a paleo research site. Previously he was executive director of the Virginia State Museum of Natural History. He has also served in leadership roles with the Smithsonian Institution, the American Alliance of Museums, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Marian University and pursued graduate studies at Temple University.
Dawn Weaver is vice president and secretary of the board for DeafConnect. She has more than 35 years of experience in transportation operations, customer service and employee support. She is chief executive officer of Big Ass Freight and also served as CEO of Alan and Sons LLC. During her time as director of finance and office manager for DeafConnect she conceived and improved the systems for accounting, filing and scheduling for professional interpreters. She earned her Associate of Applied Science Degree in business studies with an administrative office management concentration from Jackson State Community College.