When Anjela Ford, 34, of Vancouver took a front end manager position at the New Seasons Market in Fisher's Landing, she wanted to find a way the store could better serve Vancouver's large deaf community.
As a student of American Sign Language, Ford remembered practicing her language skills at a coffee night at a cafe in Beaverton, Ore. and decided to try out the concept at New Seasons. Ford isn't deaf but was once aspired to be an American Sign Language interpreter.
She launched the monthly Deaf Coffee Night in January at the grocery store at 2100B S.E. 164th Ave. Since then, the participant group has ballooned to up to 45 people at a time. The group meets from 5 to 7 p.m. the first Monday of each month.
"Vancouver has a large deaf community so having this just makes sense," Ford said.
Participants are of all ages and backgrounds. Some are members of Clark County's deaf community. There are about 16,000 people who are deaf or hard of hearing in the county, according to the Census Bureau. Many of them are alumni of the Washington School for the Deaf near downtown Vancouver. Other participants are hearing speakers of American Sign Language or students who want to practice their language skills and connect with the deaf community.
The deaf community is close-knit, so much of the awareness about the coffee night has spread as a result of word of mouth, Ford said.
Beverly Smith, 57, of Vancouver learned about the event from a friend.
"I really enjoy it," Smith said through an interpreter.
She said she enjoys connecting with people who are interested in sign language, in addition to others in the deaf community. She said she tries to give sign language students tips on improving their language skills.
"It's beautiful to see (hearing people practicing sign language)," Smith said.
Jenny Kidd, 24, of Vancouver is one of those. She is a professional interpreter and uses the coffee night to network and help sign language beginners.
"It's really nice to see students and encourage them and see their improvement," she said.
Camas resident Quinn Claypoole, a 22-year-old New Seasons Fisher's Landing employee who is deaf, said it's important to stay connected with other deaf people.
"It's easier for me to communicate with deaf people versus hearing people," Claypoole said through an interpreter. "Sometimes it's a challenge to communicate with hearing people, but I can enjoy it, as well."
Ford started studying sign language in the fifth grade as an elective and later as her second language for a bachelor's degree at the University of California, Davis.
"I took German in high school; American Sign Language came more naturally," Ford said.
When Ford moved to the Portland area, she enrolled in an American Sign Language interpreter program at Portland Community College but ultimately decided it wasn't the right career for her. Instead, she has combined her love of food and sign language by working at New Seasons, teaching signs to babies and parents on the side, and offering the Deaf Coffee Night at the grocery store.
"This is one of the most exciting things I've done, is bring this to the store," Ford said.
Starbucks also holds a monthly deaf coffee night. It's from 7 to 10 p.m. the first Friday of each month at its shop at 11502 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd. in Vancouver.