Spotlight on the Robert G. Sanderson Community Center
5709 South 1500 West
Welcome to the Robert G. Sanderson Community Center of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. If you think that is a pretty big title – you should see our building. It is one place where the communication barriers of the world do not exist. It is a home and a refuge for the Deaf Community. Many wonder how a little state like Utah ended up with a big state-of-the-art Deaf Community Center built with state funds.
The Sanderson Center sits on 5.63 acres of land in the middle of Utah’s three largest cities along the Wasatch Front. The building totals 32,000 sq. ft. including a full-size gymnasium, a lounge with a big screen TV and a pool table. It houses the offices of the Division of Services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, an Interpreter Lab, three large classrooms, Lecture Hall, Conference Room, Technology Demonstration Lab, Kitchen, Bookstore, and two pleasant courtyards.
What happens at the Sanderson Center?
Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals meet, socialize and learn at the Sanderson Center. The classrooms are built with “Deaf eyes” in mind. Assistive listening systems are also installed throughout the building. Deaf sporting events and tournaments make the Gym most popular place at the Center.
The Sanderson Community Center offers an array of services again funded with state monies such as: Community Education classes; Counseling; Case Management; Vocational Rehabilitation services; Senior Citizen programs; Independent Living services; Hard of Hearing Adjustment training; Interpreter training and Certification; Technology Demonstration, Installation and Repair; Disabled Deaf programs; and a Bookstore run by the Utah Association for the Deaf, Inc.
The Center can provide these same services and classes to rural or remote cities via videoconferencing. The Sanderson Center is where Deaf and Hard of Hearing organizations hold their meetings and have their socials. It is also a place where you can just drop by if you are feeling alone and need to communicate with other Deaf individuals.
How did the Center get built and how is it funded?
Just as Rome was not built in a day, the Sanderson Center and its programs exist today because of years of advocacy by Deaf leaders. Funding for services, programs, and positions came about one step at a time.
The idea of having a meeting place for Deaf people in Utah was first discussed in 1946. At first the idea was to establish a Deaf club. This idea could never succeed in Utah because there was not a critical mass of Deaf people at the time, and the majority of Deaf in Utah would not drink alcohol which supported Deaf clubs in other cities. However, the dream for a gathering place was kept alive.
In 1965, Dr. Sanderson was hired to start a Rehabilitation program for Deaf adults. He was now in a position to get to know the people with the power. Slowly, but steadily, a program under his direction grew. In June of 1975, the Superintendent of Public Instruction became convinced of the need and asked Bob to bring together a committee to perform a feasibility study for a Deaf Community Center.
When the feasibility study was finished documenting the need for a Center, advocacy to get funding from the Utah State Legislature began in earnest. In the early 1980’s, the first Community Center began in an old church with Bob as the first Director. Though this church was a good start, it was old and inadequate for our needs. Lobbying efforts to get funds for a brand new Center continued.
In 1992 our beautiful new, Deaf-friendly, Center opened its doors. In 2003, as the current Director, I was looking for ways to instill gratitude in the younger Deaf generations for the Deaf leaders who paved the way for the many opportunities they have today. I pursued obtaining permission from the State Board of Education to rename this building for a Deaf hero. The young need to know that this Center exists due to the perseverance of Deaf leaders who sacrificed their time, volunteered their talents and lobbied Utah’s Legislature for decades. The leaders were many, but one name was chosen to symbolize their efforts. On October 4, 2003, “Sandie” was recognized for his rich legacy of leadership; The Utah Community Center officially was officially renamed the Robert G. Sanderson Community Center. More than 1,000 people from all across the United States came to the renaming celebration.
A new sign in Yellowstone National Park explains that the Old Faithful geyser does not shoot as high or as fast as it used to, perhaps because of earthquakes and human pollution. However, it is still the most faithful geyser in the park. Dr. Sanderson reminds me of Old Faithful; he may not walk as fast anymore, or jump as high, but he is awesome and reliable – just like Old Faithful.