Donor Highlight – The Dove Foundation

The Dove Foundation was founded in 1986 by Ted and Elaine Welp with the mission to further educational and community opportunities for individuals with disabilities. The foundation initially focused solely on educational initiatives for the Deaf because of the Welp’s personal experience in securing supports and services for their son, Tom. He was born with Usher Syndrome, a disease marked by profound hearing loss and progressive blindness. When Elaine approached Tom’s primary school to request a sign language interpreter for Tom, she was met with a single answer: no. That one word began Elaine’s 50-year journey advocating for deaf and hard of hearing students American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation, better wages for interpreters, and the inclusion of the  Deaf and hard of hearing people in the community, which evolved to broader initiatives supporting educational opportunities for all students with disabilities.

At the beginning of his education, Tom was not allowed to attend school with his neighborhood friends. He received non-inclusive schooling where he was forced to learn the only communication system allowed in schools at that time – lip-reading and speech. By the time Tom finished kindergarten the only word he could say was “stupid,” and he used it to describe himself breaking his mother’s heart. This all changed when one day, a girl from an ASL school taught Tom sign language and gave him a whole new way to communicate. After that, the entire Welp family learned ASL and moved to Arizona so Tom could attend a public school for the Deaf and blind where the classroom instruction was in ASL. Suddenly, Tom was excelling in school, an active student athlete, and became known for his great sense of humor.

When speaking to Lori, Elanie’s daughter and now Board Chair of the Dove Foundation, she mentions how her mother always said that Tom’s story illustrated how students just need the right supports and a positive learning environment to thrive in school. The Dove Foundation now seeks out organizations that advance that educational vision. Lori says she believes the relentless advocacy of the Moran Center’s staff reflects the fearless spirit of her mother’s advocacy for students with disabilities throughout her life. The Moran Center came to the attention of the Dove Foundation because of its holistic approach, combining legal and social work services. The Dove Foundation truly believes the Moran Center’s staff is key to its model’s success. The Moran Center’s compassionate social workers, zealous lawyers and advocates, and creative development team allow it to continually address both pressing and long-term, systemic problems to build a more just and equitable educational system.

When asked about her favorite aspect of the Moran Center, Lori mentioned that the Education Advocacy attorneys have a special place in her heart because of the work they do to leverage the broader community in better understanding “disabilities,” as well as closing the gap for students with disabilities in school and keeping kids out of the school-to-prison pipeline.