PINELLAS PARK – As a young girl in Brazil, Arlete Rocha was placed in an orphanage when her parents divorced.
Growing up, she was a very shy and quiet child, and didn’t have many friends.
“I didn’t have anyone to talk to,” she said.
When she left the orphanage and took her first job after graduating from college with a degree in psychology, working as a counselor for the deaf, she realized how much she had in common with them.
“When I got out of the orphanage and could see deaf people talking, I thought that’s so hard for them to talk,” she said. “So few people know sign language. I had the same feeling and saw myself inside the orphanage. I felt very close to them.”
This connection led a 25-plus-year career to working with the deaf and deaf-blind. She relocated to Port Charlotte in 2001, where she learned American Sign Language.
Now a Pinellas Park resident, her latest philanthropic endeavor is The Arlete Rocha Foundation for the Deaf.
“I thought maybe it was time to do something more,” she said. “I want to try to help them in some way. That’s why the foundation is there.”
The 501(c)3 charity is focused on organizing healthy activities and events that will enhance the quality of life for those who are deaf.
“Our goal is to integrate the deaf and deaf-blind into society as much as we can,” Rocha said.
“Sometimes they tend to exile themselves,” said Ron Iverson of Seminole, the foundation’s director of development. “We want to help them … We hate to see them excluded.”
Throughout the past year, the foundation has organized social meet-ups for the deaf and deaf-blind. But its first major event will be a series of golf outings at Bayou Country Club in Largo beginning Saturday, Jan. 25. These outings will be free for the individuals invited to participate.
“They are very excited about the golfing,” Rocha said. “Most of the deaf have never played before. But they’re very excited.”
Because those attending don’t have their own set of golf clubs, the foundation is teaming up with the Seminole Chamber of Commerce to collect used sets of clubs from golfers. Donors can leave their old sets at the chamber office, 7985 113th St. N., Suite 208, and will receive a $150 tax deduction.
“Even a good golfer has a nice, new set of clubs and an old set of clubs in the garage,” Iverson said.
The foundation is also looking for sponsors of the event, he said. For a $100 donation, the donor will receive a $350 gift certificate from Warrior Custom Golf for both a hybrid golf club and a wedge. Warrior is also donating hybrid clubs to each of the deaf golfers participating.
“Their generosity in the donation of their premium quality golf clubs is an important factor in the success of this event,” Iverson said.
For more information about The Arlete Rocha Foundation for the Deaf, visit arlete4thedeaf.org.