• Wes Wicker

Can You Hear Me Now?

A valid criticism leveled at nonprofit organizations is their inability to keep professional staff. Indeed, development officers come and go so quickly, it’s difficult to establish meaningful relationships with a nonprofit when the faces are constantly changing.

One of the exceptions in the Atlanta community is Deborah Brilling, Executive Director of the Auditory Verbal Center (AVC). This year (2021) marks her 19th year as the leader of the organization. AVC teaches deaf and hard of hearing children, starting as young as 2 months old, how to listen and speak without the need of sign language or lip reading. Brilling was recently awarded the prestigious Wendell Todd Lifetime Achievement Award for her dedication to deaf and hard of hearing children.

“We serve more than 160 families a year who have a deaf or hard of hearing child,” Brilling states. “Our families come from all over the state for one-hour therapy sessions each week. Many of them cannot afford internet or computers for online instruction, so as the pandemic shutdown was occurring, we found the money to purchase the technology for each of our families who didn’t have it. We found the money from supporters and we were completely online in February 2020 — well ahead of the complete shutdown. You can’t hit the pause button on that critical time when children are learning. You can’t get that time back.”

The Auditory Verbal Center (AVC) is a leader in the field of pediatric listening and spoken language intervention services, adult auditory rehabilitation and post-implant services. AVC serves the entire state through its established teletherapy model. They work closely with local audiologists to better serve the deaf and hard of hearing children in Georgia.

Amazingly, there are only 760 certified auditory verbal therapists in the entire world. AVC employs six of those certified therapists in their Atlanta and Macon centers. Through the center, children learn how to listen — not just hear noise, but interpret the meaning of sounds they hear — and how to speak.

The Center is expanding the Auditory-Verbal Therapy department and looking to hire two more, a certified Auditory-Verbal Therapist or a Speech-Language Pathologist, committed to becoming certified in Auditory-Verbal Therapy. All of the center’s six therapists have earned certification.

“We already have two bilingual therapists,” commented Brilling, “and we have increasing demands for additional bilingual services.”

Deafness or hearing impairment affects 200+ children a year in Georgia, as a result of genetics, illness or accidents.

“Eighty percent of a person’s learning occurs by the time they are three years old,” Brilling said. “In order for them to learn to listen and to speak, the child has to learn how to understand what they are hearing. Synapses in the brain have to connect sounds to their learned meanings during early childhood, or those connectors wither and die.”

So, what kept Brilling in the same seat for 19 years?

For her, it was personal. Both of her children were born with hearing impairments. She was a divorced mother working in the mortgage industry, and she knew that she had to take on the additional responsibilities of special needs children. She found AVC and enrolled her children. Later, she joined the board as a volunteer, and eventually became the Executive Director in 2002.

Like all good stories, this one has a happy ending. Both of Brilling’s children were fitted with Cochlear implants, graduated from the Auditory Verbal Center, and were mainstreamed in public schools. Today, her son Jonathan serves as Development and Community Engagement Coordinator for AVC. He makes frequent presentations in the community for United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta. Daughter Samantha Downton serves as the organization’s Marketing Coordinator.

In addition to the long hours of running a robust nonprofit, Brilling has been a long-time member of Kiwanis in Atlanta, having started and joined several clubs. She also served as the District Governor of Kiwanis for the State of Georgia from 2018 to 2019.


Auditory-Verbal Center (AVC), headquartered at Century Center, just off I-85 in Atlanta, teaches deaf and hearing impaired children how to hear and speak. AVC will assist families in making sure that their children have the correct hearing aids or cochlear implants and then begin working with a certified Listening and Spoken language/AVT specialist. For more information visit www.avchears.org.

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