On April 10, the College of Health and Human Services will host the 2015 Community Heroes Awards to recognize the unsung heroes in our community whose actions, thoughts and words have had a transformative power in our region. Our heroes, who represent each of the seven departments and four centers within our college, put others before themselves to genuinely make a difference for the residents of our region. All month long, we will be highlighting our 11 honorees in our Community Heroes Series.

_D1C9422Name: Kathy Yoshida

Occupation: Director of Interpreting, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Service Center

Nominated by: The Department of Communicative Disorders and Deaf Studies

Kathy Yoshida was just starting out her nursing career in the early 1960s in New Jersey, when an experience with a Deaf family turned out to be a turning point in her life. Her deep connection to the family drew her into a world she knew very little of, but she felt it was God’s doing. Although she had absolutely no background or exposure to the Deaf community or American Sign Language, she became an impassioned advocate for those living in silence.

No matter where she went, Yoshida made it a point to connect with the Deaf community. She was so immersed in the culture, that she learned American Sign Language through interacting and signing with those in the community.

Yoshida was a pioneer. Back in the 1960s, American Sign Language was a rarity, known mainly to the children and adult children of Deaf parents. There was no formal training for sign language interpreters and the profession was nonexistent. This didn’t deter Yoshida from embarking on her passion. In fact, it only made her want to learn more.

In what seemed like an act of fate, she and her husband moved to Fresno in 1980. That same year, Fresno State was awarded a two-year grant to offer an interpreter training program in the Department of Communicative Disorders and Deaf Studies. Yoshida jumped at the chance to take part in the incredible opportunity to fully immerse herself in the Deaf community she grew to love. And the feeling was mutual. The Deaf community embraced Yoshida into their world without reservation.

She completed her training and was awarded a certificate of completion. Since then, Yoshida has been a well-respected leader to many professionals in the fields of medicine, social services, legal circles and education who all use her expertise to serve the rights of the Deaf community and provide much needed equal access to communication.

Yoshida currently serves as the director of interpreting at the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Service Center, a non-profit social service agency that provides resources to the Deaf and hard of hearing community and assists them in their goals of achieving independence and equality. She has held this valued role for the past 15 years.

Because of Yoshida’s medical background as a nurse, she offers a unique skill set that is much needed in the Deaf community. Senior citizens, in particular, entrust her care as their interpreter for medical and personal appointments.

Many young interpreters seek out Yoshida for her knowledge and wisdom. She has been heavily involved with the Fresno State interpreting program, creating professional opportunities for the coming generations of young interpreters in the Central Valley. She is a role model, advocate, advisor, mentor and educator to many students and individuals alike.

One thing that truly sets Yoshida apart is her genuine desire and belief that all people, regardless of abilities, should have the same access and rights as others. She believes that people should not be segregated because of ethnicity, age, gender, culture, much less their hearing ability.

One of her mottos is “meet people where they are, not where we expect them to be, but where they are in their personal journey.” For nearly 35 years, Yoshida has exemplified that belief with humility, grace and compassion.

“This journey that I have been on is not one that I actively sought out; it found me and I am grateful,” says Yoshida. “I am fortunate to have found my passion and mission in life.  I look forward to each day as a new opportunity to serve.”

The 2015 Community Heroes Awards will be held on April 10, 2015 at Fresno State. For more information on the event, contact Beth Wilkinson at 559.278.3603 or bwilkinson@csufresno.edu or click here.