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Obstacles Faced Early On: The Cranes Tell Their Story

Photos courtesy of the Crane family. From left: Jameson “Jim” Crane III, Meredith Crane, Jessica “Jesse” Crane, and Jameson “Jay” Crane Jr.

Where many see obstacles, Gallaudet University Board of Trustees member Jameson “Jay” Crane, Jr., and his wife Meredith, see opportunities.

Long before the Cranes became connected to Gallaudet, they were like most parents of deaf children as they had no connections to the deaf community.

“Early on, we made a sincere effort that allowed us to understand the deaf community,” said Meredith. “Like all parents of deaf children, we were given choices about communication. We didn’t want to wait to communicate with our children, so we decided to use sign language.

“It was the best decision we ever made.”

Later, when their son, Jameson “Jim” Crane III, was also born deaf, the Cranes were already part of the deaf community in their hometown of Columbus, Ohio. Meredith said she and Jay became advocates for the deaf community the day Jesse was born (Jay himself is now hard of hearing).

“When Jesse was first looking for a job, people were not receptive to hiring her because she was deaf,” said Meredith. “I decided right then and there, if I could open up a business where deaf people could work and communicate freely, I would.”

The Cranes made good on that promise. In 1998, they founded Deaf Initiatives, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, to pursue their passion of providing information on pathways for deaf youth and their families to transition from high school into college or career. The Cranes organized weekend transition workshops and bus tours for deaf teens and their families to visit Gallaudet and other schools.

The following year, the Cranes established Keepsake Theme Quilts (KTQ), a non-profit mission-driven, social purpose business aimed at supporting Deaf Initiatives by creating a work experience model for adults and high school students who are deaf or hard of hearing. They wanted to create a business that was hands-on and visual, lending itself to a beginning-to-end process. It was also important that deaf employees have direct contact with the hearing community from the beginning of the ordering process until the end.

From humble beginnings with three staff members and one sewing machine, KTQ today employs 23 deaf adults who work as seamstresses and production assistants, three deaf high school students, and three hearing staff members, all who know sign language. Since its inception, KTQ has employed over 100 deaf individuals and has produced more than 9,500 quilts, pillows, tote bags, and blankets. In 2018, they will celebrate their 20th anniversary.

The deaf-friendly work environment at KTQ includes large open rooms which are essential when using a visual language. Assistive technology, like videophones, are also installed to facilitate communication between the deaf and hearing worlds.

The vision and tenacity shown by the Crane family is not surprising to the people who know them because establishing businesses is in their blood.

“The Crane Group and Crane Plastics were started 70 years ago by my grandfather,” said Jay. “My father and uncle later ran the company, and I was involved. The Crane Group is now led by the fourth generation of the family.”

Jay said the long-running success of Crane family businesses is due, in large part, to the good people who work there. That same mentality is the driving force behind the family’s non-profit ventures.

“We are customer-focused, driven by quality control, and we work as a team and have fun,” said Meredith.

The entrepreneurial spirit continues through their children who have started their own successful businesses. After Gallaudet, Jim attended law school at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, California. Three years ago, he founded NaturALT Capital, an investment company that funds mostly startups. Today, it invests in six start-up businesses, mostly deaf-owned, and has 18 employees.

“I grew up going to my parents’ offices, and learning from them how businesses are run,” said Jim. “Being around people who wanted to create jobs for others, who wanted to have and see success, motivated me.

“My parents always taught me that people must take pride in what they do, and the importance of giving people opportunities to work.”

Jesse and her husband, Andy, flip homes for a living in D.C. Previously, Jesse attended the Rochester Institute of Technology business school and realized it was not a good fit. A few years later, she came to Gallaudet and after graduation, worked with the University’s First-Year Experience program. Later, Jesse and Andy found their true passion in the home renovation and reselling business.

“We never looked back after that,” said Jesse. “It has been a great journey. I believe it is so important to have deaf entrepreneurs because it is one of the ways we connect with the hearing world. We slowly built relationships with realtors, subcontractors, architects, and builders and over time, they learned to respect us, and we respect them. We now refer each other to other people, and that is how our business grew.”

Just like his parents did years ago, Jim sees owning his own business as a chance to give more deaf people job opportunities.

“Deaf people have so much to offer. We want jobs, we want to work, and we need role models, just like every community does,” said Jim. “I want to expand opportunities for our people, our community.”

Donalda and her wife poses next to a quilt.

Keepsake Theme Quilts donated a quilt that was auctioned at Homecoming 2017. The winning bid was $1,650 from Drs. Donalda Ammons and Diane Morton. The money went to support the Gallaudet Fund.

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