Chris Kenopic, President & CEO, CHS

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Please introduce yourself.

Hello my name is Chris Kenopic. I am the President & CEO of the Canadian Hearing Society (CHS).

What year were you born in and where? Tell me little more about your family and what school you went to? Do you have a family of your own?

I was born in 1966 in a small farming town in Northern Ontario. Both my parents are hearing. I have a brother who is Deaf, just like me, and a younger sister who is hearing. I was enrolled in a hearing school where I experienced many barriers. My mother realized that it was not a good fit for me and enrolled me into a Deaf school. When I graduated from high school, I went to Gallaudet University in Washington D.C. and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications. After completing university, I returned back home to Canada and got married. My wife is a teacher at a Deaf school and we have 4 children, 2 boys and 2 girls. Three of my children are hearing and one is Deaf. He is also enrolled in Deaf school.

Why Gallaudet? Why not university in Canada?

Why did I go to Gallaudet University when I could have attended a university in Canada?

At that time the government provided funding for Deaf students, allowing them to attend any university. I chose Gallaudet because it enabled me to interact socially as well as academically. Growing up, I was not aware of Gallaudet University; however, as I got closer to graduating from high school, we went on a school trip to see Gallaudet. When I arrived at Gallaudet University, I was enamored by seeing Deaf teachers and students as well as many community leaders. That really motivated me to go there. I was thankful as I was given a huge opportunity to learn so much. I believe that if I had not chosen Gallaudet University and instead went to a Canadian university, I do not think I would have achieved so much. Gallaudet helped groom me to become a leader.

Have you been a President & CEO for the CHS a long time? Did you work elsewhere prior to coming to the CHS? What are your current responsibilities?

I have been the President & CEO of the Canadian Hearing Society (CHS) for 4 years. Prior to that, I was a manager in one of the CHS Regional offices for 7 years. When the former President & CEO resigned from the position, I had given this career a lot of thought and I decided to apply. I was selected for an interview and went through a series of interviews before I was offered the position and hired. As a Deaf President & CEO, my role is to improve accessibility for Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals in the areas of higher education and better employment opportunities, amongst other issues. The Canadian Hearing Society has 20 regional offices with 450 employees across Ontario. The CHS’s goal is to remove barriers for all people that are Deaf, hard of hearing and those with hearing loss.

Are all employees at the CHS hearing? Do they all know sign language?

We have a wide range of employee diversity in the CHS regional offices including our head office. There’s a mixture of Deaf, hard of hearing and hearing employees. The majority of them sign fluently and for those that don’t we usually have sign language interpreters available so we can all communicate effectively. Some people that are hard of hearing require the use of live captioning and we have that available as well so they can fully participate in communicating. We believe in full access so the CHS encourages all employees to know/learn sign language so that when a Deaf client comes in there will be no communication barriers. Clients have already experienced communication barriers at other agencies and we do not want the CHS to be one of them. So we promote and advocate for full communication access.

Does the CHS have a Board of Directors? If so, how many Directors are there? Are they Deaf or hearing? What are their responsibilities?

The CHS has an elected Board of Directors and as the President & CEO, it is my responsibility to communicate with the Board members and follow their direction to ensure that the job is being done.   There are 17 members on the CHS Board with a mixture of hearing, Deaf and hard of hearing – with no majority – they are all equal in numbers.   The Board member’s responsibilities are to ensure that the CHS remains strong, to monitor the finances and plan for future stability. If there are shortages in funding, the Board will task me to make cutbacks, improve services and do fundraising. When I go to official meetings, sometimes a Board member will come with me and this gives a very good indication to government officials that Board members support the activities of the CHS. That is very important as it may allow the CHS to secure additional funding and/or expand existing services.

Do you and the Board members share information with the Deaf community?

It’s really important that the President & CEO and the Board members share information with the Deaf, hard of hearing and hearing community so that they are apprised of what’s happening with the CHS. On a regular basis, I post videos of myself reporting in sign language, what’s happening with updates and future directions of the CHS’s activities. It is important to keep everyone informed. We also have a yearly meeting to update on what has happened in the past year including financial, program and services reports. We do not withhold information, as it is important to be transparent. However, when it comes to my job performance and whether or not I have effectively done my job that is between the Board members and me.

Does the CHS charge fees for members using their services?

The CHS has both fee paying and non-fee paying members. There are two categories. One is a paid membership that is low cost and for that fee the member will receive the bi-monthly VIBE magazine consisting of reports on programs and services as well as interesting articles. All members are also invited to participate in the Annual General Meeting (AGM) and are encouraged to ask questions and/or make/recommend motions. Those who do not pay a membership fee are still welcome to use the CHS’s services. Being a non-member does not mean they cannot access services, they can at anytime. In addition, if anyone purchases products or donates money, they will also receive Vibe magazine. The only thing a non-member (non-fee paying) cannot do is vote at the Annual General Meeting. That is the only difference between the two categories.

Does the CHS have Bylaws? How does one get elected to be a member of the Board? What is the procedure?

The CHS has bylaws and one of them outlines Board members responsibilities for recruiting interested members, whether they are Deaf, hearing or hard of hearing. The qualifications we look for are: leadership; ability to fundraise and knowing the community.   There are procedures that we must follow when looking for new members such as: distributing notices; inviting members to meetings and conducting interviews. We then narrow down our choices and present them to the Board with a list of potential candidates. At the Annual General Meeting, members vote to approve the selections. The process is democratic; we do not reject interested members, as everyone is equal. If there are any disputes, we work towards resolving the issues. This appears to be effective and members are encouraged to not represent only one group but rather all groups.

What if the Board member or other member(s) of the community disagree? How do you and/or the Board member handle this?

Board members and other members in the meeting are encouraged to provide input; however, occasionally there are disagreements. We do not remove anyone as a member but instead we work with the individual, to hear their thoughts and attempt to resolve the matter. If it is not possible to resolve it quickly during the large meeting, we ask that we discuss it at another time in a smaller setting. Members usually agree and we would then meet to discuss the issue, working toward a solution. Perhaps it involves a misunderstanding in communication or the member does have a valid concern. Most importantly, we do not reject them as members. It is important to listen to them.

Can you tell me who does the performance review on the President & CEO and who is responsible for monitoring your performance. Also, can you tell me what the term is for Board members?

As the President & CEO of the CHS, my position depends on how effective I am at my job. The Board members monitor my performance and that includes raising funds and being a good leader. My position continues if I am doing a good job but if I do not raise funds and my leadership is lacking then the Board members have the right to replace me with a new President & CEO. The Board member terms are 3 years and if they’re interested in staying for another term, they can. However, there are policies so that a recurring term member may change their position on the Board. The CHS and the Board do not want to replace all of the existing members with new Board members every time there’s a new election as this would bring in too many new and inexperienced members at once. We would rather have experienced Board members merge with newer members so the new people can learn from the trained members. This allows the CHS Board members to maintain the corporate history and continuity and to support the CHS’ ongoing activities.

How much does it cost to be a member of the CHS? Who can be a member of the Board?

To become a member of the CHS, the annual fee is $25.00, which is a very good deal. Membership is open to everyone in the community. Employees of the CHS can be members and they can also attend Annual General Meetings to vote on proposed motions. The only exception is that they cannot be on the Board as that’s a conflict of interest. If they are no longer employed at the CHS and wish to become a member of the Board, they can after a year or two.

If the Deaf community is not happy with your performance as the president & CEO of the CHS, do they have the right to ask for your resignation? Is there a procedure?

As the current President & CEO of the CHS, it is my responsibility to oversee the activities of the CHS as well as all employees. If the Deaf and hard of hearing community are not satisfied with my performance, they can file a complaint. There are procedures in the CHS’s policies that need to be followed. Filing a complaint can be done either in writing or by videotaping in ASL and then submitted to the Board. The Board members will review the complaints and determine whether they are factual. If there are numerous complaints, the Board members would discuss them with me to resolve the issues. This can be done by meeting with the Deaf community to discuss how the issues can be resolved or meeting with the Board members to discuss how and what can be resolved. If the Board members or the community in general find that the issue has not been resolved and that it has been ongoing and problematic, then the Board members can ask for my resignation and replace me with a new President & CEO.

How does the CHS deal with discrimination in the workplace? What is being done if it is found that there is discrimination?

As the President & CEO of the CHS, it is my responsibility to oversee the CHS. There are also Directors and managers and they too are responsible for ensuring that their department is running efficiently. The Board members oversee the responsibility for ensuring that the CHS is performing well. All employees at the CHS, whether they are Deaf, hard of hearing or hearing, are all treated equally. No employee at the CHS can discriminate against another employee or alienate them. The CHS does not tolerate this behavior and employees will be disciplined as per the Human Resources Policy. All employees must be treated equally and with respect whether one can sign fluently or not.   This applies to both men and women; they are equal and the same. Gay, lesbian or heterosexual are all considered equal and the same. If one employee discriminates against another employee, they will be disciplined immediately or may be asked to leave the position. So again, everyone is equally respected.

Why is the CHS called The Canadian “Hearing” Society? The services are for Deaf and Hard of hearing people.

Originally, the name was the Canadian Deaf and Hard of Hearing and after many years, it was changed to the Canadian Hearing Society. The reason for that change is because we are not only serving Deaf clients, we are also serving many different groups with different hearing losses. Yes, many community members often wonder why the CHS is called the Canadian Hearing Society and want to change the name. As the current President & CEO, this is not a priority, it is more important to focus on accessibility, removing barriers and ensuring that the services are ongoing. The CHS has an abundance of information on its website, in Vibration (VIBE) magazine, and ASL videos distributed across the province. We encourage everyone to read what is available and to become proactive advocates. It is not our own personal responsibility to hold people’s hands; we provide resources to assist them with removing barriers. While we keep everyone informed and communicate with governments to ensure that the barriers are removed, we also expect the community as a whole to get involved and advocate. We believe in sharing information and having the community involved with us, working side-by-side, not just me as one leader, but all of us working together to remove the barriers.

Are there any final comments you would like to share?

Yes. As I previously said, there is an abundance of information on the CHS website. All of this information is public and posted on the website for all to see. Board members do not hold things back. If you are curious as to how the CHS is being funded and where the money is coming from, that information is also available on our website. The majority of our funds come from the government, albeit not enough and we are hoping to raise more.   We do fundraising activities to raise funds for projects. There are also members and member’s families that like what the CHS does who would be willing to donate. All of that is shown in the financial report, outlining where the money comes from and how the money is allocated. The financial report accounts for every penny, there is no slippage or room for errors. Every year, an external auditor comes in to examine the financial report thoroughly. If they find anything wrong with it, they would investigate further before officially signing it off as per the law.

Thank you Chris Kenopic, President & CEO of the CHS. It has been an informative and helpful interview and I thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to share with other Deaf and hard of hearing consumers.

As you can see, the CHS promotes equal access and respects diverse communities. They make every effort to serve Deaf and hard of hearing people by working with them and by sharing all information. They welcome feedback and input and work toward to achieving the goal of eliminating barriers!