Michelle Tjelmeland and her District 23 team


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Michelle Tjelmeland

FOUNDER AND CHAIRWOMANMichelle Tjelmeland founder of the Cochlear Implant Awareness Foundation and District 23

Michelle Tjelmeland is the founder of the Cochlear Implant Awareness Foundation (CIAF) and District 23 Mercantile & Foundry, a store that benefits CIAF.

After losing her hearing at age 25, Michelle found that another one of her senses – her sight – kicked into high gear. She became very drawn to visually appealing things, whether for her home or her own wardrobe.  People would often comment on her eye for aesthetics, to which she would respond, “I guess I make up for my hearing loss with my sense of sight.”

But here’s the thing – while Michelle is deaf, she actually can hear because of the miracle of cochlear implant technology. And Michelle’s daughter, Ellie, who was born deaf, can now hear as well.

Michelle Tjelmeland wearing her cochlear implantMichelle, hardly a shrinking violet, started the Cochlear Implant Awareness Foundation in 2005 to help other people who could benefit from cochlear implant technology. Since then, the organization has helped more than 1500 families in their journeys to find information and resources about the surgery.  The organization also provides cochlear implant equipment to needy recipients through it's Hear Again™ Program.

Cochlear implantBuilding on the momentum of the organization first six years, Michelle wanted to bring CIAF to the next level - and help even more people hear through cochlear implant technology. As she considered the options, opening a visually stimulating store that helps the hearing impaired seemed to make - well, sense.  In true Michelle style, the store went from idea to reality in two months flat.

Our retail shop is located in District 23 (hence the name) in the up-and-coming Macarthur Boulevard corridor in Springfield, Illinois.  In the fall of 2016, Michelle saw the opportunity to open a second location in her home town of Rochester.  "We are thrilled to be able to expand, and bring even more awareness to CIAF!"

We couldn't do all the wonderful things we do without the continued support of our CIAF Board Members:

Max Klemm

A life-long resident of Taylorville, where he and his wife raised their two daughters, Max Klemm brings his own unique brand of optimism and encouragement to CIAF™. His positive outlook is absolutely infectious and any time spent around him makes it obvious why he’s been such a success in his 42 years in the car business. In addition to his position on the foundation board, Max is an ever-present volunteer at special events for CIAF™.

Sheryl Klemm

A skilled administrative assistant, Sheryl Klemm has years of experience providing administrative support to private firms. In addition to her role on the CIAF™ Board, she has volunteered weekly at District 23 since the shop’s opening, and never misses volunteering for a CIAF™ special event. Sheryl has lived nearly all her life in Taylorville, where she and her husband, Max, raised their two daughters. She has three beautiful granddaughters with whom she loves to spend time.

Melissa Jerome

Bio Coming Soon!

Brandy Lozosky

Brandy Lozosky is the creative force behind District 23. She can take anything ordinary and turn it into extraordinary. She enjoys building and creating things out of metal, wood, fabrics, and discarded items.  In fact, it was Brandy who created CIAF's™ popular Socks for Sounds fundraiser. When she’s not volunteering for CIAF™, Brandy is at home with her loving and supportive family – husband, Mike, and son, Reilly.

Laura Gehrs

Laura Gehrs is an engineer by day and a District 23 buyer and merchandiser by night and on weekends. She works evenings and Saturdays each week at the shop and serves as a Director on the CIAF™ Board. A wife and mom of two, Laura has an incredible calming influence on those around her. While she loves tropical travel, she enjoys spending time in her own backyard paradise with family, friends, and her three fur babies, two Jack Russell Terriers and a Miki/Yorkie mix.

Crista Gebhardt

Originally from the Chicago area, Crista Gebhardt has lived with her husband in Springfield, Illinois for almost 20 years. While raising four very active school-aged kids, she has been extremely involved in various roles with local volunteer organizations. This experience is a great asset to CIAF™. Crista helps coordinate special events for the foundation and volunteers her time regularly, both at the events and by serving on the CIAF™ Board.