Who we are

ciaf™ mission

Established in 2005, the Cochlear Implant Awareness Foundation (CIAF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in Springfield, Illinois.  The mission of CIAF is to raise awareness of how cochlear implants restore sound to the hearing impaired and to provide cochlear implant equipment to qualified applicants in need.

Board of Directors

The Cochlear Awareness Foundation® (CIAF) Board of Directors is made up of individuals who give generously of their time and talents to support and further the mission of CIAF®.


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

Michelle Tjelmeland founder of CIAFAfter 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.”

Cochlear implantBut 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, 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.

Building 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!" To keep up with the growth of District 23, the Springfield store moved to The Wardrobe building in 2018.


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®.


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 and her husband Ryan, are busy enjoying thier new home in the lovely village of Rochester and raising their two young children, Paisley and Jack.  Melissa is an independant Insurance agent and Ryan works as a saleman in the fertilizer business.  CIAF® is close to Melissa's heart because like her sister, Michelle, she also has cochlear implants. It is cetainly a cause she feels passionate about.


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.

Advisory Board

Dr. Michael Novak

As director of the cochlear implant team for the Carle Foundation’s Expanding Children’s Hearing Opportunities (ECHO) program in Urbana, Illinois, Dr. Novak is regarded as a leader in the field of hearing loss and cochlear implant technology. Dr. Novak launched one of the first multi-disciplinary teams to support families of children with hearing loss.

Debra Nussbaum

As coordinator for the Cochlear Implant Education Center at Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center for Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., Debra has spearheaded national efforts to study the combined roles of spoken and signed language in the education of children with cochlear implants.

Anthony Arnold

With a gift for technological savvy, Anthony founded a business assisting medical device companies grow their business by developing marketing products that better meet the needs of their patients and clients. Anthony has a passion for working with the hearing impaired and continues to work with the American Academy of Otolaryngology and medical device manufacturers.