During the 1960 National Association of the Deaf Convention in Dallas, Texas, Caroline H. Burnes, wife of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) president Byron B. Burnes, proposed that a Junior (Jr.) NAD organization, with chapters nationwide, be formed. Mrs. Burnes believed that it would be a simple and exciting concept – providing opportunities to develop new leaders among young deaf students.

Mervin Garretson, principal of the Montana School for the Deaf, was asked to direct this  project.  He, together with California’s Lawrence Neman and Caroline Burns, and Missouri’s G.  Dewey Coats, laid the foundation of the present Junior NAD.

Jr. NAD became a reality during the 1961-1962 academic year with six schools (Missouri, South Dakota, Montana, California (two chapters), and Oklahoma) for the deaf organizing chapters. At that time, the Riverside (California) chapter had the distinction of being the largest chapter with 124 members, which kept their advisors extremely busy! By 1964, there were twelve chapters with about 500 members. In March 1967, forty-two schools had Jr. NAD chapters. The Jr. NAD organization was growing and, by 1970, there were fifty-seven chapters with more than 2,000 members.

With its inception, the initial goal of the Jr. NAD organization was to develop new leadership among young deaf students to ‘offset a lack of interest and an apparent listlessness toward organizational work and meaningful group activity among the young deaf adults.’ The idea was to have Jr. NAD chapters in various schools for the deaf. Over the years, the goal has changed and focused on ‘motivating deaf youth to give their very best to whatever they did and to utilize their potential on a higher level.’

The Jr. NAD organization coordinated its first Jr. NAD National Convention at Gallaudet College (now Gallaudet University) in May 1968 and 120 students and their advisors showed up for the first-ever National Convention. In November of that year, the first Jr. NAD regional conference was held in Indianapolis, Indiana. Students came from 24 mid-western residential and day schools, with their advisors as well as administrators from the U.S. Department of Health and Welfare, Gallaudet, N.T.I.D., and other national organizations. It led to the start of the biennial Eastern/Central and Western Deaf Youth Conferences. Now, National conferences are held in alternating years.

For more than 50 years, in the years since the four educators met to act on a convention mandate, Jr. NAD has grown into something much more for the ‘deaf youth of tomorrow.’ It has faced changing times, several office moves, membership fee changes, and the creation of an annual youth leadership camp. Currently, the Jr. NAD organization has a coalition of individual chapters all over the nation. As a program of the NAD, the Jr. NAD offers deaf and hard of hearing students in 7th through 12th grade many opportunities to develop leadership skills, learn and demonstrate citizenship, and meet and interact with students from other schools and states. Students can participate in Jr. NAD by joining chapters established by their schools.