Good Neighbors

Neighbors Learn Sign Language To "Speak" With Little Girl

When they couldn't communicate with their new neighbor, they did something about it.

When Glenda and Raphi Savitz moved into a quiet neighborhood in Newton, MA, they knew it was special. But, they didn't know how special it was until their daughter Samantha was born a few years ago.

Samantha was born deaf, and along with coming to terms with having a child with a disability, Glenda and Raphi started doing everything they could so that they could communicate with their little girl.

"She was the first deaf person we had known, so obviously it was a surprise and a challenge," Glenda told NPR. "We knew right away that we had to get involved in the deaf community, learn about the culture, and start getting fully immersed in American Sign Language."

Glenda and Raphi SavitzRaphi Savitz/Facebook

The Savitzes had moved into their neighborhood, located on a peninsula in the Charles River, just three months before Samantha was born, so they were just getting to know their neighbors – many of whom have lived there for decades.

As the people in the community got to know the family, they were frustrated that they couldn't talk to Samantha.

"We really wanted to communicate with her and play with her," said Jill McNeil, who lives across the street from the Savitzes. "And since she couldn't learn our language, we thought we wanted to learn hers."

So, McNeil and a few other neighbors signed up to take an ASL class at a local community college. They liked the experience so much that they invited the instructor of the course to come and teach more people in the neighborhood.

What started as just a handful of people learning sign language turned into over 40 neighbors showing up for classes held two different weeknights.

Kelly Clarkson Show/YouTube

Now, whenever Glenda and Raphael are out walking with Samantha, neighbors stop to sign with the toddler, who loves to ride her bike and play with the neighborhood dogs.

"Her parents translate for us because her fingers are very small right now and she signs very fast, so we're trying and we're getting better," McNeil said. "Her first sign to all of us is 'friend,' which feels very good."

The family was recently interviewed on "The Kelly Clarkson Show" about their experience - along with 20 of their neighbors!

Glenda and Raphael say that Samantha has been overjoyed to be able to communicate more with the people around her.

"We're just so thankful that we live here and we're surrounded by these wonderful people," Raphael said. "Our daughter is included and she's happy. I couldn't think of a better situation for us and for her."

What an amazing story of acceptance and community. If only all of our neighbors would take the time to make others feel so welcome – the world would be a much kinder place!

How can you start something good?

Inspired to learn sign language yourself? The National Association of the Deaf has suggestions (click here) for finding sign language resources and classes where you live.

There are also a number of on line tutorial videos, like this one, Sign Language 101, to help you learn.

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