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Neighbors Learn Sign Language To Reach Out To 3-Year-Old

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So in a Boston suburb, a group of neighbors has been busy learning American Sign Language.

JILL MCNEIL: We've been learning about toys and vehicles and colors and food. We know how to say, you're riding your bike, or, you have pretty new pink sneakers.

NOEL KING, HOST:

That is Jill McNeil. She lives in Newton, Mass. And she's one of 40 people who have been in classes for a year now, all for one little girl.

MCNEIL: We really wanted to communicate with her and play with her. And since she couldn't learn our language, we wanted to learn hers.

GREENE: The girl is Samantha Savitz. She is deaf. She just turned 3. She lives across the street from McNeil, who says the neighbors still do need help keeping up.

MCNEIL: Her parents translate for us because her fingers are very small right now (laughter) and she signs very fast. So we're trying, and we're getting better. And her first sign to all of us is friend, which feels very good.

GLENDA SAVITZ: It is just beyond unbelievable.

KING: Samantha's mom, Glenda Savitz, says when her daughter was born, she and her husband found out within a week that she was deaf, and so they started learning sign language immediately. Samantha started picking it up a couple months later.

GREENE: But they never expected the same of their neighbors.

G SAVITZ: I have absolutely no words to describe how that felt and how supported and welcome we felt in this new community with this whole group of strangers.

GREENE: It seems like Samantha's pretty comfortable in her cul-de-sac. She likes to drop by neighbors' homes just to draw pictures and chat. This is Rafie (ph) Savitz, her father.

RAFIE SAVITZ: It's amazing. She feels so at home, and, you know, they're signing to her. And it's like being surrounded by family.

G SAVITZ: Well, I think for Sam, all of this is just normal for her. She's just going over to her friend's house, playing with the dog, discussing the day, having a snack. To her, this is just normal, everyday life.

KING: That was Glenda and Rafie Savitz. Their neighbors started learning American Sign Language in order to communicate with their 3-year-old daughter, Samantha.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.