Children learn language from listening to parents, friends, and neighbors talk. But deaf children have a tougher time learning how to communicate than kids who can hear because they have to learn sign language and how to read lips. If anyone knows this, it’s two-year-old Samantha Savitz. She’s a social butterfly. Just ask her parents, Raphael and Glenda Savitz. But thankfully, she doesn’t have to look far for people to chat with.
A week after their daughter, Samantha, was born, Raphael and Glenda Savitz found out that she was deaf.
The new parents were faced with the prospect of raising a little girl with a disability. Glenda told the Boston Globe, “She was the first deaf person my husband and I had known. So it’s a surprise. Unexpected, but I think I’m someone who’s like: OK. What do we do? She’s a week old. We’re going to be learning sign language. There was no question that was going to be important to her development and her growth.’’
The family had moved to Newton, Massachusetts where they were welcomed with baked goods and smiles from friendly neighbors.
The neighbors loved little Samantha, but over time, they started to notice the couple taking Samantha on walks and speaking to the toddler using sign language. Some of the neighbors felt sad that they couldn’t communicate with Samantha. It was obvious that the little girl wanted to chat with them, but they didn’t know how to communicate with her. “She’s super engaging. She wants to chat up with anybody.” Raphael said. Her mother, Glenda added, “Yea, her whole personality changes when it’s someone who can communicate with her.”
The neighbors decided to put their heads together and figure a way to be able to communicate with the young child.
They decided they would all learn sign language. Learning a second language is a huge challenge, but they were all onboard with the awesome idea. Eighteen neighbors hired a sign language teacher, Rhys McGovern. McGovern is a deaf speech-language pathologist who spent months teaching the neighbors how to speak in utter silence. Over time, he showed them the wonders of sign language, but it wasn’t exactly easy.
The neighbors kept what they were doing to themselves as they continued to learn sign language.
Everyone did their best to learn quickly and efficiently so they could communicate with Samantha when the time was right. It was very inspiring and some might say heroic. If anyone was touched by all their hard work, it was Glenda and Raphael Savitz when the neighbors revealed what they’d learned.
The Savitz family was speechless when the whole neighborhood arrived to show off their new skills.
One day, they greeted the family with sign language, and Glenda and Raphael were overwhelmed by what they had witnessed. They couldn’t believe their neighbors had done something so special like learn sign language. Now, the Savitzs understand what the power of a community could do, and they had Samantha to thank for that. The little girl with a hearing impairment brought everyone even closer together to learn a fun new way to communicate.
It’s amazing how much of an effort Samantha’s neighbors had put into this heartwarming endeavor.
Everyone wanted to talk to little Samantha and they learned a new language in order to do it. Glenda and Raphael Savitz were grateful by all the hard work from everyone involved and knew this would make life so much easier for their daughter.
Raphael wanted Samantha to have the very best life possible, and she is off to a good start.
The Savitzs have tried giving Samantha all of the opportunities available in order to ensure their little girl will have a great life. What the neighbors did for the family was a great addition to the foundation they are building for her. Samantha had been working with Sarah Honigfeld at The Learning Center for the Deaf in Framingham since she was three months old. Honigfeld watched as Samantha went from a shy toddler to a role model for her fellow students.
Honigfeld was particularly touched and inspired by the efforts of the entire neighborhood.
Usually, kids with hearing impairments are sent to a deaf school that’s hours away in order to learn how to function in “their” community. She only wishes that other deaf children had the same opportunities.
The Newton neighborhood is in a class of its own thanks to their ability to sign for little Samantha.
Samantha will never have to feel like an outcast in this neighborhood because everyone she meets on the street or at a store is able to greet her using sign language. This is a rare treat that the Savitzs will never take for granted.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and that’s what this neighborhood seems to be doing.
Oh sure, Samantha has her parents. But Samantha will certainly benefit from community members who are more like an extended surrogate family. Together, they’ll help her to continue to develop, to grow and most importantly, to express herself.