The Rapidian

Santa signs to deaf children

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services held their annual "Signing with Santa" event on Saturday, which has grown into a multi-generational event. The organization provides resources and services to the deaf communities of West Michigan with the goal of inclusiveness.

/Tiffany Szakal

/Tiffany Szakal

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services (DHHS) is probably not a nonprofit that comes readily to mind unless someone in your family or a friend happens to live with hearing loss. You might not know of this organization’s existence because only 3.8% of the population of Kent County is deaf or hard of hearing. 

On December 13, Friends of DHHS and Amway sponsored hours of holiday festivities, giving gifts to the first 50 kids who arrived for the party. On this day, this tiny organization, which doles out hearing loss services for youth and adults, was home to intense organization surrounding a myriad of activities. Senior citizen deaf men were playing dice games with young deaf teens. There were deaf senior citizen women making crafts with younger deaf children. 

There was a lot of new friend making going on since the purpose of this party was to give both groups that are served by DHHS, youth and seniors, a chance to meet each other. DHHS staff recognizes the need for inter-generational communication between hearing impaired individuals.

Santa, also known as Steve Creasy, was eager to sign with the deaf children waiting in line to sign to him what was on their Christmas list. He even signed when a non-deaf child had a turn. Children of all ages were having their faces painted with holiday snowflakes and holly leaves and other merry symbols of the season. 

Deb Buckley, a DHHS volunteer, remembers the first Signing with Santa that took place six years ago with only milk and cookies available. She mentions that having activities for the children and now for the adults as well has been a much better endeavor. Buckley, like many of the adults there, was dressed in red and green elf costume that added to all the visual stimulation that heightened the party’s silent buzz. Even with a silent buzz there was an anticipation that was evident that comes with any group of kids, Santa giving gifts and twelve days until Christmas. 

Another volunteer, Sandy Faulkner, also remembers a story about the first Signing with Santa event and a little girl about 6 years old who didn’t want to sit with Santa because she was deaf and she knew Santa wasn’t. Her mother coaxed her up to Santa, knowing her daughter would be amazed when Santa greeted her with signing. The little girl’s eyes opened wide, Faulkner says, and her face was stunned with surprise while she signed back to Santa. This year, every child was ready for this jolly, signing Santa. 

Besides the annual Signing with Santa event, DHHS offers a long list of programs and services that include American Sign Language classes, Interpreter Services, Assistive Technology Awareness and Distribution and KidSigns- a year-long program designed for children who are deaf to participate in activities with peers facing the same needs. The looks on faces Saturday morning betrayed the eager excitement of what would be called a very quiet party by typical standards in a small room filled with kids of all ages as well as adults.

Other annual events organized by DHHS are an annual Silent Weekend in February of 2015 limited to 125 participants at Camp Manitou-Lin, which is advertised as an “opportunity to use only ASL the entire weekend in a fun and friendly environment.” Another event is the Silent Celebration in June, which is a picnic for 200 people with the entire event donation sponsored. Ongoing events throughout the year are euchre and bingo nights that promote socializing which can be difficult on a day to day basis for those living with hearing loss. 

DHHS is a small gem for anyone with hearing impairment. It is tucked away on Kalamazoo Avenue near 44th Street. Their website as well as their Facebook page give good information for anyone interested in contributing to this donation run agency or for anyone needing assistance and somewhere to turn for information on dealing with hearing loss and the regional services available. DHHS’ programming is supported by county-wide and region-wide agencies such as Quota International of Grand Rapids, Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan, Amway and a few others as well as private donations.

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