The Most Meaningful Work You May Ever Do

Not everyone works for money. There are many important community-building tasks that don’t generate money, but need to be done anyway. Usually these efforts, like caring for the homeless, cleaning up a neighborhood, teaching people to read – get done by volunteers. These people squeeze in extra work in between and on top of their jobs, their families, and their daily commute.

Why would anyone agree to work for free? In a world where many jobs are reduced to step-by-step formulas for making widgets, shuffling paper, serving customers, or sitting through endless meetings, an opportunity to do something truly meaningful starts looking good.

The Alliance for Deaf Children (AFDC) offers one of those opportunities. Based in northern Miami metro area, AFDC connects hearing parents of deaf children with people in the deaf community to support the growth and development of their children.

There is a narrow window of time in a child’s infancy and early years when they are best able to absorb language. The earlier they begin, the better they learn. Profoundly deaf children growing up in a hearing household can benefit from exposure to ASL. Volunteers from AFDC work with both the parents and the children to expand their understanding and use of both ASL and English. The goal is to introduce language early and promote daily use to build communication skills in the family.

The ideas that built AFDC began when two teachers with degrees in Deaf Education at Flagler College in Florida became frustrated with their student’s lack of language and reading ability.

Jennifer Jones, who was one of those teachers, says, “We would rarely get homework returned and we could not get parent involvement. We decided to do some needs assessment and started doing home visits with our students’ families. All the families said they wanted to help their child with homework but they did not know how. So, we decided that we needed to provide some services for the parents and caregivers of these children so they could communicate and read to their children.”

They got a grant, applied for nonprofit status, and since that start six years ago, they’ve expanded from their Ft. Lauderdale base to serve families in Broward County, the Miami-Dade area and Pinellas County, near Tampa. Their field workers number 11 part time mentors, about 20 volunteers throughout the year and 3 teachers in the preschool (early childhood) program. Their mission: to see deaf and hard of hearing children succeed by empowering families with resources, services, and support.

This is a critical need. When hearing parents give birth to a deaf child, they’re often unsure what to do next. Their first line of advice usually received by such parents comes from the medical community, frequently in the form of recommendations to get a cochlear implant for their child. It’s unusual when a representative of the deaf community has an opportunity to make the case for the cultural and linguistic view.

AFDC’s philosophy is to promote the bilingual model of teaching both ASL and English. This gives a child exposure to the rich cultural content of the deaf community, while also ensuring competence and confidence with more widely used English.

The mentors and volunteers working with AFDC are the key to making it happen. Think Big Brother/Big Sister, or even the Peace Corp – trained assistants for parents who can help the family communicate, serve as role models for deaf children, and show hearing parents what a successful deaf adult looks like. This helps new parents of deaf children visualize their children growing up enlightened, empowered and independent – in fact, normal – rather than dependent and inferior.

Families are referred through an early intervention program, local school boards, other non-profit agencies and word of mouth. AFDC also tries to enlist assistance from audiologists, pediatricians, and doctors because the earlier the families and children receive services, the better prepared they are for school, communication and literacy.

AFDC is seeking volunteers for meetings on the first Saturday of each month at their library programs in Pembroke Pines. FL. This is to assist with managing the children’s activities and help with the little ones. Volunteers can put in as much or as little time as they want, and all volunteers are screened and fingerprinted. Applications are available at their website.

There are part-time paid positions available for people who can work as mentors, and AFDC is seeking a pre-school teacher to begin working in August 2008.

Jennifer Jones, who is also AFDC’s executive director, describes what volunteers and mentors do:

“Our main programs include family literacy, where deaf and hearing mentors go into families’ homes and teach the parents ASL and how to read to their child and teach the children literacy and language skills. We also have parent workshops, parent support groups, Signing Stories @ Your Library, family learning socials, an early childhood program for 18 month to 3 year old deaf and hearing children.”

“Families are referred through the early intervention program, the school board, and other non-profit agencies. Also, word of mouth. We are trying to get the word out to audiologists, pediatricians, doctors, etc…because we know that the earlier the families and children receive our services the more prepared they are for school and the more they will communicate and be literate.”

Jones is available for consultation, subject to time limitations, for developers of similar projects in other states.

Alliance for Families with Deaf Children website:

Contact Info:
Alliance for Families with Deaf Children
1350 East Sunrise Blvd., Suite #105
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33304
Office: (954) 370-1145
Fax: (954) 252-4269
[email protected]

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