20 neighbors learn sign language after family welcomes deaf baby

Adults communicating with a baby via sign language. (Photo: William Perugini via Getty Images)
Adults communicating with a baby via sign language. (Photo: William Perugini via Getty Images)

There’s being a good neighbor, and then there’s going the extra mile. And in one Massachusetts neighborhood, the neighbors are pulling out all the stops.

Two years ago, about a week after Samantha was born, Glenda and Raphael Savitz learned their daughter was deaf.

“She was the first deaf person my husband and I had known,” Glenda, 33, told the Boston Globe. “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.’’

But the Savitz family weren’t the only ones who learned how to sign. Over 20 residents of their neighborhood in the town of Newton are learning sign language too. The residents hired an instructor on their own and regularly gather together in a living room to learn the language.

The neighbors’ desire to learn to communicate with Samantha is something that the Savitz family finds extremely touching.

“One of the most emotional experiences having her is that I really learned about how much support and how much love there is here,’’ Glenda said. “People are putting in so much time and energy to learn a foreign language because they’re dying to talk to my little girl. I don’t have words for that.’’

Baby Sam already has friends all over the neighborhood. Henry Marshall, a 19-year-old Harvard freshman, told the Globe that Sam plays with her child-size basketball hoop as he shoots hoops on his adult-size one. While he plays, she mimics his movements and signs the words for “play” and “friend.”

“It’s a special neighborhood,’’ Raphael Savitz told the Globe. “It’s just a really welcoming place.’’

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