Massachusetts neighborhood come together and learn sign language for a new addition

Back in the 1950s, the quintessential family was always one who sat around the dinner table at night and ate together. They discussed their days, and the children were read a bedtime story and tucked into bed. On the weekends, the neighborhood would come together for street parties, barbecues, and all manner of fun neighborly events. Nowadays this is not the case. Most people don’t even seem to know their neighbors, let alone socialize with them on a regular basis. It is a shame that people have become so disconnected from one another. But a small town in Massachusetts is like one of those neighborhoods of old, and all it took was the birth of a very special baby to bring them even closer together. The neighborhood families all knew each other pretty well, but it took some forward thinking, planning and they wanted to include everyone that truly gave them their sense of a tight-knit community.

Love At First Sight

Glenda, a native Californian had decided it was time to leave the sunny west coast in favor of the east. She settled in Boston, which is where she would meet the love of her life – Raphael Savitz. That fateful meeting in 2011 would lead to a very happy marriage two years later.

From the start, the two were inseparable and quickly knew that they had found their ‘one’ in each other. They decided to leave Boston for Auburndale in 2016.

Welcome Home

The happy couple then decided to settle in the neighborhood of Newton. This was like one of the close-knit neighborhoods of old. The neighbors all said hello to each other in the morning, watered their lovely green lawns and had their own version of the welcome wagon.

As soon as the Savitz’s had settled into their new home, the neighbors descended on them to say welcome and tell them all about the neighborhood. Each neighbor that came over to introduce themselves brought some sort of baked good as one does on a sitcom. They truly felt blessed to have found the kind of neighborhood where they wanted their future children to grow up.

A New Arrival

Glenda and Raphael had actually decided to find a good neighborhood like this because they were expecting somebody to join their family in the coming months. Glenda was pregnant with a daughter. This was extremely happy news and their neighbor Jill McNeil, a mother in her own right was very happy to hear about the pregnancy.

Only three months after moving in, Glenda had her baby. However, after some testing, it became clear that not everything was as perfect as it could be. The baby, which was named Samantha could not hear. She was deaf. This was a great shock to the new parents and the neighborhood.

Life Changing

Glenda and Raphael knew that their lives were forever changed by their new baby, simply because they had a child. But, they also knew that it was going to be more challenging to raise Samantha and they would have to have a lot of help to ensure that she had all of the care she needed.

They felt very fortunate to be surrounded by neighbors who truly cared for them and who vowed to help them in any way they could. Jill took it upon herself to come up with a solution for how everyone could pitch in and help the Savitz’s in any way possible. She new language acquisition was going to be very important.

Good Neighbors

Jill decided to bring all of the neighbors together to discuss what they could do to help the new parents. Should they offer to look after Samantha so the parents could have some time off when they needed it? Or was there something more they could? Even though Samantha was just a week old, and barely making any sounds besides some gurgling it became clear how the community could best help in the long run.

They needed to be able to communicate in a way that Samantha could understand as she got older. The neighbors decided as a collective to begin learning American sign language.

Language Acquisition

Learning to speak a second language is not easy, but learning to speak with your hands is even harder. However, the community knew this was the best way to help Samantha. This would largely be how she herself would communicate with her parents.

Since she was a member of the neighborhood they wanted to be able to chat with her too. Since she was only a baby they knew that they had some time to master the language.

Group Class

The neighbors decided that they wanted this to be a surprise for the Savitz’s and they also liked that it brought them together. They decided that since they were such a close community that they may as well start learning sign language in a group setting.

It was also more cost-effective. Lucia Marshall offered up her living room as their classroom. When winter began they started their lessons with the teacher they had selected.

Sense of Community

The neighborhood had already been fairly close, everyone was on a first name basis, and if you needed a cup of flour all you had to do was ask. But this undertaking brought the eighteen learners even closer together. Over the long winter months, they really enjoyed meeting together and practicing signing.

It was challenging but it got them thinking in a completely different way. However, the learning process was not without its ups and downs.

Meet The Teacher

The community had decided to enlist the services of Rhys McGovern. He himself was hearing impaired and had trained as a speech-language pathologist. He knew how hard it was for those who could hear to adapt to learning to speak with their hands so he decided to use the sink or swim method.

Every lesson he taught involved no speaking on his part. Not once did he utter a word during all of the combined lessons.

Learning The Signs

McGovern knew that it was very difficult for everyone to learn a new language, especially without any verbal lessons but he managed it. Instead of using fancy high tech equipment like a projector hooked up to a laptop he used one that was half a century old with.

He started with signing the alphabet and then moved on to preschool level vocabulary. Samantha would not be signing any complex sentences in the near future, so he taught them easy action words like ‘Want.’

Practice Makes Perfect

The neighbors began to practice signing with each other to make sure they had the hand gestures correct, and that they could recognize what the others were trying to convey. The primary goal was to sign with Samantha once she reached an appropriate age.

They also liked that they may be able to help her as she herself learned sign language. Once they finally felt confident in their newfound ability they decided to show the Savitz family.


The neighbors felt after some months it was time to share their secret studies with Glenda and Raphael so they knew that they were not alone and that they would always be around to help. They invited the family over to Lucia’s living room for an event and began signing the words for “welcome.” The Savitz’s quickly realized what they had done, and were overcome by their kindness.

The fact that the community decided to learn a new language for just one member showed them just how important each and every one of them is.


As Samantha grows up she will be able to converse with everyone in her neighborhood which is an amazing thing. She will not be isolated and only able to talk to her parents and other children hard of hearing. She will be able to walk out the door and converse with everyone around her, which is incredible.

Her parents recognized this right away, and the sense of inclusion was what they were so grateful for.

Growing Up

Now that Samantha is a few years old, she has been attending The Learning Center for the Deaf. Her elementary teacher, Sarah Honigfeld, says that Samantha is extremely confident and does not have any shyness with talking to those around her.

She believes that a lot of this stems from her supportive community and the fact that everyone has made this amazing effort to communicate with her as they would with any other child.

The Future

One of the hardest things for deaf children is the fact that their pool of people they can communicate with is so small. Most deaf children are only able to talk when they are at school with other children who have hearing impairments. This isolation can make it that much harder for them to get on with other children their age who are not deaf.

It is Honigfeld’s wish that one day all deaf children can find communities like Samantha’s.

Social Inclusion

Samantha is truly lucky that she can walk out onto the street and have everyone around her be able to sign with her. Just as you would ask a child if she wants to play, or if she is hurt, her neighbors are able to sign this to her.

She has been able to have a normal childhood and it is all thanks to the foresight of her community and their realization of just how important communication is.