“We needed to figure out a way to communicate with him,” said Stephanie Cole-Farris, assistant director of residential services. “Communication is so valuable. Without it, everything breaks down.”

Cole-Farris and her colleagues reached out to the community to locate services that could effectively assist Youth Villages in providing quality care and therapy for this youth.

She found DeafConnect of the Mid-South. DeafConnect strives to improve the quality of life of the deaf and hard of hearing by providing skilled interpreters and American Sign Language classes. It is the most prominent local outlet for services to help children who are hearing impaired.

A few months after Youth Villages provided this youth with a DeafConnect interpreter, the Boys Center for Intensive Residential Treatment admitted a another youth who was also hearing impaired.

“His ASL skill level was even lower than the first hearing impaired youth,” Cole-Farris said. “We gave him a communication board, but sometimes he refused to use it. We needed an interpreter for him as well.”

Youth Villages is dedicated to providing quality care for every child. With two hearing-impaired youth in one facility, staff quickly decided that another step had to be taken.

The BCIRT staff piloted a six-week course in American Sign Language that concluded in early December. DeafConnect’s administrator, Theresa Wilson, and ASL instructor Shelia Chappell, lead sessions each week at the Bartlett Campus. Chappell not only offers the staff weekly course instruction but also assigns homework from a formal ASL workbook.

“The employees have been very interested in the training,” Cole-Farris said. “They value the addition of ASL as part of their professional skill set.”

The goal is for YV staff to be able to communicate effectively with all children at Youth Villages, even those with impaired hearing.

“I’m sure it’s going to continue,” Cole-Farris said. “We are preparing to expand the course program.”

Thanks to the ASL classes provided by DeafConnect, committed YV staff will continue to learn how to best communicate with and manage the crises of hearing-impaired youth.