On Thursday, Sept. 7, Christ The King Deaf Church began their fifth annual 10-day mission trip to Montego Bay, Jamaica. For this trip, they sought to donate school supplies, cash gifts, a Bible curriculum, books, medical supplies, medicine and tuition grants. All of it was directed toward the Jamaican School for the Deaf.

The Chester County Deaf Church has a program called the Deaf Community Action Network, also referred as DeafCAN! Throughout the year, DeafCAN! provides a variety of services including outreach and case management, deaf-blind support, prison advocacy, American Sign Language (ASL) classes, interpreting classes and literacy classes for Deaf adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. While this program falls underneath the church, it has no affiliation with any particular denomination. Their mission is to work with and serve anyone in the Deaf population. This trip, organized by Reverend Beth Lockard, pastor and DeafCAN! Executive Director, teamed up with her fellow travelers to lead Bible classes for more than 40 Deaf students. While there is no universal sign language, the Jamaican Deaf population, like Lockard, communicate with ASL.

While on this trip, they also visited the Deaf Village. This village, created by the Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf, CCCD, currently houses 20 Deaf adults and their families. With over 7,000 Deaf people in Jamaica, many of whom without functioning language skills, the CCCD’s website states they exist, “to reach, teach, and nurture the Deaf of Jamaica…by operating three residential schools spread geographically across the island (Kingston, Knockpatrick and Montego Bay) as well as a centrally located Jamaica Deaf Village (Mandeville).”

Majorie “Kat” Ellis, head of West Chester University’s Deaf Studies department, said, “There are 11 Deaf schools in Jamaica and the schools and housing were started by the Deaf Village. They’ve helped people in the Deaf community gain employment through woodwork, leather-work and give Deaf individuals a livelihood in a community setting.”

This was not the first time DeafCAN! has helped Deaf people from outside of the U.S. The program frequently serves Deaf immigrants and refugees. “We run classes here in West Chester and Philly and…go to lost of refugee and immigrant organizations,” says Bill Lockard, DeafCAN! Program Director. “We try to draw them into a classroom setting to teach literacy skills, English, ASL, but also then be a source for other supports, case management, help with finances, housing, health, family education, work…because the communication barrier limits or prevents them from those kinds of services typical in the Hearing world.”

Three individuals who have been served by the DeafCAN! program are Deaf immigrants from Cambodia and the Philippines. All of them currently work for West Chester University.

On Sunday, Nov. 5 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. the Deaf Studies program and West Chester University’s ASL Club will partner with DeafCAN! to host an event open to the community. Lockard details the differences between this event and previous ones held by DeafCAN!.

“This year we decided to put on an event that’s more of a service fair and we will have stations [that will be] interactive” said Lockard. “So we will have deaf-blind people…and we’ll have simulated experiences for any student who want to be guided and be blindfolded with earmuffs on so they can simulate deaf-blindness. [Also], we’ll have immigrants and refugees we work with…and [feature] as much interactivity as possible so that…anyone in the community who comes will learn more about the services…[and] be more supportive of the crisis.”

Ellis hopes that this event will raise significant funds for DeafCAN! as well as promote the deaf studies minor. Ellis said, “The minor can be used in any major and is accessible to any field. At some point you will meet with or serve a Deaf person at some point. It’s the only language that you can say that about.”

Lockard can be contacted at billlockard@deafcanpa.org. Ellis can be reached at mellis@wcupa.edu ASL Club meets every other Monday at 8:15 p.m. in Sykes 255.

Halle Nelson is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies with minors in English literature and deaf studies. She can be reached at HN824858@wcupa.edu and on Twitter @Halle_N_Nelson.

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