In 2019, people all around the world got to know Samantha Savitz, the toddler who wanted to talk to everyone she met. Being deaf didn’t change anything about that – except how well people could talk back to her.
In a CBS Evening News interview, her father Raphel (Raphi) described her as “super engaging.”
“She wants to chat-up with anybody.”
The desire for connection
“Her whole personality changes when it’s someone who can communicate with her,” Sam’s mother Glenda also told the news outlet.
Of course, as a deaf child, not everyone can communicate with her easily.
The people in your neighborhood
Not every neighborhood would make an effort to be so…well, neighborly, but the Newton, Massachusetts enclave that the Savitzes live in (on a peninsula in the Charles River) is different. Everyone knows each other and has the contact information of everyone else. Glenda told NPR that their next-door neighbors call them the “newbies” – after they’d lived there for 17 years.
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So maybe it’s no surprise that so many of the family’s neighbors decided to learn American Sign Language just to be able to communicate with little Sam.
“We really wanted to communicate with her and play with her,” neighbor Jill McNeil told NPR. “And since she couldn’t learn our language, we thought we wanted to learn hers.”
An amazing effort
What’s perhaps even more amazing is that a handful of neighbors signed up to take an ASL course at their local adult education center. That’s where they met Rhys McGovern, a teacher who later agreed to teach around 20 people in the enclave to immerse themselves in the language so they could learn it in earnest.
The news of the good deed spread quickly – so quickly, in fact, that McGovern started a second section of the class for around 40 neighbors within months.
Sam would visit the classes each week with one of her parents.
Just like any other toddler, her parents understand her best and help her communicate.
“Her parents translate for us because her fingers are very small right now and she signs very fast, so we’re trying and we’re getting better. … Her first sign to all of us is ‘friend,’ which feels very good,” McNeil told NPR.
What an incredible gesture these folks have made to stay a close-knit community!
A community within a community
As a result of the classes and the neighbors’ generosity, Sam now feels completely comfortable walking around and visiting people who live nearby.
“It’s absolutely amazing that she feels so at home and they’re signing to her,” said Raphi Savitz. “It’s like being surrounded by family. We’re just so thankful that we live here and we’re surrounded by these wonderful people. Our daughter is included and she’s happy. I couldn’t think of a better situation for us and for her.”
And no doubt the gesture not only helped Samantha communicate but develop her social skills as well.
“It’s so important for deaf babies and kids to have full access to language,” the neighbors’ ASL teacher told WCVB Channel 5 News in Boston. “What this community is doing to support Sam shows the power people have to really change one person or one family’s life.”
Think this community is as incredible as we do?
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