Jack is a young man who started volunteering at the Kalamazoo Nature Center and he uses American Sign Language to communicate. In this situation, everyone is in partnership. Jack is learning how to communicate without an interpreter. The Kalamazoo Nature Center staff is learning sign language from him. This is a mutually beneficial opportunity for everyone. Jack is openly welcomed, supported and respected at The Nature Center. When I first met Jack, there was a sign language interpreter present. I learned that Jack likes art and nature. I offered to take him to visit the Nature Center to discover what opportunities there might be for him.
The day I took Jack to the Nature Center, I was nervous because the interpreter was not available. I am a novice in sign language pretty much only knowing how to finger spell. Jack was very patient with me and when I would start to spell a word he would show me the sign. That day I learned the signs for spider, chipmunk, snake and tree to name a few. We also had a pad of paper nearby so that we could also write words. Working together, Jack and I were able to communicate with the volunteer coordinator what his interests were and where he might share his skills in their organization.
Jack is volunteering as a support to the staff in the copy room and putting together educational materials for the school outreach program. In addition, once the Experiential Education Director saw an example of a turtle Jack had created with pastels, he wanted to have Jack help him create and paint props that are used in the school outreach program.
Jack no longer needs an interpreter with him as he volunteers. In addition to helping the Nature Center staff use some sign language, he also uses an iPod Touch text to speech program. He is really enjoying meeting new people and The Nature Center staff really value him being part of their team.