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October 27, 2002

Deaf ‘Bridges Grandma’ can communicate across generations

From: The Springfield News-Leader, Mo
Oct. 27, 2002

Sarah Overstreet
Ozarks columnist

Because she has been deaf all her life and speaks in American Sign Language, Royann McCabe didn’t know if she could handle 15-35 “at risk” kids after school, picnics and other events.

“I’d been in office work all my life, and wanted to work with children,” McCabe said Wednesday as kids at the Bridges for Youth facility on West Nichols Street sailed by her, screamed, did crafts, played games, pool, air hockey, foosball and basketball, worked on computers and rolled down hills outside in plastic barrels.

“I’d hoped to work with deaf children at Jarrett Middle School, but they didn’t need anyone.”

But when her name was given to Bridges for Youth founder Steve Hare, he had no qualms. “I didn’t expect to be hired,” McCabe related in sign. Yet remembering when Hare did indeed hire her, she signed “amazed.”

“I said, ‘God, what do you want?’ Now I understand — kids just need love. I remember the teachers and supervisors at my school teaching me and helping me with behavior,” she said. “I want to pass it on. That’s what God wanted.”

McCabe, 66, works in the two Bridges for Youth facilities on West Nichols and North National Avenue. The program, a neighborhood outreach to kids where adult Christians try to provide a positive impact, is sponsored by fund-raisers, donations and some help from churches.

When the kids start piling in after school, McCabe makes popcorn, serves as one of the staff “kid wranglers,” plays games and teaches them sign language. As McCabe worked with one child Wednesday on the manual alphabet — the alphabet done on the fingers — other kids gathered around.

“She basically speaks through her smile,” Hare said. “You can tell she loves you just by the way she is around you.”

Hare said that when he learned McCabe was a Christian and taught the deaf Sunday School class at First Baptist Church, he believed she’d be fine with the kids. “It just occurred to me that this was someone God could use, that it was God doing it. And she’s an older lady and can communicate across the generations. She’s the ‘Bridges Grandma.’”

McCabe laughed when she remembered one of her first sticky jobs with the crowd of rambunctious hearing kids. One little girl was determined not to pay for candy, declaring “No!” emphatically. McCabe didn’t know if the girl was trying to take advantage of her deafness or just trying to skate on her tab. She didn’t care.

“I followed her and told her to come back,” McCabe signed. She pantomimed urging the girl back toward the cash box, and made a soft, stern sound in her throat. She laughed, and took on a look of wonderment. “She did!”

But when you consider McCabe’s life — class valedictorian, divorced and left alone to rear a son who became a football and academic standout at Evangel, a voracious reader who loves people, it’s not surprising. McCabe even went on a mission trip last June to help deaf people in South America.

She’s even brought some of her own mind-challenging games to play with the kids. One heightens their math skills. “It’s good to teach children to learn to add,” she said, and giggled as she tapped one boy on the shoulder, saying and signing, “Good, good.”

Turning away, she said, “He’s really good. It’s so much fun to see them figuring in their head.”

Copyright © 2002, The Springfield News-Leader, a Gannett company.