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December 28, 2002

Sharing silence - Two deaf teenagers work together to obtain jobs, success in school

From: North County Times, CA - 28 Dec 2002

For the North County Times

ESCONDIDO ----- Teenagers Orlando Chavez and German Resendiz have been best friends since kindergarten.

Together the two boys, who are deaf, have faced the challenge of learning in schools where speaking and hearing are taken for granted by the majority of the student body.

Waldo Nilo/Staff Photographer
Roy Heasley of Signs of Silence signing to Orlando Chavez, 16, on the left, and German Resendiz, 17, at Major Market on Monday, where the boys work.

"German (pronounced "Herman") and I are closer than family," signed Orlando. "We share the same experiences because we are deaf. Sometimes other kids who don't know (how to use sign language) tease us. They make fun of us or try to finger spell."

Orlando, 16, and German, 17, attend Escondido High School. Orlando lost his hearing at the age of 1 because of a case of meningitis. German was born deaf.

Roy Hensley, program director of "Signs of Silence," provided interpretation for the boys during a recent interview. The language the boys use is American Sign Language. However, sign language is different from place to place ---- Mexico has its own sign language, as do countries in Europe, Hensley said.

"Finger spell is where the kids try to memorize the sign language alphabet and spell out each word," Hensley said. "Like the English language, sign has abbreviated motions and movement that simplify words. Spelling out each word would take forever to communicate."

German's parents moved from Mexico because they wanted to find a special school for German where he could learn to sign.

"Both of my parents speak Spanish," he signed. "They don't sign much, but every night before I go to bed my mom always holds my face and kisses me."

The two boys met on their first day of kindergarten at Rincon School.

"We were in a special class with about 25 other deaf kids," German recalled. "I think until that moment, I just thought that people were ignoring me. I didn't know I was deaf and didn't realize that I was different."

"Being young, deaf and mainstreamed (put in regular classes) was very hard," Orlando signed. "We had our own language to learn from scratch. The other kids just didn't understand us and we didn't understand them. As we have grown up, that stuff just doesn't matter. Today, I am popular because I am deaf. Kids now make an effort to communicate with me. Maybe it is because we have all grown together."

The two boys said some things are very difficult for them.

"We cannot talk on the telephone. If we need help, it is hard to call an emergency in," German signed. "We cannot order food in a drive-thru, like at McDonald's. It is very hard to understand English reading. Books are written for the hearing. Writing for the deaf is totally different. We always have to ask our interpreters what things mean."

Despite their difficulties, the two boys have found work as grocery baggers at Major Market in Escondido.

"The employees have been very nice to us," Orlando signed. "They even sign. At first, I think we were nervous, but we've learned a lot and keep getting better."

Major Market hired the teens through a "workability" program with local high schools, the store's director Toby Truitt said. The program is designed for teens with learning disabilities, from mild to severe but functional.

"We have one employee who has been here since his participation in the high school program. That's been 10 years," said Truitt.

Hensley helped the boys obtain the jobs. German has been employed since August and Orlando started in November.

Their opportunity to earn money has been exciting, both boys said. After high school, they hope to attend the National Technical Institute for the Deaf in New York City.

"We want good jobs, to get married, have children and to be able to provide for our families," German said.

After general education courses through Palomar College, they hope to have the means to go to New York. Orlando wants to work on computers and engines.

German would like to be a contractor, building and painting because woodshop is his favorite class.

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