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January 27, 2003

Windber teen helps deaf pal to be heard

From: Johnstown Tribune Democrat, PA - 27 Jan 2003

WINDBER – Ashley Locke has been deaf since birth.
But the 17-year-old Windber resident hears everything through the hands – and hearts – of her family, friends, fellow students and teachers at Windber Area High School.
Ashley grew up on Jackson Avenue in Windber doing everything all the other children on the block did.
The only thing different about the way Ashley and her friends played is they way they talked. And that was through sign language.
“They learned a new language so that they could have a friend. Ashley’s life has been brighter and richer because of them,” said Ashley’s mother, Debra Locke.
Ashley said her close friends have memories that will last forever.
“They included me in their hearing life with no problem,” she said. “They make me feel that I am a part of them, and they let me know what is happening. They made me feel that my deafness is nothing, and that it is not a problem at all.”
Her close friends have been signing for years, inspired by Jessica Hadix, 16, Ashley’s best friend.
When they were younger, they would sit in a circle underneath a streetlight when it became dark so Ashley could “hear” what was going on.
Jessica said there was nothing unusual about growing up in the Jackson Avenue area.
“From my point of view and that of the other boys and girls, she was not deaf,” she said. “We just started playing together. We all started hanging out at Ashley’s house. We were there every day.”
Jessica said the neighborhood kids jumped on her trampoline and swam in her pool.
“We are all like sisters and brothers,” she said about her and the other nine boys and girls who grew up together on Jackson Avenue.
She said sign language just came to her and the others through the years.
“It’s not hard to do,” she said. “It’s just like talking. She’s my best friend, and it’s just natural. We don’t even think about it.”
Jessica, a junior at Windber, said Ashley’s a great person.
“She loves people, and she would help anybody,” Jessica said.
Ashley, a senior and National Honor Society student, has much insight and is intelligent, she said.
“She understands everything,” she said. “Anytime anyone has a problem, she is the first person they go to.”
Ashley’s mother, Debra Locke, said the children on her block learned to speak sign language fluently by watching her and her husband, Raymond, talk to Ashley.
“They’re a special group of boys and girls,” she said about Ashley’s friends. “I’m very proud to have known all of the children on the block. I’m blessed to have known them.”
Jessica has always been one of the main threads in Ashley’s life.
“Jessica was always a positive influence during the good times and the bad,” Mrs. Locke said. “She was always Ashley’s strongest supporter and still is.”
Because of that and her efforts to incorporate Ashley into a widening circle of friends, Jessica Hadix is the Person of the Week.
Virgil Palumbo, Windber high school principal, said Ashley is a typical high school student who has been a cheerleader and in the drama club.
She said the drama club teacher adapted a play for Ashley.
“She wanted to be involved, and we wanted her to be involved,” Palumbo said.
Ashley and Jessica are inseparable and even work together at Rizzo’s Restaurant, 2200 Graham Ave., Windber, where they bus tables.
Norma Rizzo, a partner in the restaurant, said the bond is obvious.
She said they are team players on the bus staff and are always looking for things to do at the restaurant.
Jessica is the daughter of David and Mary Hadix.

©Tribune Democrat 2003