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December 8, 2003

Kids find deaf Santa talks their language

From: Chicago Tribune, IL - Dec 8, 2003

By Tiffany Ray Special to the Tribune

Santa Claus brightens any Christmas event, but he was an even bigger hit Sunday at Harper College.

This Santa was deaf, holding court at the Palatine college during a party for deaf and hard-of-hearing children and children of deaf adults.

A long line of children took their turns on Santa's lap while flashbulbs lit up their faces. It was a familiar scene, save for the flurry of excited hands as children signed requests for bikes, dolls and other gifts, and Santa made white-gloved replies.

"They just love it," said Santa--Eddie Schultz, a Harwood Heights retiree--through an interpreter.

Harper's American Sign Language Club and the West Suburban Association for the Deaf hosted the party, an annual event at the college. What used to be a small affair has "grown by leaps and bounds" in recent years, said Gina Mulroy, a student in the school's sign language interpreting program and vice president of the American Sign Language Club.

This year, an estimated 400 people filled a floor of Harper's administration building.

"It's wonderful to sit on a deaf Santa's lap instead of going to a mall and having Mom interpret," Mulroy said.

"It was fun," said Bryan Brandt, 9. The Carol Stream boy asked Santa for a sports car, and his brother Jonathon, 6, who is deaf, asked for a train.

Kyle Murbach, 9, of Wheaton said it was nice to be able to tell Santa what he wants for Christmas, though he was still mulling over what he would ask for.

The event, along with picnics and other activities sponsored by the two groups, helps bring together a community that Mulroy says is underserved in the Chicago area.

"It's tremendous for the kids," said Pam Fitzgibbons of Rolling Meadows.

Fitzgibbons' son Johnny, 7, is hard of hearing. For him, the party and similar events are "a big self-esteem boost" and a great way to meet other kids who are deaf or hard of hearing, Fitzgibbons said.

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