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March 16, 2007

Retreat for families with deaf and hard of hearing children

From: Saipan Tribune - Saipan,Northern Mariana Islands,Micronesia - Mar 16, 2007

Over 100 people gathered over the weekend to participate in the first Family Retreat for deaf and hard of hearing children at the Pacific Islands Club.

Fifteen families from Saipan, Tinian and Rota spent Friday afternoon through Sunday noon, March 2 - 4, in a weekend retreat for all immediate family members. Any family member who has a strong role in the life of the child with hearing loss was encouraged to come and learn about hearing loss and its affect on the family.

This first Family Retreat focused on birth to three, three to five year olds and the students served in the Deaf/Hard of Hearing program at Oleai Elementary School.

The children attending the retreat ranged in age from five months to 16 years.

The critical events of the weekend for parents were the Support Groups on Saturday and Sunday mornings and the individual sessions led by internationally-known Teacher of the Deaf and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Marlyn Minkin from Seattle, Washington.

Minkin has worked with families of deaf, hard of hearing and deaf-blind children for 40 years. She has facilitated over 100 week-long or weekend retreats all over the world. In addition to working with families, Minkin provided training before and after the Retreat to professionals who serve DHH children in the CNMI.

While the adults were in the adults-only support groups and workshops, a group of volunteers joined the PIC Kid's Club in running the Children's Program. The weekend would not have made its valuable contribution to the lives of families, were it not for these Children's Program volunteers. The DPH and PSS event coordinators extend a warm thanks to the students from NMC Sign Language Classes and the Sociology class as well as to DHH Support Staff who worked long hours caring for and playing with the children.

On Friday and Saturday evenings everyone had dinner together and were joined by several adult members of the CNMI deaf community. After dinner the fun began with activities that everyone could enjoy together. These included family introductions on stage, table to table competitions and a sign language game that required people to hunt throughout the room for their “Animal Family” members. These activities allowed parents, grandparents, deaf kids, hearing kids, hard of hearing kids and deaf adults to play, sign, talk and laugh together.

The grand finale of Saturday evening's fun was the performance of Gus Kaipat who sang and played ukelele. All deaf and hard of hearing individuals were able to enjoy the music right along with hearing folks by watching Mystica Kaipat's beautifully poetic signing of each song. A surprise guest for the families was Rep. Cinta Kaipat who joined in all the fun.

The event came about after extensive preparations and hard work that began eight months ago. The retreat was hosted by the Public School System Special Education and Early Childhood Programs in collaboration with the Division of Public Health.

It was a community outreach activity proposed under the State Improvement Grant to provide family support and training in the area of DHH. It was also a grant activity under the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Program, which led to the implementation of newborn hearing screening at CHC in 2001. As a result of the EHDI project all infants now have their hearing tested shortly after birth. Those babies with hearing loss identified receive services through the Children's Developmental Assistance Center.

Last year, audiologist Dr. Angie Mister and three PSS staff-Elaine Crisostomo, Ericka Frink and Tona Erlet-attended a family support workshop hosted by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.

The importance of family support was stressed as a key component in assisting families of DHH children in strengthening outcomes. After that workshop this core group began intensive work preparing for our own CNMI Family Retreat.

The success of the event is due to the constant support of Margarita Torres Aldan, Maternal and Child Health Program Coordinator at DPH, to the PSS, CDAC and NMC volunteers and to the determination of primary organizers Dr. Angie Mister, Elaine Crisostomo and Peggy Owen. Doreen Tudela, Acting Coordinator of Special Education and Suzanne Lizama, Early Intervention Coordinator at PSS, provided support and encouragement.

“It's my first time to attend a function for my daughter. I'm so happy about this and I got to meet other families who had a child like mine,” said one parent.

“This weekend has been life-changing for me. I see now how I can become more involved in giving our child what he needs,” another said. “I got a lot of information during the weekend and I was finally comfortable talking about my child and our family. It helped ease my mind and heart.” (PR)

© 2007 Saipan Tribune.