The Deaf Education And Families Project (DEAF Project) helped 44 families connect on Saturday, Oct. 12 during the organization’s first-ever full-day educational retreat, “Connected: Celebrating Families” at Marlton School in Los Angeles. A total of 220 people attended the event.
The goal of the retreat was to showcase the joys of bonding with and raising a deaf or hard-of-hearing (DHH) child, through a series of workshops and family team-building activities.
A highlight of the retreat was the “For Dads Only!” workshop, led by Tomas Garcia and Mark Splittstoesser. As part of the workshop, participating fathers were asked to wear ear-plugs to simulate the day-to-day experience of their DHH children. The workshop received high praise from dads, including one dad who said, “The timing in my life was perfect for this. Mark hit home. Appreciate everything.”
Simultaneous to the “For Dads Only!” workshop, moms attended two different sessions. The first, “Moms Connect,” led by Lori Sortino, Apryl Chauhan and Irma Sanchez, gave moms a chance to network with fellow in discussions about a variety of topics. They also had the opportunity to create a “vision board” using images cut out of magazines to help represent their hopes and dreams for their children. In the afternoon session, led by Carmen Varela, Irma Sanchez and Jamila Guerrero-Cantor, moms and other female attendees learned how to get the most out of an IEP meeting, along with important tips for becoming an empowered advocate for their DHH children.
More than 80 children participated in a comprehensive children’s program led by Stephanie Johnson. Johnson is a teacher at Marlton School and also teaches a Family ASL class for DEAF Project. With a team of volunteers, Johnson kept kids entertained with arts and crafts, relay races, board games, play equipment and pumpkin carving.
Families traveled from throughout the Greater Los Angeles Area, Riverside, Bakersfield, Ventura, Lancaster, Indio and San Diego. Nancy Grosz Sager, the deaf and hard of hearing consultant for the California Department of Education even flew in from Sacramento to attend!
“We are thrilled with the turnout at our first, full-day event of this kind,” said Rachel Friedman Narr, project coordinator for DEAF Project and a professor of special education at California State University, Northridge. ”It’s inspiring to see so many families come together in support of their deaf and hard-of-hearing children. We hope to make the Connected retreat an annual event.”
To help families further connect with each other, each family was given a sheet of pre-printed contact cards (with their name, address, phone number and email address) at check-in. Throughout the day, parents were encouraged to trade contact cards with others in hopes of organizing future play-dates for the kids and networking/support opportunities for parents.
Families reunited for a well-received catered lunch, which was provided by Jonathan Weiss of Big Mango Cafe in Playa Vista. Owner, Weiss, is deaf and graciously donated his time in support of the Connected: Celebrating Families retreat. The day ended with a family team building activity where families were challenged to construct a bridge using one newspaper and one roll of masking tape. The bridge represented the importance of "connections" within a family (the overall theme of the day) as well as connecting hearing and Deaf cultures and experiences.
Special thanks to our dedicated presenters and volunteers, as well as our various event supporters: Marlton Eagles and Principal Cara Fields, Galpin Ford, Purple, Sprouts Market, Dawn Sign Press, California State University Northridge, National Center on Deafness and the Michael D. Eisner College of Education, Lenny & Larry’s, SuperDeafy, ABC Family, Harris Communications, Chef Jonathan Weiss from Big Mango Café, and the Parent Links Grant.
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