FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — Rachel Wolford and Lindsey Pick walked into Joanie’s Carroll Street Cafe to eat waffles and work on their sign language skills.

For the past year and a half, cafe owner Joanie Jenkins has held a sign language class at the restaurant every Saturday morning.

It’s an informal gathering that goes for an hour starting at 9 a.m. Sometimes there might be one person and sometimes 15. Jenkins will usually have someone teach the class, although at times she’s the teacher.

You don’t have to sign up. There is a $5 charge, but that includes a cup of coffee. Many times people will stay afterward and eat a waffle.

“It’s a casual, relaxed setting and very interactive, and it can be different every time,” Jenkins said. “You never know who’s going to come in the front door. It’s just something I wanted to do. If you help one person it makes a difference.”

Wolford and Pick are students at Linganore High School. Wolford took a sign language class there last year and is an aide in the class this year. Pick is taking the class at the high school.

“This is my first time here,” Wolford said. “She mentioned it to me while fixing my prom dress. I decided to have some waffles and join in the class.”

Jenkins is also a seamstress.

Pick said she was curious about the class and also wanted to eat.

“The waffles were the added thing,” she said.

Both have friends who are deaf, and Pick said her boyfriend is fluent in sign language.

Because these two know some sign language, Jenkins just held a conversation with them using sign. She mainly asked them about school.

But for beginners, she uses a sign language book or a blackboard.

Jenkins became involved with the deaf while working on a wedding gown for a bride who was deaf.

When she moved to Frederick from Woodbine in 1984, she decided to take some sign language courses at Frederick Community College.

“I wanted to be able to help deaf people the same way I help hearing people,” she said.

She remembers a firefighter who had been called to put out a fire in a bathroom. The woman involved was deaf.

“They had to write notes back and forth and it was a traumatic situation,” Jenkins said.

So Jenkins taught him phrases such as “Were there any children in the home?” “Where is the fire?” and “Are you hurt?”

She has elderly people who are losing their hearing take the class. One time a group of homeschoolers were there as part of their language requirement. Others may have deaf neighbors or friends.

Sign language has helped her in her business, especially last year when the California School for the Deaf’s girls basketball team came in for breakfast.

“I was able to get all of their orders out,” she said. “Imagine if I would have had to write everything down and pass notes back and forth.”

But her main thing is to get people to learn sign language.

“Even if it doesn’t make me any money it doesn’t matter,” she said. “That’s not what the focus is. The focus is having it active in the cafe.”

The Frederick News-Post
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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