Western Carolina University student Shaneé Sullivan went with a hearing-impaired seventh-grader to lunch after tutoring him for the first time and was moved when he started signing words for their food—words they had just covered.
“Without being prompted, he took the lesson I taught him and applied it,” said Sullivan, a senior biology major from Raleigh. “I knew then that I wanted to go into deaf education. My very first student inspired me.”
Her ongoing volunteer service at the North Carolina School for the Deaf in Morganton—a two-hour drive from WCU—began in 2008 as part of an honors project for a WCU American Sign Language course. In honor of her efforts, Sullivan recently received a WCU community service award.
Sullivan has been helping hearing-impaired middle- and high-school students at NCSD with English literacy, American Sign Language vocabulary and phrasing, and ACT college entrance exam preparation.
In addition to helping students with their studies, Sullivan choreographed and taught a salsa routine to a middle-school physical education class that students went on to perform at an annual school talent show.
She also organized a collection in 2008-09 of “nearly new” formal wear to donate to NCSD students who could not afford new dresses. For this year’s prom, she and another WCU volunteer went to the school to help students with hair and make-up for the big night.
“I’ve never seen our girls look more beautiful,” said Ruth Jones, volunteer services director at NCSD. “Shaneé is one of the most enthusiastic, energetic, creative and dedicated volunteers I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. She is truly a treasure.”
Meanwhile back at WCU, Sullivan has organized the iSign American Sign Language Club in January to raise awareness of deaf culture and issues affecting people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
She also raised about $800 for scholarships to help NCSD graduates afford to attend Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, N.Y. Her fundraising efforts have ranged from soliciting donations to organizing a fundraising show at WCU featuring deaf actor-comedian CJ Jones.
“It has been difficult to attract many people to events where they think they will have to know sign language,” Sullivan said.
She persisted, however, and began molding and sculpting “I Love You” hand-sign lapel pins out of polymer clay and selling them on and off campus.
“By encouraging people to take a look at sign language and into the deaf world, I believe that people will relate better to deaf people or, at the very least, be more open-minded,” Sullivan said.
Glenn Bowen, director of WCU’s Center for Service Learning, said Sullivan is “an exemplary volunteer who has demonstrated inventiveness and a caring spirit. She has shown that one student’s efforts can, and do, make a difference.”