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St. Kate’s students volunteer for deaf community

Students Kassie Zimmer, RaeLynn Satterlee and Chelsea Prior, Professor Patty Gordon, and students Amanda Medina, Amy Werner and Erina Moriarty volunteered at the Capitol.
Students Kassie Zimmer, RaeLynn Satterlee and Chelsea Prior, Professor Patty Gordon, and students Amanda Medina, Amy Werner and Erina Moriarty volunteered at the Capitol.
Rebecca Zenefski 10

Seniors in the American Sign Language program at St. Catherine University volunteered their time at the Minnesota Capitol on Wednesday, to help during the lobby day for the deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing community.

“The Commission of Deaf, Deafblind and Hard of Hearing Minnesotans sponsors this day of hearings every two years,” said Patty Gordon, who teaches American Sign Language at St. Kate’s. “Our students are there to check them in, help them practice before they meet with their legislators and help with paperwork.”

The lobby day offers members of the deaf community support from local agencies and interpreters as they bring their concerns to their legislators and ask for continued funding for disability services.

Kassie Zimmer ‘11, a student in the American Sign Language interpreting program at St. Kate’s, was just one of the seniors who turned out to volunteer.

“Our role is to make sure people from the deaf community are comfortable,” said Zimmer. She said she had the opportunity to help both adults from the deaf community and young people, as several high school students participated in the event. “I’m so impressed with the juniors and seniors, the young people that are here.”

The event offered a real-world opportunity for students of St. Catherine University to help the deaf community. Students gathered in the State Office Building across from the Capitol on Wednesday morning, where they helped to create a home base for deaf individuals so that they could meet throughout the day.

While taking registrations and helping with paperwork was the biggest part of their volunteer work, students also helped individuals to practice signing or feel confident ahead of hearings with their legislators. Certified interpreters were on hand to translate throughout the day.

Later in the morning, members of the deaf community attended a training session, which offered advice on the best way to approach legislators when using American Sign Language, as well as advice on the issues that are currently being discussed in the Minnesota Legislature.

State Rep. Tom Huntley attended the training session to give those in the deaf community insight into the legislative process and to help individuals practice for scheduled hearings later in the day.

Teika Pakalns, of the Commission of Deaf, Deafblind and Hard of Hearing Minnesotans, led members of the deaf community through role-playing exercises during the session. She also provided information on some of the issues facing the deaf community.

“People this week are making decisions about where to put money, where to cut money,” she said. “It’s important that we know about these topics.”

With the theme of “Communications: A Basic Need and A Civil Right,” the lobby day brought to light two new bills during the 2011 legislative session, including a bill for funds for statewide technology access and a bill for trial placement for the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf.

Sponsors also discussed existing programs and services that may be at risk as the Legislature looks to cut the state budget. These ranged from the services provided by deafblind interveners, parent guides and deaf mentors to funding for schools and state-sponsored programs. The session also provided members of the deaf community a chance to share their concerns and bring forward the issues that are closest to their hearts.

Chelsea Prior ‘11, who is taking American Sign Language courses at St. Catherine University, said the volunteer work was stimulating and on target with her professional goals. Though American Sign Language is a minor for the St. Kate’s senior, she said she has always been interested in justice and peace.

“This kind of work is the thing that I’m into,” said Prior. “As a hearing person, I can help the non-hearing who may not have any exposure and connect them to the people they need to be connected to.”

After providing help with registrations and maintaining a home base in the morning, students had the opportunity to attend a rally and awards ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda at noon. Here, many members of the deaf community united to hear messages of strength and perseverance, and to watch some of the most recognized leaders in the deaf community accept awards from the commission. Among them, St. Kate’s faculty member Anita Buel was recognized for her work in the documentary film called Signing On.

Service learning is a requirement for students taking advanced American Sign Language courses at St. Catherine University. Through their courses students not only increase their understanding of American Sign Language, but they also gain a deep understanding of deaf culture.


March 3, 2011 by Melissa Kaelin

See also: Leadership, Liberal Arts, Social Justice, Students