American Sign Language students learn about service by adopting families during the holidays

| February 2, 2012

A year ago, Michele Bailes, an American Sign Language instructor, gave one of her classes the opportunity to help her family adopt a needy family for Christmas. She was so surprised at her students’ willingness to serve that this past December, she asked all four of her classes if they wanted to adopt their own families. Their response was unanimous. Everyone wanted to help.

The students were responsible for the entire project. They had to find the families on their own without the help of social service agencies.

“There are hundreds of agencies helping people,” Bailes said. “I wanted to help those who were struggling but didn’t qualify for help, those who fell through the cracks.”

The students were to identify families from their own social circles. Bailes encouraged them to talk, listen and seek information from their co-workers, roommates, families and friends.

“It is easy as a college student to not pay attention to the world,” Bailes said. “I wanted my students to be aware of the needs of the people around them.”

The students, it turned out, found many more families in need than they’d expected. They came up with the names of 16 families, each with its own set of difficult circumstances. In one family, the father had been injured twice while working two separate jobs and is unable to work. The mother is battling cancer, and the home they share with their three children is a two-room trailer. Another family included a mother with cancer, a son in college and another son who had suffered a stroke.

Now the students faced a different and unexpected dilemma—how to choose one family for each class out of the 16 they had identified. They deliberated as a group and agreed on the four families to adopt, reluctantly eliminating the other 12.

“Students were saying maybe my sociology class or English class could adopt this family,” Bailes said, “This was what the Jesuit spirit of service was about.”

The students then went shopping for gifts for the children and the adults. They wrapped the presents for the parents but left the children’s presents unwrapped, instead providing wrapping paper, tape and tags so the parents could have the joy of wrapping their own children’s gifts. The students loaded their cars with the gifts and drove them to their waiting families. Items purchased with leftover dollars were wrapped and donated to the children of St. Joseph’s Orphanage.

The students enjoyed being able to help the families they had chosen, but they were troubled that they could not provide for the other 12. Bailes hopes to expand the project next year into a campus-wide event so even more families can be included.