The Say It In Sign ministry strives to promote deaf awareness through free sign language classes, conversation-oriented gatherings and now the first Deaf and Hard of Hearing Picnic May 21.
"You don't realize the importance of communication until you find it difficult to communicate," said Angel Miller, co-director of Say It In Sign with her husband Michael who is deaf. "This is a special event for the entire community. Anybody is invited to come. The theme of our ministry is 'building bridges' because we are trying to build bridges between the deaf world and the hearing world - help people be able to develop friendships."
The picnic will be held from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Booker T. Washington State Park. Planned activities include games of volleyball and basketball, a lunch catered by Rib and Loin at noon, a group hiking trip at 3 p.m., drawings for door prizes as well as the opportunity for participants to browse through a small market of vendor stands. Tickets should be purchased in advance and cost $7 for adults and $4 for children.
"This will be an annual event because we've had such a strong interest in it," Miller said. "We have people who are coming up from the Atlanta area."
The picnic is the newest addition to the Say It In Sign ministry that has been working within the Chattanooga deaf community for four years. The organization was formed when one of Miller's friends at church asked for help to learn a song in sign language. From that simple request grew an organization that now hosts two free sign language classes each year. The next 12-week-long class starts in September.
"A lot has happened in a short amount of time," Miller said. "The sign language class has pulled a lot of people together and is meeting a need in the community. We've had families who are adopting a deaf child, parents with children born deaf and parents with a child who can't speak. We've had people who have a family member who is deaf and wants to use sign language to communicate. I was in the very first class we taught and my husband was the teacher."
The two sign language classes teach more than 100 students each year and those who graduate from the classes often continue learning and practicing their skills through Deaf Chat-Chattanooga, said Miller. Deaf Chat-Chattanooga is a group of sign language students and local deaf or hard-of-hearing residents who meet the third Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to noon at Starbucks on Hamilton Place Boulevard for coffee and sign language conversation. A second group, Deaf Chat-Fort Oglethorpe, meets the second Saturday of each month at Panera Bread on Battlefield Parkway from 10 a.m. to noon.
Miller said the organization continues to grow as she and her husband create new opportunities to promote deaf awareness, support deaf culture and teach sign language within Chattanooga.
"Before we started there really wasn't much going on in the deaf community of Chattanooga. There were not a lot of events," Miller said. "We took this up as an opportunity to have some fun and create a network for the deaf community."