Back Camp Summer Sign celebrates nearly 20 years of ministry to Deaf kids
August 13th, 2012
Back in 1993, Camp SummerSign (CSS) started as a one-day-a-week summer camp for teenagers through Bridges of Nashville. Three years later, it moved to Brentwood Baptist Deaf Church (BBDC). Today, it hosts nearly 50 kids, ages 6-17, from Monday to Friday for eight weeks during June and July.
This year, 47 kids took over the halls of Brentwood Baptist from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. every day to jump into worship, Bible study, games, American Sign Language (ASL) and life skills classes, arts and crafts, and more. Made up of both Deaf kids and their hearing siblings, the "Littles" are ages 6-8, the "Middles" are ages 9-11, and the "Bigs" are ages 12-17.
Up and down the halls, you'll see kids of all ages, races, ethnicities, and religions (yes, religions) signing to each other. Because that's the language of love at CSS. And the topic of the summer is Jesus.
Volunteers of CSS
They couldn't do all this without the dedication of eight summer missionaries and BBDC leadership, who pick-up and drop-off at two different locations, plan their activities for the day, teach the lessons, and love them well throughout the summer.
Below are some stories from this summer's volunteers.
From Dresden, Tennessee, Kayla will be a senior at Bethel University this fall, majoring in special education. She's hearing and doesn't come from a Deaf background. But being put in the CSS environment by the Tennessee Baptist Convention for the second summer has taught her everything she needs to know—and it's helped prepare her for a career with Deaf children and their parents.
"We don't know what some of these kids go home to at night, so we're just trying to build a bridge between them," she said. "One girl came to us who knew very few signs. Now, her mom comes with her to learn ASL. But you do see some parents who don't want to communicate with their kids. At the end of the day, these kids just want to be able to tell their parents the spectacular things they did."
Will Dunlap, a college student at the University of Arkansas, was assigned to CSS through the North American Mission Board (NAMB). He's the child of two Deaf parents, but he's hearing. Thrown in as an interpreter at a young age, he says ASL is his first language.
During his second summer as a volunteer at CSS, he stayed with Kenneth and Courtney Hammon. This Brentwood Baptist family recently adopted two young Ethiopian boys, Tariku, who's hearing, and Teddy, who's Deaf.
"Working with Teddy again this year was a huge blessing to me. After you come back from being gone a year, you see kids who didn't sign before who are signing now—like Teddy. I got to work with him and sign with him and see him grow throughout the summer," Will said.
Born hearing, Kayla was diagnosed with hearing loss at seven years old. At the time, her family was already attending Brentwood Baptist and wanted to learn ASL, so they moved across the hall to BBDC. That was 11 years ago, and they've attended since then.
This fall, Kayla will be a sophomore at Gallaudet University, an undergraduate liberal arts school in Washington D.C. for the Deaf and hard of hearing—and she's also the reigning Miss Deaf Tennessee. She's able to communicate with her family and friends through ASL, and she can hear at a 25% level with the help of a cochlear implant and hearing aid.
During the summer, she spends her time at CSS. She said, "This year, my 11-year-old brother came with me. Before, he would come but wouldn't really sign at all. But now, he's picked it up because of camp, which makes me proud of him."
Marilyn, who's hearing, and her sister, Megan, who's Deaf, began coming to CSS in 2003 when they were 8 and 6. Now, both Centennial High School students, 17-year-old Marilyn has rejoined the volunteer crew as a Sojourner with NAMB, and 15-year-old Megan, who also sat on the homecoming court last fall, is once again a camper.
Marilyn said, "We found out Megan was Deaf when she was two years old. After we moved to Nashville, we learned about Brentwood Baptist Deaf Church and that there was a camp for Deaf kids and their siblings. We were all over that. Megan is the only Deaf person in our family, so our parents began taking ASL classes and I picked it up from camp."
Both sisters would love to work among the Deaf one day—whether that's in audiology, education, or missions. But for now, they're immersed in CSS. Marilyn said, "I've loved being in a role where I can sign, something I've been raised with, and love on the kids and teach them stories."
The young woman behind it all? Crystal Newsome, BBDC's semester missionary and a regular part of the Deaf church family. This summer, during her fourth summer as a volunteer, she's scheduled, planned, and plotted out the details.
She began losing her hearing at six years old, but didn't know a Deaf community even existed until much later in life. When she went to college at University of Southern Mississippi, she began taking sign language classes, pursuing a degree in Deaf education, got involved with Baptist Student Union (BSU), and decided to pursue summer missions.
"I saw this opportunity and decided to try it," Crystal said. "And it was the hardest thing I'd ever done. It was the furthest away from home and the longest away from home I'd ever been. But I kept coming back summer after summer. Then, after last summer, I decided to stay for the year and apply to school nearby."
So why does she keep coming back every year? "Because I see potential in the kids. Because it's fun to work with them. Because when you love something, you don't mind doing it. And because God has blessed me in such a way to bring me back here."
On Friday, July 27, CSS came to a close with a huge celebration. Each year, families and friends are invited to come together for a group presentation of what campers have learned and done over the summer. Songs, skits, a movie, and more are displayed over an hour and a half show.
Every year, campers walk away with stories that will stay with them the rest of their lives. Will Dunlap said, "It was such a privilege to serve these kids and their siblings. The whole summer was about loving and encouraging them to love Christ and grow into a relationship with Him."