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Honorable Mention

To make a deaf child feel welcome, this neighborhood learned sign language

An outpouring of support in the suburbs can serve as an inspiration for all of us.

Samantha Savitz sits on her father Raphael’s lap, next to her mother, Glenda, as they and and more than two dozen neighbors sign the word “friend.”Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

IT’S BEEN A LITTLE OVER THREE YEARS now since a pint-sized girl moved into a cozy corner of Newton. She stole her neighbors’ hearts — and then redefined what it means to be a neighbor. Even when that neighbor is tiny, and impossibly cute. And deaf.

Her name is Samantha Savitz. And, early this year, when I wrote about the then-2-year-old — and her neighborhood’s outpouring of unconditional love and support — a communal chord was struck.

“It was just an overwhelmingly positive reaction,’’ her mother, Glenda Savitz, tells me from her home on Islington Road, where this love story has unfolded along the banks of the Charles River. “I don’t think any of these neighbors were looking to be in the spotlight. But the story inspired other people. They wanted to learn.’’


And so they did.

And to learn American Sign Language — which has become the newest tongue spoken in little Sam’s neighborhood — is no small feat. It takes time and practice, determination and dedication. It takes friendship — and a firm resolve that a little girl who can’t hear will never be left behind in the place they all call home.

A quick recap: Glenda and Raphael Savitz moved to Auburndale in the summer of 2016. Samantha was born three months later. Newborn screening tests revealed that their infant daughter was deaf. Neighbors brought cookies and casseroles. And then something else happened. They raised their hands and said: We want to learn to talk to this little girl. We want to be her neighbor.

When Lucia Marshall offered to host sign language courses taught by a hard-of-hearing speech language pathologist, 20 neighbors raised their hands. “People asked from time to time, ‘Where is this going?’ ’’ Marshall says. “And I said, ‘It’s not necessarily about the class. It’s about the community.’ ’’

A wonderful answer. And then, after my column ran in the Globe in early February, other wonderful things kept happening. An author from New York came to visit. She’s writing a children’s book about the neighborhood. Work will soon begin on its illustrations. A piece about the little girl and her neighborhood was broadcast by CBS News and viewed by millions. The Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing gave the neighborhood a special award in May in recognition of its efforts to “create an accessible environment for the Savitz family.”


And then more neighbors signed up for classes to master the skills they need to talk to the little girl down the street, making it 40 who have taken them. “To think that people want to learn your language,’’ her mother tells me. “That’s so very cool.’’

Linda Englander hosted the most recent American Sign Language class, which wrapped up in November, further deepening what it means to live in little Sam’s neighborhood. “I think we are uniquely lucky,’’ Englander says. “We happen to live in a little piece of heaven here. People are different. Everybody’s politics are different. There are different religions.

“But when Sam was born, she came into this very warm and supportive place where it was natural to embrace her. She’s just a delightful little girl. If you have the opportunity to be kind to a person and to be close to someone, isn’t that the best thing?’’

The real magic of it all is that for little Samantha Savitz, who turned 3 late last month, there’s really nothing special going on here. It’s just life on Islington Road. Neighbors are getting together to know a beautiful little girl, to make sure she’s part of their neighborhood, to ensure she never feels apart. Or alone. After all, isn’t that what neighbors are for?


Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can reached at thomas.farragher@globe.com.