Virginia agency launches Deaf, Hard of Hearing youth mentorship program

Published: Sep. 14, 2023 at 5:39 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - A Virginia agency is rolling out a new mentorship program it hopes expands accessibility in our hometowns.

You can learn more about the program via an ASL video here.

Leaders with the Virginia’s Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing say there’s a shortage of services and providers for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community across the state. That’s particularly true for children who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing.

According to VDDHH Director Eric Raff, this new mentorship program pairs vetted mentors with children to open up resources and serve as role models for their entire family.

“It’s not only about learning ASL, American Sign Language,” he said, “but it’s also about introducing the Hearing family to include communication in their natural environment. They learn about assistive technology that’s available. They learn about Deaf culture.”

The idea for a mentorship program came from an advisory committee for the newborn screening program. Meeting virtually during the pandemic, a group of parents on the committee identified the need and developed the solution.

One of those parents was Gia Thornton, a Hearing mom of two Deaf children, who said she needed these kinds of resources when her young children were born.

“It’s just much more family friendly and much more tailored to the needs of your specific family and situation,” said Thornton. “And I love that the whole family learns together.”

As of Thursday, Raff said 54 families had signed up to participate, but there were just eight mentors trained for the program.

To qualify as a mentor, you need to meet the following requirements:

- You must be Deaf

-You must be fluent in American Sign Language (ASL)

-Be able to pass a criminal background check

-Have reliable transportation and valid driver’s license

-Have a passion to serve deaf children and their families

-Be available October 20 through October 22 for mandatory SKI-HI Training

The mentorship position is a contract position with variable hours requiring evening and weekend availability. Mentors will be paid.

Interested and qualifying applicants can send a cover letter and resume to before the deadline.