Signing in salem: Students help out at reality tv build

It was a weekend of hard hats, plastic skeletons, Ty Pennington and Deaf culture for some Linfield students, who travelled to Salem on Sept. 26 and 27 to participate in a project for “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” a reality TV series that provides renovations for the less-fortunate, at Oregon School for the Deaf.
Armed with hard hats and bright blue T-shirts, a group of about 10 Linfield American Sign Language students joined nearly 1,000 local volunteers working around the clock at OSD, hustling to build a new boy’s dormitory and refurbish the school’s popular fundraiser, a haunted house called The Nightmare Factory.
“We ended up just actually using our signing abilities to help the actual work staff of [‘EMHE’] and the Deaf volunteers,” sophomore Megan Bahrt, ASL Club president, said about their Monday evening trip.
The students mostly worked interpreting ASL for workers and directing Deaf people at the reveal Monday night trip. Part of the Linfield group also witnessed the haunted house reveal, where community members bought $50 tickets to get into the house, in total raising $12,500 for the nonprofit organization Friends of OSD, according to a Sept. 14 article in the Statesman Journal, Salem’s local newspaper.
Linfield volunteers also spent Sunday and Monday mornings from midnight to 6 a.m. helping construction workers clean up, guarding entrances to the site and performing miscellaneous touch-ups.
As a matter of fact, the students drove south without knowing whether they’d be allowed in.
“So many people had tried to volunteer and then couldn’t and were turned away,” Dawn Williamson, associate director of the counseling center and a student of the ASL conversation class, said.
Williamson said they were able to volunteer because of their knowledge in ASL, which enabled them to interpret instructions for the Deaf community.
One Deaf woman that she was directing around the site actually thought Williamson was Deaf, too.

“She turns around and says, ‘Thank you. It’s so nice to see a Deaf volunteer,’ and then she turns around before I can get her attention and say, ‘No, no, no, no, no!’” Williamson said, laughing.
Junior Greg Larson arrived in Salem at midnight on Monday. Although not an ASL student, Larson was invited to volunteer by a friend in an ASL class. He said he didn’t know what to expect.
“I didn’t know how long the project had been going on, so I didn’t know if we would be digging holes for pipes or putting pillows on couches,” Larson said. “When we got there, the guy pointed to a building and said, ‘Four days ago, this was a field.’”
But volunteers and “EMHE” staff had transformed the vacant lot. The sustainable dormitory featured a solar-panel roof and was already painted and furnished. The field was landscaped with trees and other plants, and bike racks were scattered about the area. All materials for the project, which cost more than $1 million, were donated, according to a Sept. 14 article in the Statesman Journal.
Larson said he painted planters made from recycled tires and moved plastic skeletons and a car full of taxidermic animals.
A student in Elementary ASL I, freshman Angela Taylor, said she brought clothes into the dormitory and organized the closets.
“You’d walk into trailers and get stuff and there would be people passed out, just sleeping, taking these 30-minute power naps,” Taylor said.
Fred Farrior, Linfield’s adjunct professor of ASL, has a personal connection with the project. He lived in the old OSD boy’s dormitory during middle and high schools and taught at the school for 28 years.
“The dorm looked like a hospital because there was too [much] white wall to wall and no carpets,” he said in an e-mail. “[The new dorm] should affect the Deaf boys [with] feeling more comfortable and learning and studying better.”
Farrior alerted his classes of the event as a means of completing an assignment requiring students to participate in a Deaf-related event. But homework aside, he said this was an excellent experiential opportunity for students to learn about Deaf culture.
“[Students] have definitely been inspired to look further into ASL arts in the realm of music, comedy, acting and performance poetry,” Farrior said in an e-mail. “These will only serve to enrich their ASL education.”
Taylor said helping people communicate was the most significant part of the experience. She described a situation with a Deaf woman named Connie.
“She was really sweet and saying how people couldn’t understand her there, and she was happy to have us just to say where she grew up and [have] random conversation,” Taylor said.
As for Larson, he said the experience gave him a bit of hope.
“It was nice to go out and meet a whole bunch of people who I didn’t know and see that they were nice and intelligent and helpful,” Larson said. “My faith in just the general public was restored.”
Bahrt said she hopes to use the experience as a springboard to other ASL events.
“You gain from those people who aren’t your teachers,” she said.
Bahrt said she also plans to learn “The Star-Spangled Banner” in sign and have the club perform it at a football game.
All the volunteers said they are excited to visit the haunted house and watch the episode, which airs on Halloween night. Williamson said she hopes to organize a screening of the show through ASL Club.
You can also experience The Nightmare Factory on Oct. 8-9, 15-16 and 22-31. Admission is $10.
by Kelley Hungerford/Editor-in-chief
Kelley Hungerford can be reached at

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