Written by: Camille Manuncia, GiGi’s Communications Intern

 

Lauren Blachowiak, a former teacher at The River School in Washington D.C., has become a wonderful leader for the Fantastic Friends Bonus: Sign Language program!

Lauren became involved with GiGi’s in Nashville, TN, while studying for her Master’s degree in Early Childhood Special Education at Vanderbilt University. She first volunteered as a tutor for the GiGi’s literacy program. After moving to Washington D.C., she continued volunteering for GiGi’s in Annapolis and helped out in the LMNOP program.

“I have a younger sister with Down syndrome and was ecstatic to become a part of the GiGi’s community,” says Lauren. “I am grateful to the GiGi’s community for letting me be a small part of these novel, challenging, and exhilarating times of life!”

The River School is a private school for children with hearing impairment. There, they learned how to develop their verbal and written communication. Her experience at this school taught her minor American Sign Language. Because of this, we asked her to lead a new class for the Fantastic Friends participants and it’s a huge success!

At the first meeting, the participants talked about what signs they knew and what they wanted to learn. They decided that each week they would choose one popular song and learn the signs for it. They have learned songs like The Beatles, “Hello, Goodbye,” and “This Girl is on Fire,” by Alicia Keys. Hearing their laughter and joy while remaining focused on the signs is amazing! The group has been continuing to learn more sign language and are working on signing names and casual social conversation.

The group has loved learning sign language so much that one of the participants, Alicia, created her own PowerPoint teaching sign language to the tune of “Baby Shark.” Alicia taught this to the LMNOP program! GiGi’s is fostering leadership! Go Alicia!

“It was a blast to work with the Fantastic Friends Sign Language & Music group! I went into the first session not knowing the other participants and unsure of how the virtual format would work, but we left the first session as fast friends and with a long list of songs we want to learn in ASL! So far we’ve done everything from High School Musical to Carrie Underwood, and are working our way through the alphabet, too. Everyone has such fabulous ideas about what signs and songs we should learn next – the only challenge is getting to all of it!” says Lauren.

Lauren now works as a Disability Policy Fellow at the University Centers on Disabilities where she handles federal policies and legislative issues that impacts people with disabilities and their families. To encourage higher voter turnout, Lauren will be leading a virtual voting seminar on September 17th at 7 p.m. for the GiGi’s Annapolis 18+ community called, Making a Voting Plan: Disability Rights and Accessibility. Lauren encourages everyone 18+ to watch or review the slides to learn your voting rights and how to register. It is a great presentation for anyone interested in learning more about their voting rights!

We are so lucky to have Lauren on our team! Thank you for your spirit and versatility; we could not have done this without you!

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