In 1992, at Washington Middle School, Elizabeth Day created the Washington Middle School Sign Language Club. The club was comprised of 25 hearing students in grades 6 through 8 who learned 250 signs and performed two songs in the school concert.
Since 1992, more than 1,700 students have participated in the program. The group has performed all over Connecticut and still continues to strengthen its member's knowledge of sign language. Once the group was formed, its sponsor not only began to teach sign language but also to help the students understand how volunteering enhances lives.
Every year, the group has developed programs to help its neighbors and community. They have supported a variety of local charities and national charities. The students have raised more than $15,000 in the last six years. They have sponsored benefits for St. Jude's Children's Hospital, The New Children's Medical Center, Muscular Dystrophy Association, and the Oklahoma City bombing victims and others. Every year, a new group of students contribute to these worthwhile causes.
Over the last seven years, the students have also participated in the nationally sponsored Make A Difference Day. In 1997, they developed and participated in their first annual Litter-Lift and Family Day. They raised more than $1,800 worth of food for Operation Pantry, cleaned more than 21 streets, fed more than 1,000 people in the community and mobilized some 60 organizations to become involved with their efforts.
The club has also adopted a nursing home through which its participants dedicate themselves to enriching the lives of the elderly community. Through seminars and research from experts in the field of aging, the students learned that 70% of the elderly are confined to a nursing facility and that only an estimated 10% are visited by a family member or friend. This statistic frightened many of the students who wondered how they could help those in isolation.
The students adopted Coccomo Memorial, a facility that houses approximately 100 patients. The students serve lunch, play games, read and talk walks with the elderly citizens. Additionally, they plan dances and special nights for the clients. The students regularly visit the home twice a month however, many students now volunteer on their own during the week.