Being Deaf doesn’t hurt you; it’s not a disease. Deaf people are not victims and don’t “suffer” from deafness. In fact, the difference between deafness and hearing can only be measured by the effort in which it takes to communicate. More than 30 years ago, Christine Oddo of Bayville began living in this space between deafness and hearing as a teacher’s aide in the Alternative High School at the Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf (MNM).
MNM is a community-based non-profit that provides services to Long Islanders and those in the surrounding areas, who are deaf, hard of hearing or developmentally disabled. The stunning Mill Neck campus with its rolling green hills and vistas overlooking the Long Island Sound are simply breathtaking, an idyllic setting for those whose vision is more developed than that of their hearing counterparts.
Over the course of time, Christine watched the young students attending MNM grow into adulthood and saw there was a need to develop and expand the school’s services to help transition them for their life after high school.
“I was documenting the need for these services,” Christine says. “We couldn’t graduate these children and then give them no additional services. This was a natural evolution for me—helping with placement and coaching.”
In 1986, Christine began the Mill Necks Adult Services (MNAS) program to help Deaf young people evolve to the next level of their lives as they were aged out of the school system. In that first year alone, the program helped 103 students advance into various stages of employment.
Christine found that many of the adults required specialized attention and guidance in order to become more independent. The adult-services program grew to include job placement and supported employment, day and residential habilitation programs, and interpreting. Further expansion to the original program now includes sign language classes, adult literacy and respite services. Christine was also instrumental in the development and creation of three online courses that are designed to teach others how to provide effective services to individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing.
“We help people to prepare in order to sell and market themselves,” says Christine. “We go with them on the job until they’re trained. We provide job placement for every facet in the business world, from entry level to technical. Training includes budgeting and other life skills. We are the lifeline for some of these families.”
The Hicksville-based MNM Day Program services almost 30 people who do volunteer work in the local community including Meals On Wheels, churches and providing mailing services for local non-profits. MNAS offers services that are interchangeable with other developmental disabilities, including job placement and assistance for these people also. “Any non-profit that needs assistance, we would like to help,” Christine says. “Our guys are prescreened and have a tremendous support system. We always make sure things are running smoothly. We believe in using the community as the classroom.”
Sound and speech isn’t the ultimate goal for Deaf people; communication is. There are those who speak so well to be almost hearing…and those that might have a language deficit that only allows them to communicate with simple gestures. Everyone, whether they are hearing or deaf, has their strengths and weaknesses. Christine is now the associate director of MNM and says, “I fell in love with everybody here. Working at Mill Neck was like a comfortable pair of shoes; you know it’s yours.”
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