Watch CBS News

"The first thing she says to us is 'friend'": Community learns sign language for one girl

Toddler contributes to making a sign language town
Toddler contributes to making a sign language town 03:05

Newton, Massachusetts — At the far end of Islington Road in Newton, Massachusetts, lives a little girl near and dear to the neighborhood. Samantha Savitz is deaf — but as we first reported about a year ago — she loves to talk to anyone who knows sign language. 

"She's super engaging. She wants to chat-up with anybody," said her father, Raphael.

"Her whole personality changes when it's someone who can communicate with her," said her mother, Glenda. 

Likewise, if someone can't - well, that makes Sam just a little sad. 

Her desire for engagement was painfully obvious to everyone in the neighborhood. Whenever they saw her on a walk or in her yard —  and Sam tried to be neighborly — they found themselves at a frustrating loss for words. 

Three-year-old Samantha Savitz. CBS News

Unfortunately, this isn't something you can solve with a casserole. You'd need the whole community to learn sign language, just for a little 2-year-old girl —  and you can't expect neighbors to do that. You can only appreciate them when they do. 

On their own, Sam's neighbors got together, hired an instructor, and are now fully immersed in an American Sign Language class. The teacher, Rhys McGovern, says this is remarkable because a lot of times even the parents of deaf children don't bother to learn sign language. 

"But here Sam has a full community that's signing and communicating with her and her family, and it is a beautiful story," Rhys said.

Samantha Savitz's neighbors learning American Sign Language.  CBS News

After we first told this story, even more neighbors signed up for the classes — about 40 altogether. So now, Sam, who turned 3 in November, can engage in meaningful conversation with many of the people on her block. 

Her parents say there aren't words in any language to express their gratitude. 

"It's really shocking and beautiful," Glenda said. 

"We are so fortunate," said Raphael. 

In fact, they're already seeing a difference in their daughter. 

"You should see her when she comes in at the end of class," said one neighbor. 

"The first thing she says to us is 'friend,'" said another. 

"I think your heart would melt just as mine did," said a third. 

Sam spelled in ASL cookies. CBS News

Sometimes it feels like America is losing its sense of community —  but then you hear about a place like this, where the village it takes to raise a child is alive and well and here to remind us that what makes a 'good neighborhood' is nothing more than good neighbors.

To contact On the Road, or to send us a story idea, email us:  

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.