The former classmate of an Avon woman whose daughter, Mellissa Andrew died in a car crash in 2010 was devastated when her heard the news.
"You're frustrated, so you just want to know how you can help in a situation like that," Attorney Kevin C. Ferry said.
So, when fellow 1983 Avon High School graduate Anne Marie MacFaddin, a longtime friend since the two were in middle school, approached Ferry about donating to Smiles for Mellissa, a foundation she created in Andrew's honor, Ferry immediately wanted to get involved.
"The fact that Anne and I were close and that I had that connection having a daughter the same age, really, I can't even imagine how devastating to her because that's how it felt for me," Ferry said.
Ferry presented a check to MacFaddin in the Avon High lobby Thursday morning.
He has donated $10,000 so far to the cause, which supports a new American sign language program at the high school.
"That is a wonderful display of community support. Smiles for Mellissa foundation is showing how much people care and value their community," Avon High School American sign language teacher Susan Steers wrote to Patch. "What a grand gesture!"
MacFaddin approached the high school two Septembers ago about starting a program of sorts in honor of Mellissa. She came up with the idea for a sign language class after chatting with a friend whose daughter went to Lewis Mills, the same school as Charles Buonocore, 18, who died driving the car he and Mellissa were in on the night of the August 2010 crash. MacFaddin's friend's daughter was going to college to study sign language, so once she heard that, the idea clicked.
"[Sign language] benefits so many people. It benefits children and adults with disabilities. It benefits students that are going into education, if they want to go into the medical field," MacFaddin said. "I think more and more people are using sign language as a tool and as a way to communicate."
Mellissa often signed with her brother, Aidan, now 7, who has Down syndrome. Aidan did not speak the first two years of his life. Now, even though he is verbal, MacFaddin said she and her family still often communicates with him through sign language when they can't understand them or he chooses to sign with them.
"We just thought, hey, why not let everyone experience such a beautiful language," MacFaddin said. "Some kids can't do French or Spanish because their brains don't work that way. Because signing uses their hands, they have an easier time with signing. So I think it will just be a benefit when sign language is approved as a foreign language. Then students can take it for credit and they can take it for their language requirement."
They have used sign language for about 10 years, MacFaddin said, because that was also how they communicated with her third child, Mackenzie, now 11. She said that her preschool, Apple Tree, also used sign language with the kids.
"We had read studies out there that if you use sign language when they start to talk, their verbal skills are much better," MacFaddin said.
The course is currently in a pilot stage, according to Avon High School Principal Jason Beaudin.
“I think it provides a wonderful enrichment opportunity for our students to have a class of over 20 students taking the course, not for credit, is really indicative of the interest in the subject matter, as well as honoring Mellissa’s memory," Beaudin said. “I think the course has really helped our students with the healing process after Mellissa’s passing.”
Mellissa's sister, Nicole, 17 and now a junior, is taking American Sign Language 1.
"She likes the class," MacFaddin said.
Many of the girls' friends are taking the class.
"There's one student in the class and she's hard of hearing, so they're very excited that Avon is now offering sign language," MacFaddin said.
The course, while it does not count for credits, is already popular, filled with 21 students, and in the fall a second level will be added.
MacFaddin is involved in the planning of the second annual , scheduled for . , one of Mellissa's friends, organized last year's tournament as part of his senior mastery project.
The proceeds go to Smiles for Mellissa.
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