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Camas students use sign language to benefit deaf African children

Group to "perform" pop songs at benefit show

By , Columbian Health Reporter
3 Photos
Makayla Plock, 16, left, Alysha Mueller, 16, and Caitlin Moore, 16, sign "Stop! In the Name of Love" by The Supremes while rehearsing for a show Thursday at Camas High School.
Makayla Plock, 16, left, Alysha Mueller, 16, and Caitlin Moore, 16, sign "Stop! In the Name of Love" by The Supremes while rehearsing for a show Thursday at Camas High School. The show, "A Helping Hand," will raise money for deaf children in the African country of Zambia. Photo Gallery

For one night, Camas High School juniors Makayla Plock, Alysha Mueller and Caitlin Moore will transform themselves into The Supremes.

They’ll don black dresses, strap on gold high heels and accessorize with gold headbands and bangles. And then they’ll sing “Stop! In The Name of Love” and “Where Did Our Love Go” without ever saying a word.

The trio are among a couple of dozen students from Camas High School’s Aspired Signing Leaders who will take the stage for a benefit show Monday night. They’ll use their hands to interpret the stories of 22 different songs by a range of artists from The Beach Boys and Four Tops to the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears. And when the night ends, the students will hand over all of the proceeds to help deaf African children who know fewer signs than the club’s first-year students.

The students’ American Sign Language instructor, Karen Wales, first learned about Deaf Education & Arts for African Families last fall. She read an article about a woman from New York who moved to Zambia to teach deaf children. The children didn’t have a school, knew very little sign language, and many were orphans.

The story moved Wales, whose husband is deaf. She told her students about the children and her desire to raise money for the organization. The story moved the leadership club, too. And from there, “A Helping Hand” benefit show was born.

“Mrs. Wales was pretty excited about this,” Plock said. “I think she dreamed this up and threw us in there.”

That’s not to say the students didn’t share her enthusiasm.

“I think everybody was really excited,” Mueller said.

During the club’s rehearsal Thursday night, the students and Wales fussed over every detail of every act. The lights were brought up, dimmed, then brought up again to the eliminate shadows that washed out students’ facial expressions. A red curtain framing the stage was pulled in, then drawn out until it was placed in the perfect position. And the students practiced their signing and choreography until every component of the performance aligned.

Some of the performances are solo acts. Others are group efforts. A few consist of duos signing love songs to each other. And some require props and inject humor into the show.

For a group of four high school boys, the props are framed pictures of their sweethearts. The humor comes when they sign “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” and start smooching the photos.

“It’s hard to keep pointing at a table,” junior Sterling Haase said. “There’s no interaction. The picture just sits there for you.”

Another foursome of love-struck boys sing about the one who brings them sunshine on cloudy days. The group, which consists of four football players, dances across the stage and signs “My Girl.”

And while the boys are used to performing in front of crowds — though they’re usually on a field, not a stage — they’re a little nervous about the show and who might be in the audience. The students sent fliers about the show to other schools, and Wales’ husband, Rusty, spread the word to the deaf community.

“There’s going to be a bunch of deaf people, and you want to interpret the story for them and make the right facial expressions,” senior Stuart Jergensen said.

Even though the show is lighthearted and fun, the students say they haven’t forgotten why they’re doing it. The money they raise from the show will help build a residential school for the deaf and give hearing-impaired children in Zambia a chance at an education. It will also set the foundation for future generations of deaf children, Mueller said.

“We’re going to help them,” she said, “really change their lives.”

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546 or

Columbian Health Reporter

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