Serving Through Signing

“Serving Through Signing,” Ensign, Dec. 1997, 63–64

Serving Through Signing

On Easter Sunday in 1991, the bishop of Tracine Parkinson’s ward had an important message for her. “He told me I was supposed to be using my sign language skills in some way,” she recalls. “But he wasn’t sure how.”

Tracine, however, had an idea. Prior to her marriage and the births of her three children, she had served a mission to the deaf in Washington, D.C., and afterward had signed professionally for a time. During the several months prior to the bishop’s announcement, some acquaintances had asked her to teach them sign language. She recognized that there might be a need for a community sign language class.

Tracine was somewhat reluctant at first. “I knew sign language, but I didn’t know how to teach it,” she says. Arrangements were made and soon she was preparing to teach her first class. She set up 12 chairs, thinking that few people would attend, and prayed that at least 12 people would come. “That night we had 57 people!”

Tracine’s single class has since mushroomed into 11 classes, all free of charge, with 30 volunteer teachers and at least 200 people attending each week. Other classes in locations scattered across the United States have been patterned after the one Tracine has spearheaded. However, she doesn’t take any credit for its success, attributing that to the Lord.

Members of the deaf community participate actively in the program. “They make sure everyone is being taught accurately,” Tracine says. “Elsewhere they often have to accept help from others. In our classes, they are the authority.”

Students’ reasons for attending the classes are varied. “Some are here to learn sign language because they have relatives or neighbors who are deaf, and some are here because they are fascinated with the art,” Tracine explains. A signing choir, with approximately 150 members, practices after each class, and many who have witnessed this choir can testify of its spiritual power. Several years ago the choir performed for Jerold D. Ottley, director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Tracine says she has learned a great deal from the experience. “We often tend to think our unique qualities are negative,” she says. “But in class we learn to appreciate the unique qualities of others, and then we begin to view our own uniqueness in a positive light.”

Tracine is a nursery leader in the San Diego Seventh Ward, San Diego North Stake.