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Columbus Industries hosts silent lunches to foster understanding and inclusion

silent lunches Vickie PowellFor the past three years, Vickie Powell-Cross has been taking two people supported by Columbus Industries in Whiteville to silent lunches in Wilmington. Hosted by the deaf community, the event draws nearly three dozen people.

Some attendees are hearing-impaired, while others are students who want to learn sign language.

Now, Powell-Cross, who speaks sign language and has an interpreter’s degree, plans to start silent lunches at Columbus Industries, so that people supported and staff can better communicate with their two hearing-impaired friends.

“I have always been interested in sign language,” shared Powell-Cross, lead developmental specialist at the vocational workshop.

Silent Lunches Vickie and Jerry signingPowell-Cross admits that teaching a class on sign language is vastly different from being a student. Also, one of the people she supports speaks Jamaican Sign Language instead of American Sign Language, so there are some additional challenges for the two of them.

The popularity of the Wilmington lunches – which convene the first Friday of each month – prompted Powell-Cross to create similar events.

Powell-Cross teaches basic sign language classes at Columbus Industries and at Bladen Opportunities Unlimited in Elizabethtown. There is one person supported there who is hearing impaired, she said.

She takes two people supported to church once a month in Whiteville to interpret for them – an event all four enjoy, she said.

“One thing about the deaf culture is that if you want to learn their language, it brings them great joy,” Powell-Cross said.

She and her people supported have a wonderful time visiting and socializing with the friends they’ve made at the silent lunches in Wilmington over the years, she says.

“My being here has opened a lot of doors for the deaf community,” Powell-Cross said. “I like going to the silent lunches, because it helps me keep my skills sharp, too. Everyone signs a little differently.”

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