BRIARWOOD — Ryan Curran was a sophomore at Archbishop Molloy High School in 2019 when he noticed that while the school had numerous clubs and extracurricular activities, there was nothing for students like him, who are hard of hearing.
He decided to do something about it. And the fruits of his labor are still growing today, more than a year after he graduated and moved on to St. John’s University.
Back then, Curran wrote an article in the school newspaper, The Stanner, calling attention to the lack of clubs for hard-of-hearing students.
Dana McMenamin and Henry Ventura, two teachers at the Lexington School for the Deaf in East Elmhurst, got wind of the article and helped Archbishop Molly High School organize an American Sign Language Club at the school.
Both McMenamin and Ventura are Molloy graduates, Class of 2009 and 2005, respectively.
The club, which now boasts 150 members, meets twice a month. Members can learn the basics of American Sign Language (ASL) and sign up for volunteer opportunities. For example, Archbishop Molloy students host social events at school and invite students from the Lexington School for the Deaf to play games, like Sign Language Bingo and Sign Language Telephone.
The club also welcomes guest speakers who are deaf to talk about their lives, as well as people who work with the deaf to discuss their careers. According to the National Deaf Center, an estimated 48 million Americans are deaf or suffer from some form of hearing loss.
Curran, who served as the club’s president in his junior year, remembers that time as a period of personal growth.
“It’s incredible to look back and see how many opportunities it opened up,” said Curran, a parishioner of Holy Child Jesus Church in Richmond Hill who graduated from Molloy in 2022.
McMenamin likes the educational benefits the club offers students.
“They’re learning a new skill. And it is introducing them to a completely different culture that they may not have even really been aware of,” she explained. “The language itself has a completely different grammatical structure. The language can’t be directly translated word for word. It makes them think outside of the box a little bit.”
And one of the best things about the club, McMenamin added, is the opportunity it offers students for spiritual growth.
Many of the members spend time volunteering at a summer camp run by the Marist Brothers, where both McMenamin and Ventura have served as counselors for many years.
Chiara Pullara, a senior who joined the club as a sophomore and is its current president, has worked at the camp. “I was very nervous going in because I didn’t know a lot. But then throughout the week, I learned a lot because you’re surrounded by only that language for a week,” she recalled.
Lauren Zamora, a senior, serves on the club’s executive board and helps plan its activities. Like Pullara, she has worked as a volunteer at the camp. She attributes the club’s success in attracting new members to the power of word-of-mouth.
“A bunch of us went to that camp this summer. And we had a great experience and started telling people about it. So I’m pretty sure that’s why everyone just wants to get to experience it since we all loved it,” she said.
For Laila Gulino, a sophomore, being a club member is the fulfillment of a long-held goal.
“I always wanted to learn ASL in middle school but my old school didn’t have any opportunities to learn it. When I came to Molloy, I saw there was an ASL club and I joined,” said Laila, a parishioner of Sacred Heart Church in Glendale.
The club is meant to serve merely as an ASL introduction to students, said McMenamin, who added that the goal is to whet their appetites.
“We are just introducing them to the language and providing them with opportunities to learn about and meet the deaf community,” she explained, adding that she and Ventura always encourage students to take classes with deaf adults, “because that is the best way to learn.”
Learning sign language is a challenge, said Zamora, a parishioner of Notre Dame Church in New Hyde Park.
“It definitely takes time but I would say it’s definitely worth it,” she explained. “It’s great when you can see someone signing in public and be able to communicate with them or introduce yourself. That’s one of my favorite things to do.”
Pullara, a parishioner of Sacred Heart Church in Glendale, believes her membership has deepened her Catholic faith.This semester, she became an extraordinary minister of holy Communion at school.
Similarly, Laila also feels her faith has been strengthened, particularly because of the volunteer opportunities it provides.
“Jesus teaches us to love one another and to treat others the way we want to be treated. Learning ASL has helped me follow those teachings,” she said.