Byline: Maggie FitzRoy, Shorelines staff writer
When Dallas Flint was a little girl, most people couldn't understand her when she spoke. Now a Nease High School honor student, Flint has devoted the last several years of her life to helping others who have communication challenges. She wants to make that her career. She said she found her voice by using her hands.
Flint, 18, recently won a Florida Volunteer of the Year award for her services teaching sign language and working with deaf children. The Nease senior has volunteered at camps for the deaf in California, Kentucky and Vermont, and taught sign language to people of all ages at the Ponte Vedra Beach branch library. She also teaches sign language every morning to fifth-graders at Ocean Palms Elementary.
On Feb. 17, Flint visited Debra Chagnon's class to teach signs to two popular songs.
"I think it's fun," said Alex Refosco, 11. "It's a really great activity for everybody to learn."
Flint, who hears normally, began learning American Sign Language in her freshman year at Nease. As a toddler, her parents enrolled her in speech therapy, which she received for six years.
Therapists in Ohio, where Flint lived until ninth grade, used vocal therapy and singing lessons to help improve her speech and language. But they also told her that she would most likely struggle when learning foreign languages, except sign language, because she learns best visually.
"They said I would excel at sign language," Flint said. So when she discovered the language of the deaf would meet foreign language requirements in Florida, she enrolled in beginner classes at Nease.
"I loved it. Immediately," Flint said. She took every class offered at Nease and now takes two college-level sign language classes at Florida Community College at Jacksonville.
She practiced her skills during the summers by working with young deaf children at Lions Youth Camps in several states. Flint was named Nease's Volunteer of the Year and the St. Johns County Volunteer of the Year prior to winning the state award for this region.
Nease volunteer coordinator Terry Bleak said winning the state award "is quite an honor." Flint was one of five winners in the state; this region encompasses 16 counties.
"She's a very special young lady," Bleak said. "Selfless."
Bleak said she enjoys teaching sign language to fifth graders so they can also communicate with deaf people.
Last week, she taught the girls in Chagnon's class the signs to the words to Kelly Clarkson's Since You've Been Gone.
She taught the boys the theme song from the movie Holes.
"She uses different teaching techniques and learning songs is one they really love," Chagnon said. "They look forward to her coming, they really love her."
Flint gave the children lyrics to the songs they'd be learning that day. …