BARNEGAT – Anthony De Franco, 33, moved to Barnegat this spring and has already established himself in the Southern Ocean County.
Deaf from birth and also autistic, De Franco primarily uses American Sign Language (ASL) to convey thoughts using speaking hands and expressive facial gestures.
A cochlear implant installed when De Franco was 9 stimulates a nerve in his ear and gives him some hearing ability. De Franco also has limited speech and can lip read to some extent. COVID-19-related masking makes COVID-19 next to impossible.
De Franco graduated from Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, with a BA in Deaf Studies. He then worked as an ASL tutor at Bergen Community College for over seven years.
Entrepreneur in a way, De Franco began to develop courses focused on the basics of ASL. His students learned to sign the alphabet, numbers, colors and phrases. Parents eagerly attended De Franco’s storytelling sessions.
De Franco’s move to Barnegat has enabled him to help remove communication barriers near his new home. He figured he had found the perfect spot for summer ASL classes after a day in the sun and surfing.
âI am announcing that I will start taking sign language courses at Bay Beach,â said De Franco. âI can’t wait to teach sign language at Barnegat this summer, and it will be fun for everyone of all ages.â
People reacted positively to De Franco’s offer and had a lot of questions for him. Many wanted to know how long it would take to learn sign language. Others asked if young children were candidates for ASL classes.
A champion for the deaf, De Franco admires non-deaf parents who sign with their babies before they even utter words.
“It helps them communicate better than if they were communicating in just one language,” De Franco explained. “Recent studies show that babies should learn sign language from birth, as it can improve their language skills to communicate better and prevent collapses.”
Pastor Dawn Corlew of the Waretown United Methodist Church learned of De Franco’s relocation to the area and contacted him.
âCarl Anderson is one of our ASL interpreters and has launched many initiatives for the deaf in Ocean County,â Corlew explained. Thirteen years ago Carl and one of our former pastors decided to have interpreters at services. Before COVID, we had a thriving deaf culture and we were one of the most prominent in United Methodist churches. “
The Deaf community not only has the benefit of ASL interpreters when they come to church services in Waretown. They actually feel the music.
âThe top five benches have ‘butt kickers’ as we call them,â Corlew explained. âIf the Deaf are sitting there, they can feel the vibration of the music as it is playing. “
De Franco accepted Corlew’s offer to visit the church and now take turns with other ASL performers. Although his beach lessons are over, others have contacted him to learn how to sign.
A few months ago, De Franco gave a sign language course at Gille Park in Lacey for home-schooled students. The kids caught on quickly and were able to learn ABCs, spell their names in American Sign Language, and sign their names in just 30 minutes.
âI also volunteer to teach another group of children at Hearts of Mercy (in Barnegat),â said De Franco. “Their coordinator Kristin Santorelli thought it would be wonderful for the children to learn sign language.”
Agnes Maderich of the Barnegat Quaker Meeting House decided that the small building would be a great place for De Franco to give ASL classes indoors. She and Fred Behm have already attended their fourth class with the young man with a big heart and a bright smile.
âAnthony is very impressive,â Maderich said. âPeople came to our open houses just because they wanted to talk to Anthony. A woman wanted Anthony to teach her son.
De Franco’s normal course fee is $ 20, although he is willing to work with someone in need. He found the community of Barnegat to be very welcoming to him and respectful of his deafness. De Franco credits his parents for his determination.
âBoth parents are very supportive of me and have always wanted me to be successful,â said De Franco. âThey want me to do amazing things to inspire others, especially deaf children, to do the same. ”