The West Virginia Deaf Service Center is a nonprofit organization founded in 2018 by Scott and April Hottle. Located at 2557 Charleston Road in Ripley (in The New Life Fellowship Church building), the purpose of the center is to promote American Sign Language (ASL) fluency through education, community support, and social interaction.

Scott, who is deaf, uses the interpretive abilities of his wife April to help communicate his passion to others on the importance of ASL and being bi-lingual, both verbally and non-verbally.

Their mission through the WVDSC can be broken down into four main goals: promoting ASL, training interpreters, mentoring deaf children, and providing resources for families.

In order to fulfill their mission, the WVDSC offers beginning and intermediate ASL classes, interpreter training, and deaf mentoring through staff that includes both native signers and certified interpreters.

The WVDSC offers several ASL classes which have been taught by Scott, who has been teaching ASL for many years and currently teaches ASL classes at BridgeValley Community and Technical college. The Hottle’s son Luke, also teaches ASL classes through the WVDSC, and is working on obtaining his ASL certificate and Masters Degree. He will possibly be teaching at BridgeValley as well, according to Scott who said ASL teachers are in high demand.

Mitchell Miller, who along with his wife Sara, have also had a hand in making the WVDSC a reality, is another ASL instructor used to teach ASL classes through the WVDSC.

The center be hosting their American Sign Language Class 1 from 6-8 p.m. beginning Tuesday, Jan. 21. It is a 12-week class taking place every Tuesday evening. The class itself is free, but a book is needed. If the WVDSC needs to order the book, the cost will be $40. The book, “A Basic Course in American Sign Language” by Tom Humphries, Carol Padden, and Terrance J. O’Rourke may also be purchased on Amazon.

According to April, ASL registration is normally under 10 participants for a beginning class and even less for the more advanced classes; however, Megan Wray, another member of the WVDSC group, said they currently have 24 registered for the Jan. 21 class.

The Hottles feel it is important to offer ASL as a second language, just as Spanish or French. ASL classes have been offered at Ripley High School in the past as well as several college locations; however, they are typically done through a video or other form of media. According to Scott, ASL can be learned that way, but it takes the personal feel out of the equation.

“Physical interaction is so nice,” Scott said. “Having a TV screen or trying to do it online is much more limited. You can make criticisms and tell somebody or show them how to sign properly, but you’re still limited. They end up missing the social part of it.”

Using ASL and being bi-lingual is important at any age level, according to the Hottles.

Research even suggests that baby sign language can give a baby the ability to communicate months earlier than those using only vocal communication. Scott feels both verbal and non-verbal communication is important to the learning process for any child. It is a way to stimulate the brain and eases frustration on both sides, that of the child and the parent. It opens up a whole new communication process for the family.

Having certified interpreters who are skilled enough in ASL to be able to teach small children is one thing that the Hottles say is extremely important.

“There are several interpreters in our area; however, not all of them are well versed in sign language,” Scott said. “We want to create the ability to have interpreters who grow into instructors with the knowledge to help others correctly.”

Failing to provide proper training can impair a child’s ability to learn in any type of language.

The Hottles believe that social interaction is also an important way for people learning ASL to improve their skills.

“I always tell my class, you can learn the rules of ASL by coming to class, the grammar and all of that, but to learn the skills, you have to socialize,” Scott said.

Through the WVDSC, people are able to attend social mixers, also known as Silent Deaf Coffee Chats, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Friday of each month. During these events, participants socialize by practicing sign language and playing ASL games. Refreshments are provided. April said they typically have 15-20 people at each chat.

In July the WVDSC offered a camp for the deaf and hard of hearing, Camp New Frontier. It was for ages 14-21 and was held at Cedar Lakes. Due to funding from the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services, the camp was provided free of charge and hosted 10 campers.

The Hottles were excited with how the camp turned out and are hoping to host more camps in the future. Scott is hoping to be able to offer three camps during a year’s time, not just one annual event.

Another age group that the WVDSC would like to focus a camp on is the 7-13 age group; however, there is currently no funding or a curriculum available for 7-13-year-olds.

“This is a group that needs opportunities badly,” Scott said.

They hope to be able to offer two camps in the summer, one for the the 7-13 group and another for the 14-21 group.

Funding for the WVDSC comes from grants through the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services and recently they have partnered with the Jackson County Community Foundation as well.

The WVDSC is available to the community, to families, and to any individual of any age who wishes to learn ASL. They want to be able to provide their services as a resource to equip others so they too have the ability to communicate in any situation. ASL is not just for the deaf or hard of hearing, it is for everyone.

“Everyone should have the opportunity to communicate whether by speaking or signing,” Scott said. “Just like learning Spanish or French, signing is a language and it is good to be bi-lingual.”

For more information on their services and programs, or to sign up for a class, visit their Facebook page under WV Deaf Service Center, call 304-372-2030, or message wvdeafservicecenter@gmail.com.