Senior gives back to deaf community

Senior Erika Helm-Buckman had the unique opportunity to reach out to a deaf community in the Bahamas during her 2012 January Term class that sought to research and educate the people on Type 2 Diabetes. The course, “Island Health Care: Type 2 Diabetes in the Bahamas,” was led by Janet Peterson, associate professor of Health and Human Performance, along with Jay Swenberger, diabetes educator and adjunct professor.

Helm-Buckman, an exercise science major, was one of 12 Linfield students who traveled to South Eleuthera, where they stayed at the Cape Eleuthera Island School. The group organized visits to elementary and high schools to give presentations on diabetes management and prevention.

Helm-Buckman knew that she wanted to reach out to the deaf community before the trip.

“I gave Janet the heads up that I was interested in it and she was very open to the idea,” Helm-Buckman said.

The impromptu visit to the main island, Nassau, where The Center for the Deaf is located, was made possible by a coincidental connection.

“Luckily it worked out,” Helm-Buckman said,  “If our tour guide wasn’t a good friend of the principal of the deaf school, I don’t know how we would have done it.”

The tour guide contacted Tess Nottage, the principal of the center, and arranged for the change of plans.

“This was not initially scheduled for the class…but I wanted to share my interest in health and what I learned about Type 2 Diabetes in the Bahamas with a community that is very close to my heart,” Helm-Buckman said.

The January Term group traveled by bus to the deaf center and made instant connections at their arrival.

“I had just gotten off the bus and a little girl ran up to me and she signed to me,” Helm-Buckman said. “When I signed back she became so excited and ran to tell her friends. Then all the kids wanted to talk to us.”

Several other students were also able to interact with the children as well.

“There were four or five of us who knew sign language,” Helm-Buckman said.

Helm-Buckman was presented with a wide range of age groups at the center from kindergartners to teachers. It was a situation that proved challenging for giving an informative presentation, but Helm-Buckman was enthusiastic about the outcome.

“The presentations were very interactive,” she said.

The Linfield senior’s connection to the deaf community is a personal one because American Sign Language is her first language.  As the daughter of two deaf parents, Helm-Buckman has been involved in the deaf culture since she can remember.

“I don’t know anything different,” Helm-Buckman said.

Growing up, she played the role of interpreter.

“Responsibility wise, you have a larger burden in the family,” she said. “But my parents never put me in that position, I felt like I should be doing it.”

Her role as interpreter grew into an appreciation for American Sign Language and the deaf community. Helm-Buckman has participated in the Camp Mark 7 summer camp for five summers, working with Kids of Deaf Parents. She has also been an American Sign Language tutor since she was a sophomore and holds a conversation class two times a week.

“People come by all the time to talk or if they’re curious about it,” Helm-Buckman said.

Helm-Buckman and her peers documented their experiences in a class blog called the Bahamacats.

“I have come away from this trip with an even stronger want to contribute to the deaf community in the future,” Helm-Buckman said in the blog. More information can be found at

Chrissy Shane/
Staff reporter
Chrissy Shane can be reached at [email protected]