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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Signs of Encouragement

Kerry Jenkins, a child of deaf parents, was thrilled to deliver a message of hope and perseverance to the students at the Blossom Montessori School for the Deaf


Kerry Jenkins' sign language was a bit rusty at the Blossom Montessori School for the Deaf, but his message was perfectly clear

Kerry Jenkins grew up with a special designation and never even knew it.

Jenkins' childhood was, in most respects, normal. He argued with his parents at times, didn't always listen to their advice and sometimes put more emphasis on sports than his school work. But because both of his parents were deaf, Jenkins had a title waiting for him: CODA. Child of Deaf Adults.

It was a term the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offensive lineman had never heard until he took a sign language class in college.

"As far as I was concerned, I didn't know there was anything different," said Jenkins. "I didn't feel like my parents were different in any way. I knew that they were deaf, but it wasn't a big deal."

Jenkins, a native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, has often been undeterred by issues that might cause others quite a bit of consternation. H e overcame not being drafted into the NFL, for instance, and his release by the Chicago Bears during his first pro season didn't stop him from making 56 straight starts for the New York Jets from 1999-2002. He also rather famously played through a cracked fibula and fractured orbital bone in 2002, doggedly remaining a part of a Buccaneer offensive line that peaked during the playoff run to the Super Bowl XXXVII title.

In many ways, Jenkins' story is an uplifting one for others who may call themselves CODAs, or who may be deaf themselves. It was perfect, then, that Jenkins shared this story with the students at the Blossom Montessori School for the Deaf. His message for the Blossom students: Don't let anything stop you. His own experience gave that message added credibility.

"We're just so excited (to have him here)," said Julie Rotenberg, the school's director. "They love having adults that can sign or have any relation to deafness. It's just great for these kids to have Kerry here."

The Blossom Montessori School for the Deaf focuses on the academic, social and emotional needs of children who are deaf or hard of hearing, as well as the needs of hearing siblings of the deaf and CODAs like Jenkins in the Central Florida region. Students and teachers communicate through spoken English and a method known as CASE (conceptually accurate signed English). The school's primary objective is to reverse the trend of illiteracy for these students by providing a strong academic foundation, thus preparing the students to enter a mainstream educational environment when they reach high school.

Jenkins admitted that his signing was rusty, but he was just as excited to visit with the kids as they were to meet him. The classroom's 10 students were initially in awe at Jenkins' size, but they were more impressed with his ability to speak to them in their language. They quickly began peppering the 6-5, 305-pound lineman with questions, inquiring about everything from his age to whether or not he was disappointed that the Buccaneers didn't repeat as Super Bowl Champions last year. Jenkins signed his answers as best he could, occasionally getting help from one of the teachers.

Jenkins, who visited the school with his wife Kate, was in for a special surprise after the Q&A session. The students gathered together and signed Proud to be an American and the Star Spangled Banner. Jenkins responded by raising his hands above his head and shaking them: the sign for applause, of course.

Jenkins then read two stories to the class, with one of the teachers signed along to his spoken words. Resting on blue, green and purple bean bag chairs, the students listened intently as Jenkins read the story and turned the book around to display its pictures. After story time, Jenkins signed pennants and passed out Buccaneer gifts while the students colored.

"When it's such a small group of people, to be able to relate to them on a (different) level makes it much more special," said Jenkins. "For some of the kids, especially the CODAs, I can understand what they're going through."

McCardell Honored

Last Thursday, Keenan McCardell was the honored guest at the Department of Children's Services and Health and Social Services Keenan McCardell Luncheon.

The event was held to recognize McCardell for all of the work he has done with the two Hillsborough County organizations, including his annual Thanksgiving turkey donation and Christmas shopping spree.

"His presence means the world to the kids and the staff," said Leroy Sykes, the interim Director of Children's Services. "The kids all love him and it's just been a pleasure working with him. It's been great for us. He makes a big difference in all of our kids' lives."

At the luncheon, McCardell was presented with a plaque for his efforts and treated to a rendition of God Bless America sung by several of the children in the care of the Department of Children's Services.

The plaque read: "In appreciation and recognition for your outstanding contribution to Hillsborough County families and the special children that you have touched with a demonstrated commitment to show them a kinder, better world."

McCardell was grateful to be recognized for his efforts but his main goal is to pass the message of caring and giving back to the children.

"This community is going to grow through the kids," said McCardell. "I want to show them positive things, so when they grow up they can learn from those lessons and contribute back to the community in positive ways themselves."

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