Miracle Workers

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Using sign language and facial expressions, Ron Hall, 28, said last week that he is definitely ready to move out of his parents’ house and to find a full-time job and his own apartment after he leaves his internship at the Central Credit Union in Forest Hills.

“My future goal is to work in an office environment,” said Hall, a deaf student at the Helen Keller National Center, a program based in Sands Point, L.I. that places deaf and blind adults in vocational internships and prepares them to live independently.

Hall and another HKNC student, Cheryl Yee, were hired by Arlene Rudin, the chief executive officer of the Central Credit Union at 107-14 71st Rd. in January, after Rudin heard about the HKNC from her comptroller, whose wife works at the center.

“I thought it was something that was interesting and that we would like to try participating in the program,” said Rudin. “It’s been an incredible experience for us. They have been wonderful, wonderful workers. I’m amazed at the skill that they have.”

Hall works at the credit union every Thursday from 9 a.m. to about 3 p.m., doing office work, including looking up information for subpoenas, processing loan payments, handling payroll, photocopying and filing. Yee also worked on Thursdays before leaving the job recently to return to her native state, Hawaii.

Rudin noted that the HKNC students had a good attitude about performing tasks that other employees might consider scut work.

“It’s freed up my staff to do other work,” said Rudin. “It’s worked out really well. I would encourage companies that have back office kind of work to consider them, because they are really dedicated, quiet, enthusiastic employees who have much more ability than we give them credit for.”

HKNC has about 35 students, mostly in their early 20s, who eat at the center and live in the center’s dormitories or affiliated housing. Although they are called students, members of the HKNC program to do not attend formal classes. Instead, they learn on the job from their vocational internship employers.

According to Kathy Mezack, the HKNC Vocational Services Coordinator, the center has cultivated relationships with more than 70 employers. Employers that have agreed to take HKNC interns include the Gap, TJ Maxx, Petco, Walmart, Pizza Hut, St. Francis Hospital, and the Big Brother Big Sister program.

Rudin said she was nervous at first about accepting Hall and Yee because none of her staff knows sign language. But her worries subsided when she saw that the two deaf interns were able to communicate effectively by writing things down and to learn quickly by watching staff demonstrate how to do tasks.

“The workers here are very friendly and very interested in communicating and learning sign language from me,” said Hall, speaking through Mezack, who occasionally serves as an interpreter for her students when they are not able to communicate on their own. “I’m learning many different skills here, many computer skills. They’re all helping me to become job ready.”

Besides working at Central Credit Union, Hall also spends one day a week working for a jeweler in Port Washington, L.I. In the past, he also worked for an AMC movie theater, where he fixed lighting and electrical equipment, sold tickets and helped change the outdoor sign displaying movie titles.

On weekends, Hall sometimes goes with other HKNC students on recreational trips to the beach, bowling or to the movies.

Hall’s internship at Central Credit Union will end in September. Rudin said she hopes to hire more HKNC students to replace Hall and Yee.

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at, or call 718-229-0300, ext. 155.

Posted 7:17 pm, October 10, 2011
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