Nanuet Teen Co-founds Nonprofit to Teach American Sign Language

Two Academy of the Holy Angels students who connected over their lifelong interest in American Sign Language recently established “Sign with Gabi and Shiv.” Sophomores Gabriella Callaghan of Nanuet, New York, and Shivani Sahu of Paramus founded their non-profit as platform to educate people about ASL and deaf culture. Together, the students launched an Instagram account (@sign_with_gabi_and_shiv) where they post tutorials, current events in the deaf community, and fun facts. They plan to expand by offering ASL livestreams.


Both Angels were babies when they began learning American Sign Language from relatives who are deaf. Callaghan received instruction from her mother. Sahu was coached by her aunt.


“I learned the alphabet, numbers, and basic phrases when I was really young, and I have gradually been learning more over the years,” said Callaghan, who is on track to be fluent in ASL by the time she graduates from AHA.


Sahu met Callaghan and her mother when they were purchasing their AHA uniforms in 2019. “She and I bonded over having deaf relative, and then we both joined the American Sign Language Club at AHA,” Sahu explained.


During the summer of 2020, Sahu and Callaghan decided to bring free ASL lessons to the families at Saint Joseph’s Home in Jersey City. The students developed Project Sheltered with AHA classmate Rachel Mina of Ridgefield Park, who works with three other friends to knit baby booties for infants in neonatal intensive care units and plush hearts for health care workers.


“Because of COVID, we are unable to teach the toddlers and children at St. Joseph’s sign language in person as of right now, but we are excited to hopefully teach them ASL basics in the near future,” Sahu reported. She added that learning ASL improves communication in babies and toddlers, and aids in the development of motor skills.


The students’ GoFundMe campaign to benefit Saint Joseph’s had already netted $345 as of late September. These young women will soon raise additional funds through the sale of knitted items, artwork, and more. Callaghan, Sahu, and Knitting for Life will be selling art by Sahu and Callaghan, knitted clothes, fashions made by AHA student Hannah Kim (Class of ‘22) of Cresskill, and plush items to raise money for essential items for the families at St. Joseph’s.


“One hundred percent of the proceeds from this project go directly to the shelter,” Callaghan reported.


Asked how Sahu’s aunt had inspired these efforts, she said, “My aunt is an incredibly artistic and smart person. She is a teacher at a deaf school and does so many amazing things. She has been my ASL teacher from the beginning, and learning ASL gave me a way to better connect and communicate with her. She opened my eyes to the prejudices and stereotypes in the deaf community, which sparked my want to inform anybody and everybody of this injustice.


“Lip reading is a major component of ASL, so when everyone is wearing a mask during this COVID period, lip reading has been virtually impossible. Some people have been making masks with transparent shields, but said masks cost upwards of $20, which is not always affordable. Virtual meetings between hearing and deaf people over platforms like Zoom are extremely difficult. Oftentimes, the closed captioning services are unreliable, so a hearing member who does not know ASL has to translate via writing in the chat. This is time-consuming and tedious, and, quite honestly, unfair to deaf people. I hope that by bringing awareness to these everyday issues, people will feel better educated and informed about the deaf community.”

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