For four years, Molloy University senior and music therapy major Anna Delgado, of Selden, fought to make American Sign Language a course that fulfills the university’s language requirement. Now, ASL is offered at her university. But that may not have been the case without her experience with the Middle Country Public Library’s Flashing Fingers and sign language programs.
Delgado, followed by her younger sister, Calli, joined the library’s sign language programs in second grade and advanced to the Flashing Fingers club, which Jennie Sardone created more than three decades ago.
Thirty-three years ago, Sardone entered the Middle Country Public Library and inquired about starting sign language programs there. Today, Sardone’s sign language programs are still thriving.
“We started with only a few children, really seven, and over the last 33 years, we’ve had hundreds of children,” Sardone said.
Mary McLaughlin, Youth Services librarian, said thousands of children went through the programs. McLaughlin, who handles booking events for Flashing Fingers, also said kids must finish Sign Language One, Two and Three before advancing to the Flashing Fingers group.
“In the beginning, the children learn signs, they learn to communicate with deaf adults or other people who are learning sign language,” Sardone said. “So we’ll start easy, with colors, emotions, animals, family, numbers, the alphabet, things like that.”
Sign Language One, Two and Three are held in the fall, winter and spring, during the school year, alongside Flashing Fingers. Once a child registers for the sign language courses, they only need to sign up for the Flashing Fingers club.
McLaughlin said the group performs at around three big events each year, in addition to smaller performances for parents. Tracy LaStella, coordinator of Youth Services at the library, said organizations also request the group to perform at various events.
On Thursday July 16, the group performed at a Town of Brookhaven meeting and had local politicians moving to the music. Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and members of the town council awarded the group its own day. Now, July 16 is Middle Country Flashing Fingers Club Day in the Town of Brookhaven.
The group sang, signed and danced to a variety of new and old songs that followed last academic year’s “happy” theme. Previous themes include disco and Disney.
Around two years ago, the club performed “Fiddler on the Roof,” which was one of Alexandria Gibaldi’s favorite performances. Gibaldi, of Centereach, who is going into her junior year in high school, started the sign language programs as a second-grader. She said “Fiddler on the Roof” was the first play the group performed.
According to LaStella, Sardone and McLaughlin, around 25 of nearly one hundred children in the program attend performances and Gibaldi is always one of the 25.
“I have a lot of stuff going on, but I usually make time for it because I know it’s important,” Gibaldi said. “I know it’s for Ms. Jennie and for the program. So I want to make sure I look good for the library and so I make sure I go.”
The group also performs at Veterans and nursing homes. Gibaldi said giving back to the community by performing for these individuals is one of the reasons she enjoys Flashing Fingers, as seeing people happy also makes her happy.
Jacqueline Schmitt, of Holtsville, is another Flashing Fingers member. She joined the club in the middle of last academic year. In addition to learning sign language, participants can meet kids from several local elementary, middle and high schools.
Thus far, the club’s end of year performance in May was Schmitt’s favorite. The end of year performance let club members show off what they have learned. Twelfth-grade students perform a song of their choice as a way to say goodbye to the club and its instructors at the end of the year.
Since Sardone teaches all children going through the sign language programs, the end of year performance is bittersweet.
“When they are seniors, we … cry,” Sardone said about herself, McLaughlin and LaStella. “We’ve been together for so long and … I’m happy they’re moving on, but I miss them.”
Anna Delgado remembers performing Carrie Underwood’s “Ever Ever After” from the “Enchanted” soundtrack for her final performance as a Flashing Fingers member. She was determined to learn and perform the song on her own.
Calli Delgado, who is entering seventh grade, has yet to perform a solo at the end of year performance, but like her sister, she used what she learned outside the club at school functions and talent shows.
“It was weird because a lot of people didn’t know what I was doing,” Delgado said about her first experience signing for a school event. She also signed at her school’s talent show. With the help of Sardone, Delgado performed her first solo of “L-O-V-E” by Nat King Cole at a school talent show. Although she doesn’t know if the club has influenced her plans for her future, she loves the program and mentoring younger members.
Anna Delgado said she credits the Flashing Fingers club and her love for ASL to Sardone.
“This kick-started my love for American Sign Language,” she said. “It changed my life; it changed my passion; it changed the direction I wanted to go in my life.”