“I’ve worked in every one of the 18 counties in western North Carolina. I’ve seen some overwhelming challenges, but I’ve seen how wonderfully people work together to accomplish things.”
For Jackie Simms, the journey to help others began when she was just a child.
When she was 12 her parents adopted a baby boy, and not long after his second birthday they discovered he was deaf. Seeing the challenges her brother faced, Jackie made it her life’s mission to help individuals with hearing impairments.
She grew up attending segregated schools in her native state of Missouri then moved with her family to Oklahoma seeking better occupational opportunities. Her father became director of the Division of Education at Langston University, a historically black college in Oklahoma, where Jackie earned a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education before obtaining a Master of Education of the Deaf degree from Smith College in Massachusetts.
After graduation, Jackie returned to Missouri to work for the Special School District of St. Louis County. Then in 1990 she moved to Asheville, where she resides today. She worked as the director of a small group home for deaf adults with a second disability then in the North Carolina Early Intervention Program for Children who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
“I consider it a privilege that throughout my career I was able to give so many children with a hearing impairment and their parents a way to work with their challenges and to achieve their educational goals,” Jackie explains.
Of course, there are always those you wish you could help more.
“There was this 2-year-old adorable little boy,” recalls Jackie. “I actually taught him one sign during that first meeting. He learned the sign ‘more’ and he was telling me he wanted to do ‘more’ of the various activities we were doing together.”
Unfortunately, after he graduated from her program, the one-on-one sessions for language development weren’t available at his school. She described a follow-up visit a few years later as “heartbreaking.”
“I went to the PE class,” Jackie said, “and at one point the teacher was explaining a game to the kids sitting on the floor, and he started moving farther and farther away from the group until he was sitting by himself. That was so poignant to me. Even when he was in a group – he was isolated.”