Elias Pascacio said he is proud that he has overcome a number of life's challenges and is able to help his family. (The Enterprise/Kristina de Leon).

NYSSA – Elias Pascacio, who was born deaf, was primed to shine.

Born to Mexican immigrant parents and raised in a working-class household, the 21-year-old was 3 when he entered pre-school and testing determined that he was deaf.

Pascacio spoke for this story using Julie Smith as an interpreter and his American Sign Language educator, as he is learning ASL.

Smith said everyone knew Pascacio was deaf, but he didn’t get intervention services right away because his parents spoke Spanish.

With Smith’s help, Pascacio recalled how his family would take him to the doctor’s office and would be told to leave because none of the employees could speak Spanish.

“So it took a long time for him to get his hearing aids and then a longer time to get his cochlear implants,” said Smith.

Pascacio said he got hearing aids when he was 3 and and six when he had his cochlear implants when he was 6. Growing up, Pascacio needed to simultaneously learn Spanish, English and American Sign Language.

Pascacio started working with Smith when he was 3. In addition to interpreting for Pascacio during the week, she has helped him with his auditory processing disorder.

Pascacio said his favorite teacher to this day is still his kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Toni Case.

“She was really nice to me,” he signed. With a small staff and limited funds, the Nyssa school district has managed to make an outsized impact on students like Pascacio.

One of his favorite childhood memories was going to Camp Taloali, a summer camp for deaf children near Stayton.

“He earned a lot of his own money for that,” said Smith. “He’s done quite a lot for himself. He also went to a leadership camp at Oregon State University.”

During high school, there was one activity Pascacio could always turn to where language didn’t matter and meaning didn’t get lost in translation — running.

Pascacio ran for the Nyssa High School cross country team and even went to state championships during his sophomore year. In the spring, he was a part of the track and field team, competing in the 400-meter race, hurdles, triple jump and long jump events.

In his senior year, Pascacio’s classmates voted him as Prom King, something he seems embarrassed to mention.

“I don’t know why people voted for me,” he signed. “Because I’m deaf. Maybe that’s why I won.”

Smith said that wasn’t true.

“It’s because you’re a really nice person,” Smith said to Pascacio. “Other deaf kids went to school here and did not get queen or king.”

Beneath his shy demeanor, Pascacio possesses a wealth of experiences and accomplishments.

“I’m proud of myself for just being happy with what I’m doing,” said Pascacio. “I help my parents, and I’m proud of that. I help them pay for food, like groceries, and I help pay for the bills.”

Pascacio added that he watches out for his younger brothers. Although one is in high school, his youngest brother is still in elementary school.

A community steps in

A small, rural town, Nyssa doesn’t have the same resources that larger cities often have.

To help Pascacio transition to employment, the Nyssa School District and community had to pull together, according to Danette Hackman, Nyssa youth transition program specialist.

“If it weren’t for all these people in the community, school and vocational resources, I don’t know if we could have done what we’ve done,” Hackman said.

Part of Hackman’s work is to help special needs students age out of the school system.

She said finding work for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities can be challenging for employers.

To help Pascacio prepare for life after high school, Nyssa school district staff worked with him to discover his skills and talent, said Hackman.

That’s when Hackman and school district staff approached the district’s director of operations, Ryan Hawkins, and asked if the district would have a job opening up that Pascacio could prepare for.

“I explained that we already have a signer here that Elias knows who could get contracted with vocational resources to use that time to work with him,” said Hackman.

When a custodian position opened up at the middle school, Hackman said she went to Hawkins and recommended Pascacio for the job and laid out a transition plan to prepare him for it.

“Ryan just sat and listened to everything, and he was on board. This all fell into place fast,” said Hackman. After Pascacio graduated in the fall of 2017, the school district hired him to work as a custodian at Nyssa Middle School.

Hackman said the school district and Department of Human Services Vocational Rehabilitation teamed up to buy a special sweeper with a visual warning system to alert Pascacio the equipment needed maintenance.

Because Pascacio can’t use the walkie-talkies that other janitors use, the state provided a watch vibrates when he receives a text. Pascacio said basic texting is a good way to communicate with his supervisor and co-workers.

“Elias is such an amazing Nyssa success story,” Hawkins said. “He truly loves his job. It’s really cool to see that kid coming out and making an impact.”

Pascacio’s successful transition from school to work part of the reason why Hawkins was recently honored with an Outstanding Administrator award at the Oregon Statewide Transition Conference.

“When Elias said he wanted to provide help for his family, we started thinking about how to help him do that,” said Hawkins. “We want our kids who want to stay in Nyssa, stay in Nyssa. What is he going to need to help him be successful in Nyssa?”

A day in the life of a custodian

Each morning, Pascacio pulls on his janitor’s uniform and heads over to Nyssa Middle School to clean from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. 

For Pascacio, a typical day consists of cleaning up the restrooms, mopping floors, dusting, taking out the garbage, making sure classrooms are clean. He locks up the buildings at the end of the day.

“I love this place. I love working where I’m living, and it’s fun,” Pascacio signed with his hands. “I really enjoy cleaning, I like getting to work around great people. The people make my job way better.”

At work, Pascacio finds a lot of support. His supervisor Jesse Melendez, director of maintenance at Nyssa School District, said he enjoys working with Pascacio and has been trying to learn American Sign Language by watching YouTube videos. He said one of the challenges is trying to find ways to communicate visually.

“Elias is a hard worker and has a good attitude,” Melendez said. “Every time I see him, I just want to give him a high-five. I want to show how much I appreciate what he does here... and I hope Elias can come to me if he ever needs anything.”

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