Photos By R. Clayton McKee/Freelance


Around the time Sheila Johnstone was wrapping up instruction last spring for her intermediate American Sign Language Class, her students approached her with a request.

“They were begging for an advanced class; they just didn’t want to stop,” the Tanglewood resident said. “They said they felt they were on their way, but they needed more practice, and they wanted to learn the culture.”

The next group of graduates asked for the same thing.

As a result, Johnstone is teaching free beginning, intermediate -and now advanced – 10-week courses on behalf of Be An Angel, a nonprofit organization that serves children with multiple disabilities and/or profound deafness.

“We never dreamed the community would embrace this as much as they have,” said Marti Boone, Be An Angel’s executive director. “The training is an excellent bridge between the non-hearing and hearing world.”

Amelia de Landa, one of the advanced students, started the ASL training because she thought it would be interesting.

“It has ended up meaning much more to me than I expected,” de Landa wrote in a letter to Be An Angel.

“I work with international refugees, and one of the ethnic groups, the Bhutanese (from south Asia), have a high rate of deafness in their community. Most of the deaf Bhutanese have not been to school and had no way of communicating before coming to America as there are few, if any, specialized services in refugee camps.

“Now that they are in Houston, many of them have begun accessing services and learning ASL. When I run into them or work with their families, I am able to have conversations with them, and I cannot tell you how pleased they are and how happy this makes me.”

The process of learning has been rewarding, too, de Landa added. “Sheila is a great teacher, and it doesn’t hurt that she is hilarious.”

Johnstone, who was raised in St. Louis, has a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in molecular biology in addition to her degree in ASL.

She worked in a laboratory at the Washington University Medical School and at University of Miami Medical School before creating her own business as a medical/legal research consultant. Her company advised law firms nationwide and offered a records-organizing service named “Order in the Court.”

After moving to Houston, Johnstone lectured at the University of Houston Law School and served on the Health/Law Policy Institute Board.

Johnstone, now retired, recently was elected as secretary of the Mayor’s International Trade & Development Council for the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Johnstone is not deaf or related to a deaf person. She was inspired to learn ASL, she said, by its beauty.

She connected with Be an Angel about a year ago through Uptown resident Richard Tyler, who she’s known for more than seven years. Tyler is a former chairman of the board for Be An Angel and a current advisory board member.

Johnstone, who was interested in volunteer work, asked Tyler to introduce her to the principal of T.H. Rogers Elementary School, which serves more than 75 profoundly deaf students, pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, through Houston Independent School District’s Program for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Tyler organized a meeting with Johnstone, the principal and Marti Boone, executive director of Be An Angel, and they developed the idea to offer free community ASL training at the school. Tyler has been underwriting the cost of the classes.

Students were meeting at T.H. Rogers Elementary until recently, when building renovations and logistical challenges led Johnstone to seek a new location.

She sought help from Scott Basinger, founding executive director of The Hope & Healing Center at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, 717 Sage Road, and he agreed to provide space.

“It’s a beautiful, beautiful building, and it’s part of St. Martin’s campus,” Johnstone said.

The first advanced class, which ran through early September, had about 40 students.

“In this class, I’m only teaching every other class of the 10 classes,” Johnstone said earlier this summer. “During the others, members of the deaf community are coming in and speaking to my class. There is no English speaking.”

Johnstone said she was a little apprehensive early in the course, when Tyler came to observe a session led by a guest presenter.

“I was hoping the students would show well, and oh, they did,” she said. “He (Tyler) was so proud.”

Mastering ASL requires more than learning the movements, Johnstone emphasizes. “It’s having the courage and confidence to do it.”

She hopes her advanced course is instilling that confidence in her students as they converse with deaf signers.

“This gives students an opportunity to see the differences in types of signing,” Johnstone said. “It gives them a little encouragement and knowledge about what it’s like to be around people who are deaf and who sign.”

The advanced students’ final exam was a dinner out with the class, where students communicated entirely in sign language. “You can’t look down at your plate, you break off communication,” Johnstone said. “You have to memorize where your food is.”

Boone and Tyler attended, and all of the students passed.

“It was a difficult task for the students and they all feared the experience yet they all saw how much they’ve learned and how they can now feel free to mingle in the deaf community with more confidence,” Johnstone added. “It was a wonderful success.

The advanced students drove to their weekly classes from throughout greater Houston, one from as far as Huffman. “Now they’re begging to have an advanced placement class or something,” Johnstone said. “I don’t have the time, but maybe we can get together once a month and stick together. We’re all bonded.”

Johnstone’s next 10-week, free ASL course for beginners will meet 6-7 p.m. Wednesdays, beginning Oct. 1.

“This is a unique opportunity,” Boone said. “We’re very proud of Sheila Johnstone. We couldn’t do this without her, The Hope & Healing Center and Richard Tyler.”

To register or obtain more information about the American Sign Language classes, visit, email or call 281-219-3313.

For more information about the Hope and Healing Center, visit

This story originally appeared on Houston Chronicle

* Some links added Richard Tyler International, Inc.®

About The Houston Chronicle

houston-chronicleThe Houston Chronicle, one of the largest newspapers in the United States, was founded in 1901 and was acquired by Hearst Corporation in 1987. In addition to delivering in-depth coverage of local issues, the Houston Chronicle is committed to covering, state, national and international news. The newspaper operates a news bureau in Washington, D.C., that provides coverage of issues of special interest to residents of Houston and Texas. It is the largest newspaper in Texas and has evolved into a multi-media company publishing online and commercial print products, in English and Spanish, reaching specific audiences with unique delivery programs.

In addition to the Houston Chronicle’s 950,000 daily readers and 1.5 million readers on Sunday,, is widely regarded as one of the top newspaper websites and averages nearly 83 million page views and 7.7 million unique visitors each month.

Contact Information

801 Texas Avenue
Houston, TX 77002

(713) 220-7171

Breaking news
Call: 713-362-7491

City desk
Call: 713-362-7491

Call: 713-362-7491

Call: 713-362-7585


About Be An Angel
It is our MISSION to improve the quality of life for children with multiple disabilities or profound deafness by providing adaptive equipment and select services to individuals and institutions that require a supplement to alternative means of funding.

Children are the heart and soul of humanity–they represent all that is good within us. Be An Angel believes that no child should be denied the opportunity to experience life at their fullest potential.

Our VISION is to use all available means to help create a world where every special needs or profoundly deaf child has the opportunity to experience improvements in the personal quality of life, in order to facilitate that child’s ability to grow physically and emotionally to the full extent of their individual capacity.

As a caring, committed and compassionate support system, Be An Angel’s vision is founded upon the belief that identifying and fulfilling the needs of these very special children by providing adaptive equipment, special services and programs will provide the spark that will brighten their lives.

This vision is driven by the belief that our Creator endowed each of us with a limitless capacity for love and compassion. There is no greater expression of love and compassion than to commit time, energy and financial resources in the service of others.

Be An Angel believes that every child is important in this world and can contribute to others in a meaningful way. The equipment, services and programs that we are able to provide contributes to a longer, more productive and fuller life for the children we serve.


About Richard Tyler International, Inc.®

Richard Tyler International, Inc.® Name-LogoRichard Tyler International, Inc.® is one of the world’s top Sales Training and Management Consulting firms. Richard Tyler International, Inc.® educates clients of all industries and sizes on the five Fundamentals of Business: Sales, Management, Customer Service, Leadership, and Quality Improvement. With its vast resources of consultants, Richard Tyler International, Inc.® provides companies the necessary expertise to grow their businesses profitably. Richard Tyler International, Inc.® conducts Seminars and Keynotes throughout the world to allow all types of organizations to experience Richard Tyler’s philosophies on business and success. Richard Tyler International, Inc.® offers “Two world class training programs from one world class training company“™ – The Richard Tyler International, Inc.® “Commitment to Excellence”® Sales Immersion™ Program is the “Best Sales Training Program in the World”™ and the Richard Tyler International, Inc.® “Commitment to Excellence”® Leadership Mastery™ Program is the “Best Leadership and Management Training Program in the World”™.

For more information about Richard Tyler International, Inc.® or Richard Tyler please contact us at


About Richard Tyler

Richard-Tyler-Author-Management-Consultant-Professional-Speaker-Entrepreneur-Richard-Tyler-International-Inc.®-PR_Flag-e1376113046942-121x150Richard Tyler is “America’s Corporate and Entrepreneurial Business Expert.”™ Richard Tyler is President and CEO of Richard Tyler International, Inc.® as well as a diversified family of successful companies and services. Richard Tyler is a highly acclaimed Speaker, Author and Management Consultant. To many organizations and individuals, Richard Tyler is “the world’s top sales trainer.”™ Richard Tyler has earned a worldwide reputation for his powerful educational methods and motivational techniques, as well as his experience in all levels of business, corporate education and success training. Acquisition International Magazine has recently named Richard Tyler International® the “Sales Training and Management Consulting Firm of the Year” for the entire United States. Acquisition International (AI) magazine announced this in its annual M&A Awards in July 2014. AI’s M&A Awards is regarded as one of the most important and highly respected awards programs in the business world.

Richard Tyler has collaborated with such notable people as: Brian Tracy, Stephen Covey, Ken Blanchard, Dr. Warren Bennis, Denis Waitley, Alan Keyes, Dr. John Gray, Dr. Robert Schuller, General Alexander Haig, Ty Boyd, Jim Cathcart, Don Hutson, Dr. Earl Mindell, Dr. Norman Rosenthal, Dianna Booher, Patricia Ball, Dave Dravecky, Ann Jillian and Jack Barry. Richard Tyler’s philosophies have been featured in Entrepreneur Magazine® as well as in hundreds of articles and interviews. Richard is also the founder of Leadership for Tomorrow™. Its purpose is to educate young adults in the importance of self-esteem and goal setting.

As Richard says, Remember, “Your success tomorrow is in direct proportion to your ‘Commitment to Excellence®’ today.”™

For more information about Richard Tyler please visit: About Richard Tyler


Richard Tyler International, Inc.® and ‘Commitment to Excellence®are registered trademarks of Richard Tyler. All other company and product names may be trademarks of their respective owners. © 2014 Richard Tyler. All rights reserved.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This
%d bloggers like this: