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April 17, 2003

Team To Provide Hearing Aids

From: Randolph Herald, VT - Apr 17, 2003

Three Randolph residents and a nurse from Rochester joined a team of five audiologists this week in Randolph's sister city of Myrgorod, Ukraine to bring hearing aids to the entire student body of the Myrgorod School for the Deaf.

The $30,000 project was conceived and organized by the Randolph Rotary Club and its president, Randy Garner. Rotary has spearheaded several exchanges, including the truckload-size shipments of medical supplies, working with a newly-established Rotary Club in Myrgorod, which was set up by former Randolph Town Manager Gwen Hallsmith.

Earlier visits by Randolph residents to Myrgorod have almost always included stopping by the School for the Deaf, which houses 150 children of elementary and high school age. Visitors were struck by the quality of the management and the careful maintenance of buildings and grounds, despite an almost total lack of funds.

Many of the students were only partially hearing-disabled, but none of them had hearing aids, said Garner, who visited two years ago. Instruction was made possible by a microphone system wired into headphones in certain classrooms, but when children took off the microphones, there were no personal hearing aids to allow for personal interaction.

The school director told Garner that hearing aids for the children were his biggest priority.

This week, every child in the school is receiving one.

The project was made possible through the enthusiastic cooperation of the Starkey Foundation, connected to a Minnesota-based hearing aid company.

Figuring the cost of the hearing aids at $30,000, the Foundation donated half the amount. It also took over the job of diagnosing the hearing of each child and fitting them with hearing aids.

It organized the team of five audiologists throughout the country (including one Ukraine native) who will spend three days in Myrgorod. While there, the team will also train the School personnel on upkeep and fitting of the hearing aids and will leave a year's supply of batteries.

The team is led by the international director of the Starkey Foundation's programs.

The rest of the financial support came from the Randolph Rotary, which leveraged funds from the Rotary International Foundation, and also raised about $5000 here, Garner said.

Overseeing the project on behalf of the Randolph sponsors are four local people who paid their own way to go to Myrgorod for a week. Two are veterans of other Myrgorod trips?Anne Gorman and Jean Grout. Going for the first time are Irene Schaefer and Cindy Volker of Rochester, a nurse at the Hitchcock Medical Center.

The four women are reportedly bringing suitcases stuffed with various gifts to the people of Myrgorod, including more medical equipment, music CDs, educational toys, and stuffed animals.

They will also make a $500 cash donation to the School for the Deaf, thanks to a check that arrived in the mail from a Massachusetts person, who had seen a story about the project on the Internet.

The Randolph team will visit other groups and institutions in Myrgorod, including the city's quite large music school, and the local Jewish center. If past trips are any guide, they will be entertained at length by the Ukrainians.

Local donations and Rotary funds pay for the team's stay at the regionally-famous health spa, as well as funds for interpreters and other expenses.

"I can't wait to hear their report when they get back," Garner said enthusiastically this week.

By M. D. Drysdale

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