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August 19, 2003

As Miss Deaf Ohio, YSU student takes on a mission

From: Youngstown Vindicator, OH - Aug 19, 2003

The pageant winner hopes to bridge the gap between the hearing and the deaf.



YOUNGSTOWN — Jennifer Yazbek, 19, of Boardman overcame deafness at an early age. Her parents didn't allow her to think she was different. Now she wants to send the same message to Ohioans, both deaf and hearing.

The Youngstown State University sophomore was named Miss Deaf Ohio last week at the state pageant hosted by the Ohio Association of the Deaf. The association represents more than 200,000 deaf and hearing-impaired people in Ohio.

For her platform speech at the competition in Toledo, Yazbek shared a story from her own childhood about her parents' determination from the very start to make sure she could communicate well. She believes her parents' drive has been the key to her success.

Early lessons

Deaf from birth, Yazbek began learning sign language at 18 months old. Yazbek's parents learned sign language as well.

She was then taught to sound words and speak clearly and normally without the benefit of hearing the vocal sounds.

Then all through public schooling, her parents made sure she had an interpreter — for the times people spoke too quickly or not clearly enough for her to read their lips.

Now the tall, trim woman with a bright smile is off and running. She attended public school with all the other kids her age and graduated from Boardman High School in 2002.

Yazbek is entering her sophomore year at YSU with a major in business and a minor in photography.

Yazbek said her mission, as she makes guest appearances across Ohio for her term as Miss Deaf Ohio, is to "bridge the gap between hearing and deaf culture." She believes deaf youngsters should have the opportunity she has had to access the "mainstream" world of the hearing.

How she got involved

She applied to be Miss Deaf Youngstown and competed in the Miss Deaf Ohio pageant with encouragement from Steve Leland of the Youngstown Hearing and Speech Center.

Leland's wife, Sandra, won the Miss Deaf Ohio pageant in 1981. She was the first Miss Deaf Youngstown. There have been three from here to compete in the Miss Deaf Ohio pageant since the competition began in 1975.

Yazbek said the experience has lifted her self-esteem and has helped her to be more exposed to the deaf community.

For the talent portion of the competition she performed a four-minute traditional Lebanese dance. Her forbears were from Lebanon.

She will attend the Miss Deaf America pageant in Kansas City in early July 2004 for a chance to win the national crown.

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