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April 20, 2004

Rotary helps deaf to hear in Chile

From: White Lake Beacon - Whitehall,MI,USA - Apr 19, 2004

Ronda Howell, Beacon staff writer

Members of the Montague-Whitehall Rotary Club are helping the deaf to hear.

On December 11, 2003, the Montague -Whitehall and Rancagua Rotary clubs turned over a complete Phonak System to the Ann Sullivan School for the deaf and hearing impaired in Santiago, Chile.

This project provided Phonak Hearing Systems for two classrooms. The system consists of transmitters for teachers and receptors for students.

Viola Sotomayor, coordinator for the project, said it was correct assembly and technical requirements to make those systems work properly that remained her concern as the project progressed from the U.S.

"We contacted Roger Smith at the Muskegon Hearing and Speech Center," she said. "We worked closely together for 18 months on this project."

In addition to the technical support from Smith, the project benefited with donations and price concessions from the manufacturer, helping Rotarians get the most "bang for their buck," said Sotomayor.

The Ann Sullivan School and Rotary San Bernardo secured support from a local university to train facilitators on how to use the equipment as well as provide maintenance for the system.

Montague-Whitehall and San Bernardo clubs completed the project with a grant from the Rotary Foundation Matching Grant program. Grants typically begin with the goodwill of a pair of Rotary clubs answering a specific need in a community, said Sotomayor.

"These clubs join forces and received financial support from their districts, as well," she said. "The Rotary Foundation received over 5,000 project requests from all over the world. This is the second time that the Rotary Foundation has supported a project from the Montague-Whitehall club."

The project got started by a simple request from the Ann Sullivan School to Rotary San Bernardo.

San Bernardo contacted the Montague-Whitehall club. Sotomayor was familiar with the system and its benefits, and the project got started. The Phonak system is widely used in the U.S. to help students become mainstreamed into regular classrooms, she said.

"It's a small world," said Sotomayor. "I am using the Phonak System while I volunteer at Oehrli Elementary School in Montague."

K. Roger Smith, audiologist and director of the Muskegon Hearing and Speech center said it was an excellent experience bringing new technology to children in Chile.

"It was tremendous feeling to be able to help out," he said. "The manufacturer was happy to help us out with some price concessions and we were able to get some free stuff, including extra parts." Smith was able to secure about 100 other hearing aids, as well as batteries and nonfunctioning units that can be used as spare parts for children in need.

"It was great working with Viola and we think this was a very worthwhile project," said Smith. Scott Geiger, president of the Montague-Whitehall Rotary Club, said the club feels fortunate to have someone associated with the project who had time to oversee the work from start to finish.

"We are fortunate to have someone who is able to go right there in country to make certain everything gets to the right people and places," said Geiger. "We can be assured that our money is going exactly where we direct it to help children."

©White Lake Beacon 2004