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June 10, 2004

Children get help hearing

From: The Desert Sun, CA - Jun 10, 2004

Program gives hearing aids to 35 valley youths

By Rick Davis
The Desert
Sun June 10, 2004

RANCHO MIRAGE -- Emilio Rios figures his job got a little easier over the weekend.

Rios, the deaf-and-hard-of-hearing specialist for the Coachella Valley Unified School District, watched as a group of children from the valley were fitted with hearing aids through a national program called "Hear Now."

"Some faces really were lit up when they were done," said Rios, whose district had eight children ages 10 to 17 in the group being fitted on Saturday.

"We had one 13-year-old boy, Salvador Zacarias, who somehow had learned three languages (Spanish, English and an Indian dialect) despite not having a hearing aid that he needed."

The program, funded primarily by the Midwest-based Starkey Hearing Foundation, was brought to the desert this year with the help of the Rancho Mirage Rotary Club and a local company called Advanced Hearing Systems.

Starkey supplied the products and Advanced Hearing Systems of Rancho Mirage provided services -- including impressions and fittings -- for 35 area children who qualified for the program.

The Rotarians picked up the tab for lunch and transportation for the children and their families for the trip to the Starkey facility in Anaheim, where the devices were fitted.

Rios said there were children from his school district "with significant deficiencies who never had worn hearing aids before. Other kids used the school aids. But these are their own personal ones to use all the time."

The Palm Springs Unified School District also participated, with 19 students receiving aids, according to Renee Crouch, district supervising nurse.

Tani Austin, whose husband Bill started the foundation 26 years ago, said the hearing aids provided to valley children were in-ear, digital models with a total retail value of about $175,000.

"We feel this program deals with a problem we can do something about," Austin said. She said qualified individuals -- including adults -- also can participate.

"There's nothing wrong with these children," Austin said. "They're not deaf, just hearing impaired, but that's something that also can affect speech development."

Austin said the hearing aid is placed in the ear canal, out of view, which is critical to a teenager from a social standpoint.

"If a young person is embarrassed and won't wear it, no one benefits. Socially, they get left out, and that's so important to their development," Austin said.

Advanced Hearing Systems owners Joe and Pat Manhart said they hooked up with Starkey and began traveling to foreign countries 10 years ago in a humanitarian venture that provided hearing aids to people in El Salvador, Ecuador, Brazil, Puerto Rico and South Africa.

"The most rewarding thing is that you help a child hear so he's better able to communicate and get an education," said Pat Manhart. "Bill Austin believes this program is a way for him to give something back."

Copyright © 2004 The Desert Sun.