Starkey Hearing Foundation Gala: Giving the Gift of Hearing

Each summer, the Starkey Hearing Foundation hosts the So the World May Hear Awards Gala to honor remarkable humanitarians for their commitment to helping people in need around the world.

This year's Gala is being held Sunday, July 28, and will honor several people including Ashton Kutchar, Barbara Bush and Sir Richard Branson.

The Gala also serves as the Foundation's largest fundraiser to support hearing missions and programs across the world.  Many Starkey  employees have been lucky enough to participate on hearing missions in the U.S. and get to see the Foundation's extraordinary work firsthand.

I recently spoke with Kate Braschayko, Corporate Network Development Manager with Starkey Hearing Technologies, about some of her experience on several missions.

Q. What missions have you been on?

A. In February 2012, I helped with the domestic Indianapolis Super Bowl Mission. My first international mission was January 2013 to multiple cities in Mexico.

Q. Did you pack anything unusual for your missions?

A. I brought along a fanny pack. It was really useful to have it during the missions every day. I kept chap stick, granola bars, my iPhone (for photos), and of course, Kleenex when I was emotionally moved from the experience of the fitting.

Q. How did your expectations of mission work differ from reality?

A. I was beyond impressed with how thorough and well-run the logistics of every detail of the mission operation was handled. I had no idea to the extent of each patients' experience in getting the gift of hearing. The moment they arrive, they are checked in receiving a personalized bag with their audiometric information along with their ear molds.  Then they are brought to the local ENT or audiologist who does cerumen removal and checks the ear to ensure there will be nothing impeding a successful fitting.  After the fitting, they participate in several different stations that include cleaning and taking care of the hearing aid, battery care and maintenance, picking up their supply of batteries, counseling and setting expectations along with strategies for successful communication and lastly,  getting them information for follow up care with the local ENT/audiologists. I was pleasantly surprised at how extremely helpful the local organizations supporting the foundation missions were. They were very actively involved in each mission from welcoming us at the airport to making homemade goodies for us to enjoy during a quick break between fittings to assisting in organizing the operations of the days mission, down to the smallest details of finding extra chairs or where the bathroom is located. They helped with set up and tear down and did whatever needed to be done with gracious selfless mentality.  Mexico is place where we have been doing missions for more than 15 years.

Q. What were the biggest challenges on the mission? How did you overcome them?

A. By far the biggest challenge we had was working with the language barrier and not being able to communicate fluently with the patients. We felt as though we were missing out on the little details that could help with the fitting process because we were working with translators rather than fluently speaking their language and understanding the nuances of the meaning of their words and phrases.  The other challenge was finding the balance of wearing a lot of different hats through the day and knowing when to do what. There is a lot of time you are on your feet, from set up to take down and then prep for the next day. You truly are a chameleon.

Q. What was you favorite experience on the mission?

A. The third day of the mission in Tampico was by far my most memorable day. We had the most engaged and energetic group of students from Instituto Cultural Tampico who acted as our translators throughout the mission.  The students were eager to help and had such empathy and concern for each and every patient.  They went above and beyond to help us do whatever needed to be done to help.  There was one patient in particular that has forever touched my soul.  This little five  year-old girl named Anna, had never heard before and was told she would not be allowed to attend school since she could not hear.  She knew a little bit of sign language but was overall expressionless.  Anna barely kept eye contact with even her mother and kept her head down with no emotion on her face.  Her mother insisted she couldn’t hear at all. It seemed she was hearing at power level four and her mother helped by communicating in sign language with Anna that it wasn’t too loud.  I couldn’t get her repeat any words or tonal noises.  I enlisted veteran, Joe Garcia, from our International Starkey Sales Training team, to help me. With his help, we were able to get her to repeat not only sounds but words. She even surprised us with a couple smiles too! I will confess I broke down in “hot mess” tears when this happened as I was blown away by the change in behavior and demeanor of this little girl who was actually vocalizing words! Tears in her eyes, Anna’s mother and Anna gave Joe and I  big hugs with words of gratitude. Hopefully, this little girl will be able to finally attend school and live a normal life.  Most of the kids with hearing loss are not allowed to go to school and because of the financial shortfalls; there are not schools for the deaf where they can be educated as well.

Q. What advice would you have for another Starkey Hearing Technologies employee looking to give back?

  • Get on the list to volunteer for a mission.
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  • Be a Hearing Angel
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  • Educate your customers, other employees how they too can be a Hearing Angel & help the foundation.  Share the foundations efforts.
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