By Susan D. Brandenburg
Outreach is truly the key for making something happen, including giving and receiving the gift of hearing.
Back in 2012, Lisa Sheek reached out to Pablo Towers resident Pauline Collings and gave her a new lease on life. Collings, naturally energetic and vivacious, had begun to isolate herself due to her loss of hearing and her inability to afford the exorbitant cost of hearing aids. As services coordinator for seniors at Pablo Towers, Sheek sought the help of Jacksonville Beach audiologist Jane Burns, who regularly volunteered her services at Pablo Towers. Within a few short days, Burns had fitted Collings with refurbished hearing aids at a tiny fraction of the cost of new ones. Lend an Ear Outreach began with that successful collaboration.
Over the past five years, more than 200 people have received refurbished hearing aids through Lend an Ear Outreach and in recent months, the non-profit organization has partnered with Vicar’s Landing, an upscale retirement community in Ponte Vedra Beach. Once again, outreach was the catalyst for this propitious and timely partnership.
When Vicar’s Landing employee Aaron Mobley began having serious hearing issues, he put off looking into hearing aids because he’d heard that they were extremely expensive. Upon having a hearing test, the $9,000 fee quoted to him for hearing aids confirmed his worst fears. He couldn’t afford them and he was afraid his hearing loss would place his job as a Vicar’s Landing driver in jeopardy. A person in his church told him about Lend an Ear Outreach and within three days, Mobley was fitted with a quality pair of refurbished hearing aids.
It was when his boss, Scott Hetzinger, heard about Mobley’s “miracle,” that Vicar’s Landing reached out to Lend an Ear Outreach and the partnership began.
Today, Vicar’s Landing has become the headquarters of Lend an Ear Outreach, with new volunteers signing up daily both from within the residential community and beyond.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, approximately 36 million Americans suffer from hearing loss and more than half of them are younger than 65. Hearing loss is said to be the third most common health problem in the United States, just behind heart disease and diabetes, and of the adults over 70 who could benefit from hearing aids, only one out of three have ever used them. Not only does hearing loss bring about social isolation and employment-related problems, but it can impact mobility, balance and even longevity.
“I had hearing loss and didn’t realize it,” said Dr. Jane Burns. “I’m in my 50s and as an audiologist, I conduct hearing tests every day, but I had never had my own hearing checked. Many people are in denial about their hearing loss and for others, it is so gradual that it isn’t noticeable until, like me, you realize you aren’t hearing like you used to.”
Dr. Burns urges people to get the free hearing test and not to let the cost of hearing aids be an issue.
“That’s what Lend an Ear Outreach is all about,” she said. “Very few people have a budget that includes an unexpected investment that can run in the thousands of dollars. We serve people on a sliding scale and make the new/used hearing aids as affordable as possible — sometimes they are free.”
The goal of Lend an Ear Outreach is to “give the gift of hearing by furnishing quality hearing aids to those with limited or no means, in an atmosphere of dignity and compassion.”
During the first week of the New Year, members of the Lend an Ear Outreach team at Vicar’s Landing gathered to plan a fundraiser — the Hearing by the Sea Gala — at the Casa Marina Hotel on Jan. 19. With tickets at $75 apiece, Channel 4’s Staci Spanos emceeing, live music by Crescendo Amelia, a wine toss and raffle drawing, the gala promised to raise both funds and awareness. The team included five employees of Vicar’s Landing — Scott Hetzinger, Ruth Vice, Candy Bowling, Aaron Mobley and Dale Pirkle — as well as founder Lisa Sheek, Lend an Ear recipient Pauline Collings of Pablo Towers and Mary Monroe, a Vicar’s Landing volunteer for Lend an Ear. Four of the eight team-members (Vice, Mobley, Pirkle and Collings) were wearing hearing aids
Currently, in addition to seeking funding and awareness, Lend an Ear Outreach needs donated hearing aids which can be dropped off at several locations listed on the website. And, while Dr. Burns donates a great deal of her time to providing free hearing tests to Lend an Ear applicants, the need for more involvement by local audiologists and hearing specialists increases as awareness grows.
Outreach continues to be the catalyst for involvement in this worthwhile endeavor.
“We are reaching out to hospitals, nursing homes, funeral homes and hospices,” said Burns, describing a unique occurrence at a hospice in Georgia when Lend an Ear loaned a refurbished hearing aid to a patient, allowing him to hear his family whispering terms of endearment to him in his last hours.
“No one wants to shout at a loved one, especially at that time in their life,” Burns said. “It is our hope that Lend an Ear Outreach will help to improve the quality of life of many more people across the First Coast who need hearing aids and don’t think they can afford them.”
Lend an Ear Outreach’s next fundraiser will be a golf tournament scheduled for April 5. Visit www.lendanearoutreach.org for more information about the golf tournament and how you can help Lend an Ear.
Photo courtesy Susan D. Brandenburg
Lend an Ear Outreach Team at Vicar’s Landing: Pauline Collings, the first Lend an Ear recipient; Lisa Sheek, founder of Lend an Ear; Mary Monroe, Vicar’s Landing volunteer; Scott Hetzinger of Vicar’s Landing; Ruth Vice, Lend an Ear recipient; Candy Bowling, Vicar’s Landing director of financial services; Aaron Mobley, Lend an Ear recipient; and Dale Pirkle, Vicar’s Landing chief operating officer.