Focus on Chapters: AG Bell Nevada

by Arnie and Corrine Altman

AG Bell Nevada
1000 North Green Valley Parkway
Suite 440 - #563
Henderson, NV 89074
Call/Text Msg: 702-553-2029

When the desired outcome for a child with hearing loss is to hear and talk, then early learning, literacy and language development are necessary components to achieve a listening and spoken language outcome. AG Bell state chapters can play a crucial role in building community among parents of children with hearing loss, professionals and adults with hearing loss. One way they do this is through Purpose Driven Events (PDE). The AG Bell Nevada chapter (AGBNV) has found that PDEs work well to improve early learning, literacy and language development while simultaneously creating community awareness, networking and rich opportunities for families to share experiences.

Planning successful PDEs is, without a doubt, no easy task and requires a lot of energy and effort. Rewardingly, the most heartfelt results have revealed themselves at these events. Magic happens in bringing together family and friends, children, parents, professionals and people in the community to engage in a purpose driven environment. For our children with hearing loss, the PDEs are filled with various activities that create fun, laughter and playful competition. These events are also designed to encourage listening and spoken language skills in a setting that accepts, encourages and enhances their growth.

AGBNV organizes three such PDEs: the Charity Bowling Event, the Spring Fling Picnic and the Christmas/Family Holiday Party.

AG Bell Nevada Bowling
The Giambattista family shows up in big numbers to support the annual Charity Bowling event. Tommy G, a hearing aid user, happily signals a thumb up.
credit: rainbow media, las vegas

The Annual Charity Bowling event, which helps raise funds for the chapter, serves a deeper purpose. A local bowling center helps to house the event and provides us with reduced lane rates. We work with a local bowling pro shop to put together the Ball, Bag and Shoe Program. We find sponsors for each child with hearing loss and their donation provides that child with a custom fitted bowling ball or a new pair of bowling shoes. The children receive the experience of visiting the bowling pro shop two weeks prior to the event to select from the display rack of a variety of new bowling balls. Using listening and language skills, the children choose a ball and bag and determine the color of their new gear. The technician helps determine proper ball weight and measures for the holes that will be drilled in the new ball. At the event, attendees receive their new bowling balls, bags and shoes, and the action begins.

Aside from the many door prizes, raffle drawings and all the fun, the best moments are seeing the children interact with their peers and watching some of the more experienced parents interact with newer parents. They share listening and spoken language achievements, challenges and helpful tips that only parents of children with hearing loss could know. Unsurprisingly, we have been told more than once about the insights and hope that parents feel they received after this event. As the AG Bell Family Needs Assessment showed, speaking with parents of children older than one’s own gives a glimpse into what parents can expect and provides hope for the future.

A corporate sponsor adopted our Annual Spring Fling Picnic as their community project after one of their employees read a newspaper article about AGBNV and our mission. Held at a local park in Henderson, Nevada, the sponsor team provides, prepares and serves hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, cookies and a variety of other favorite picnic dishes. Volunteers help organize and facilitate outdoor activities for the kids. Upon arrival at this event, families are given a checklist of lawn games and events in which to participate.

AG Bell Nevada Balloon Toss
Participants enjoy all the outdoor activities at the Nevada chapter's Annual Spring Fling Picnic. A crowd favorite always seems to be the Water Balloon Toss where adults and children alike test their skills.
credit: rainbow media, las vegas

Year after year the most talked about games seem to be the Cake Walk, Watermelon Eating Contest and Water Balloon Toss, which require the children to listen attentively in order to participate successfully. Last year marked our seventh annual event and we have definitely witnessed the bonds between families and children on their journey with hearing loss. In seven years, some children have gone from grade school to high school maintaining friendships formed during this event. Many children with hearing loss are now teens and have become role models to families with younger children to support listening and spoken language. Early learning, literacy and language development truly blossomed.

Perhaps because of our connection to Las Vegas, one might sense that we have an advantage in entertainment and Purpose Driven Events are all we have to offer. However, workshops, conferences, advocacy and parent education are the cornerstone activities of our chapter. We have advocated for legislation for newborn hearing screening, attended annual Early Hearing Detection & Intervention (EHDI) conferences, and developed the N*Courage*Mint program, a parent education and support program.

N*Courage*Mint focuses on parent education and on providing vital information for a new parent dealing with a hearing loss diagnosis for their child. Parent support assures acceptance, compassion and understanding from parent peers as well as group accountability. The classes create a safe parent-to-parent environment along with education through a live web feed from The John Tracy Clinic. Examples of the learning curriculum include: Beginning Audition, Expressive Language and Beginning Speech.

Our calendar ends with the best attended Purpose Driven Event of the year, the Annual Christmas/Family Holiday Party. We use email and social media marketing to help promote this and other events. Often, we call parents to cultivate the necessary one-on-one connection. We encourage parents to bring the entire family and we make certain to include the siblings who may sometimes need more attention and support with so much attention focused on the child with hearing loss. This event is also designed with several intentional language experiences. A Holiday Activity card is given to the children as they check in. Volunteers greet the children at each booth or table and the children are encouraged to return a verbal greeting.

Activities include making a tree ornament or holiday art craft, decorating a Christmas cookie, finding Miss Elfie for a bag of treats, and getting painted holiday cheek designs. When the children finish each activity they ask for their Holiday Activity card to be stamped. Selected children with hearing loss read a short Christmas story from a book, which is always an inspirational moment for everyone. We also include our kids in helping with announcements over the microphone, which they find exciting. Our chapter non-profit status has allowed us to connect with the local Toys for Tots program providing toys for all the children with hearing loss and their siblings. The party ends with a visit from Santa to hand out toys and to provide a family photo op with the jolly ole fellow for each attending family.

We hope in sharing these ideas to encourage your chapter in planning annual Purpose Driven Events to create awareness, build community, and foster early learning, literacy and language development as necessary components to support children who are deaf and hard of hearing. 

Arnie Altman has served as co-president of the Nevada chapter of AG Bell since 2006. He married Corrine Altman in 1983 and the two of them have raised five children, the first two of whom were born with profound hearing loss. In 2001, the Altmans, along with Senator Terry Care (D-NV) and legislators in northern Nevada, helped write Assembly Bill 250 on the need for newborn hearing screening, which was mandated in January 2002.

Corrine Altman is a member of the AG Bell board of directors and co-president of the Nevada chapter of AG Bell. She is the mother of five children, the first two of whom were born with profound hearing loss. Altman served a three-year term as president for SOUND Foundation. In 2001, she helped with A.B. 250 and testified before the Nevada Assembly on behalf of early hearing detection. The Newborn Hearing Screening Bill was mandated in the state of Nevada on January 1, 2002.

Source: Volta Voices (2015): Volume 22, Issue 1.