LOFT: A Mission Fulfilled
Dear Alexander Graham Bell Community,
The words "life-changing" have been applied to many things. But here at AG Bell, I can think of no better program that fits that description than the Leadership Opportunities for Teens (LOFT) program. This program has been led by Ken Levinson since 1996, when he began its inaugural edition at our Convention in Snowbird, Utah.
Many of our members have children who took part in this program and returned from it forever changed. LOFT provides a common ground for deaf and hard of hearing teenagers to create new friendships, learn how to advocate for themselves and build leadership skills - all within a fun and supportive environment!
Teenagers who participate in LOFT have demonstrated great improvements in their self-confidence and their own ability to recognize the skills they have to succeed as productive young adults. They learn what it takes to be a leader, how to communicate and how to express their needs.
Even years after LOFT, both teens and their parents fondly remember the influence of this program. We've seen the most incredible stories of achievements come from teens who have attended LOFT. A favorite of mine was told to me by parents of an alumna, Nicole, who attended the 2012 LOFT program in Arizona. Nicole recently graduated from high school, where she received a 2015 World Languages Award for her achievements in Spanish from her school's foreign language department. Nicole intends to pursue pre-medicine studies in biochemistry along with a minor in Spanish at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida.
Nicole at LOFT.
Her parents were eager to praise AG Bell's influence in Nicole's life beyond LOFT, citing AG Bell's efforts to support standards for classroom acoustics. The Volta Review 2001 issue (vol. 101, no. 5) "Classroom Acoustics: Understanding Barriers to Learning" served as their tool in persuading their school district to make classrooms more acoustically friendly and accessible for Nicole. Nearly a decade later, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) along with the U.S. Access Board and the Acoustical Society of American (ASA) published acoustical performance standards for permanent schools and relocatable classrooms that are available to families today. Additional efforts are moving forward on the legislative and international front.
Bringing Out the Best
LOFT brings out the best in many teens with hearing loss. Central to its success has been the generous spirit of its founder, Ken Levinson.
Ken has been part of AG Bell for several decades, and has served as a past president of the association. His lasting impact has been the creation of LOFT with co-founder Donna Dickman, who was then executive director of AG Bell. In 1996 it started as a program designed to accompany the AG Bell Convention biennial schedule. Since 2009, LOFT expanded to become an annual program and, since 2012, includes two sessions each year.
Ken Levinson speaking at LOFT.
LOFT has become one of the most prominent and successful programs of AG Bell, and its impact has not been limited to the teenagers who have participated in it. It's clear to me that LOFT has become Ken's greatest passion and, as he calls it, "his baby." A couple of years ago, he spoke to Volta Voices about the program:
"It has been the most gratifying experience for me and it has given me a passion I did not know existed. [...] It is a great feeling to know you have changed people's lives and have had a positive impact on their thinking and perception of themselves as individuals with hearing loss."
The program helps teens realize that while hearing loss is a part of who they are, it is not the defining part of their identity. LOFT creates a bond that participants share with other teens who are deaf with whom there is no barrier of uncertainty. The acceptance of self-identity that the program encourages is crucial to developing happier and more fulfilled young adults, taking part in the larger world of hearing and talking.
The great accomplishments of LOFT are far-reaching. Its earliest participants are already well into their careers as successful, productive adults. Best of all is how the heart and soul of the program's direction falls squarely in line with Dr. Alexander Graham Bell's greatest dream for people who are deaf - that they could and should all become fully contributing members of society. If there is any place we should look to for guidance in the course of our association and how its mission is best served, it is to the deep focus and commitment of our founder. Dr. Bell was a man of boundless wisdom, and his greatest passion was always to see deaf children succeed.
With the success of LOFT and the spread of its successful alumni throughout the world, the mission of AG Bell is succeeding in ever-wider places and in ever-greater ways. Society is invariably improved as successful teenagers who can listen and speak become part of its fabric.
To help support LOFT and other programs of AG Bell, please visit our website to give now and help teens who are deaf gain the confidence to understand their true self, inspire others and become leaders in our world.
Until next week,
P.S. To make an online donation, visit www.agbell.org/donate or to learn more about our amazing LOFT participants, visit www.agbell.org/LOFT
Leadership is unlocking people's potential to become better.
- Bill Bradley