When Rosie Yaichuk would tell her son Joel he couldn’t have dessert if he didn’t eat his dinner, he would anyway. When she said he should go to his room, put away his toys or stop fighting with his brother, he wouldn’t. Like many parents, hearing the responses “I didn’t hear you” or “I didn’t understand” left Yaichuk believing Joel just wasn’t paying attention to her rules. She was surprised to find out there was a deeper issue at hand – a variance of deteriorating hearing impairment that had gone under the radar until he was five years old.
“Before Joel’s hearing loss was identified, I didn’t have a clear understanding of the spectrum of hearing loss,” said Yaichuk. “I thought you could hear pretty much everything, or you were deaf and you couldn’t hear. I was not aware of the complexities in the middle ground.”
The nature of Joel’s hearing loss was such that he could hear or infer most sounds in words, but had difficulty determining some of the sounds typically found at the end of words. This proved to be a challenge in the classroom, where children would make fun of him or teachers would chastise him for not “listening”.
It was then that Yaichuk turned to WHOLE ME, an organization that provides mentoring, literacy, transitional life skills training, early intervention, advocacy and rights awareness for deaf and hard of hearing children, adolescents, young adults and their families. It wasn’t long before Joel was enrolled in WHOLE ME’s after-school program in partnership with the Syracuse City School District.
“There are approximately 1,500 deaf or hard of hearing children and adults living in our community; many of whom experience isolation and loneliness on a daily basis,” said Christine Kovar, executive director at WHOLE ME. “The program provides a safe space where children can express their feelings and find support as they learn how to navigate and develop their identity as a deaf or hard of hearing individual outside of the school day.”
WHOLE ME recently received a $35,900 grant from us to expand its afterschool program to accommodate more children who are deaf or hard of hearing.
“We were excited to support this program because of the vast impact it is having on children and their families in the community,” said Danielle Gill, director, grants and programs at the Community Foundation. “Seeing how the program has already changed the lives of families makes us confident in the continued work of the organization.”
Kovar, who helped found the organization in 2003, is hopeful that expanding the program will help bring the Deaf and hearing worlds together.
“I have been active in the Deaf community since 1980 and have directly witnessed the impact this program has had on many children’s lives over the years,” said Kovar. “I am so grateful for this grant, which will help us continue diminishing the social and educational barriers that deaf children face.”
The program provides Joel with the opportunity to interact with children who are deaf or hard of hearing, learn American Sign Language (ASL) by practicing with other children and adults and partake in activities and field trips he may not have the ability to experience during his school day.
Joel is now happily enjoying life like many boys his age do – riding his bike, climbing trees and swimming. He loves to read and draw comics. With the support of WHOLE ME and his family behind him, Joel is able to do what he loves and live the life his parents always intended for him.