Posts Tagged ‘Hands & Voices’
Thirteen years ago I was grieving the loss of having a child that could hear. My daughter had just been diagnosed with a permanent hearing loss. I was facing a lot of decisions to make about amplification, communication, doctors, and therapies. I left the audiologist’s office that day with a hundred emotions swirling inside. I realized my daughter had most likely never heard me say “I love you” or calling to her from the another room in the house to say, “It’s okay, Momma’s right here” while she was crying. I also realized that day, that her life was exactly the same as the day before. She was happy, smiling, still had her favorite foods, toys, books, and TV show. Most importantly, she knew she was loved and she knew how to love as well.
My life changed that day, not hers.
Shortly after that day, my husband and I were contacted by professionals to help us know what to do. We were provided guidance and information, but ultimately, we had to make choices for our daughter and our family. We were not aware of the conflict and controversies surrounding communication and amplification options for deaf or hard-of-hearing children. We simply made decisions that felt right to us for our family and our daughter.
We continued to make decisions that were right for our child and our family. We were lucky though, we knew we had options and choices. Part of this was because of our location, part because we worked with experienced and knowledgeable professionals, and part because we had support–family and friends were beside us to support our decisions.
A couple of years later I found myself working as a parent mentor. Somehow I had become the parent that others went to for advice and guidance. During those two years, the job brought me into a world of differences and really taught me how to support parents who have a different perspective and those who made different choices than I did. That shift in focus was hard for me. Some days I didn’t understand why parents made the choices they did for their child and family. When I took the time to listen, and I mean really listen and hear what parents were telling me, I realized we were not all that different. We had the same goals for child and family, the only difference was the path we chose to get there.
One of my job duties was to establish a support program for parents and families of deaf children. My job was to provide support without bias for families of all deaf children regardless of the choices they made. This is how I found Hands & Voices.
Hands & Voices was founded by parents who were tired of the communication wars. They quite simply wanted to support each other, because raising a deaf or hard of hearing child alone is hard. The parents involved wanted unbiased and unbridled emotional support. A group of parents guiding parents.
The first Hands & Voices conference I attended felt like home. In my life as “Reagan’s Mom,” I often found myself explaining the choices we made for our family and why, but when I attended the Hands & Voices conference, there was no need to explain myself. No one there judged us, disagreed with our choices, or disrespected our choices. Everyone had open arms and welcomed me and my family, because now we were all family.
Hands & Voices has shown me that it is okay to have my own opinion and personal belief system, but also how to set those aside and walk beside any parent of a child who is deaf or hard of hearing. Hands & Voices has a wonderful way of respectfully accepting individual differences, while focusing on our common goals to achieve success-individually and collectively. We do not let our differences separate us, but instead our differences bring us together.
Thirteen years on my path raising a deaf child and 11 years into my role supporting parents has made me realize two things; there is no fork in the road and we are all sharing the same path. We all want happy, well-adjusted kids. The path we walk is shared with parents, families, children, friends, Deaf adults, doctors, audiologists, speech-language pathologists, teachers, interpreters, and more. I urge you to take the time to talk to and listen to the people sharing your path and find the shared respect and support we all need.
There is room for everyone on our path.
Having just flown back from our Annual H&V Leadership Conference, the buzz is in the air….on Facebook, email exchanges, twitter, Instagram, and texts….
“It was SO good to connect.”
“Thank you for helping me with what I needed for a strong healthy chapter”
“Thank you for supporting me in a situation I have with my own child”
It’s just so wonderful to see the connecting, the exchanging of support, the “Wisdom Among Us”. We get such little face time together, that when we are together we talk a lot about feeling like we are back together as a family. We share our unique and yet common experiences of raising a child who is Deaf/Hard of Hearing, and we CONNECT! I personally walk away from the conference every year filled up and ready to make sure parent-to-parent support is available to all, and to tackle the challenges of improving the lives of our children in the health, education, and other systems that serve us.
The ‘magic’ or our family in some ways has elements we can define and prepare for, but also just happens when we are together. The logistics of bringing a conference together, however, is not magic – it’s hard work, TO DO lists, endless planning of details, and dealing with onsite happenings you just can’t predict. We learn from these experiences and also grow from them. I want to give a shout out to Molly Martzke, and Jeannene Evenstad, along with our full H&V staff that made the logistics parts of this conference come together.
But it’s not just AT the conference where we get this vibe. In fact, I just wanted to share a few moments that happened AFTER the conference, and I mean IMMEDIATELY after the conference when everyone was tired, looking towards home, and back to the ‘inboxes’ we so willingly abandoned for a few short days.
At our conference this year, we had the privilege of welcoming some international guests to our ‘family’ for the conference from Russia, China, and Kenya. As we closed out our time, people from among us stepped up to ensure that our guests got where they needed to go, created even more opportunity to enjoy their visit here in the U.S. and to ensure that the network of not just a few, but of many, continued the networking.
So… thank you Stephanie Olson and Lisa Crawford for opening your home after the conference, spending more time with our Kenya partner, Jackie. Jacki Oduor is giving to us the gift of herself, energy, and commitment to families in Kenya. We are so grateful to be connected with her.
Photo: Stephanie, Jackie, Lisa
To Candace, who not only helped arrange a visit from two special guest professionals from China, but went on to Colorado and spent the next day showing elements of the U.S. educational system in Colorado, and other activities to help broaden the guests perspectives. To our professional partner, Christine Yoshinaga Itano who helped arrange this as well.
And to Molly, who is the Leader for our Russian/U.S. Partnership Project, driving our guests in a rather large, 15 passenger van that tested the limits at times of wearing the hat of ‘driver’ amongst her other duties.
I wanted to mention these rather ‘logistical’ elements of the ‘network’ that helps us, in the midst of limitations of our capacity, the amazing number of people who step up and abandon their title for just getting done what needs to get done.
I am so proud to be a part of this organization. Not just for the stars on our map on our website that shows our growth, but that in any given moment, the number of people that are willing to step up and ‘just get it done’ is astounding to me. Thank you all, for making this 12th Annual Conference the best ever, and for keeping the network going even when we are not face to face.
Finally, as the Chinese visitors were boarding a plane after the conference to the next step of their journey, they turned to Candace and said, about their being here to experience Hands & Voices, “This is Destiny”.
Yes, it is.
Janet DesGeorges, Executive Director, Hands & Voices Headquarters
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During a break at a recent Hands & Voices staff and board meeting, I took a good look around the room. Some of the staff and board members were engaged in one-on-one conversations. Others were in groups.
Over the years, every single person on the board and staff came to Hands & Voices because of one thing: a passion for families with deaf and hard of hearing children.
Isn’t that so frou-frou? Passion? I mean, come on.
Dedication. Involvement. Contribution. Those are certainly words to describe people who serve at every level of Hands & Voices.
What’s the core of what we do at Hands & Voices? What are we about? Who are we about? What’s our mission? What are our values? What is the “why” of what we do?
To those who may not be deeply familiar for what we stand for and how we support families, there’s often the misconception that we’re all about choices for families. That it’s all about communication methods and modalities.
But it’s not that.
It’s all too easy to get hung up on trying to balance the dance of equality among the choices out there. When you do that, you never win. It’s never balanced. It can’t be. This whole journey with deaf and hard of hearing children can’t be summed up by communication alone. To do that is to compartmentalize the journey.
At Hands & Voices we are sometimes bombarded with finger-pointing by others who insist we must remain neutral, balanced, and equal on every level in our daily work.
Instead, our work goes deeper than that. It’s about the emotional ups and downs of being a parent and understanding this journey. It’s about reaching out so that no one has to journey alone. It’s about providing support during the rough times and celebrating the joys.
Call it frou-frou if you will. We call it passion. It’s the fuel that drives us to do this day in and day out–without always having the funding to do so.
Passion is what keeps us up at nights responding to a parent who is frantic about the next day’s IEP meeting.
Passion is what allows us to have the energy to drive three hours to host an event for parents and children.
Passion is what pushes us to share resources, knowledge, and encouragement so other parents can be empowered on their own journeys.
Mom to David, Lauren, & Steven
Co-Coordinator of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Infusion at Hands & Voices
Janet DesGeorges, H&V Executive Director
Below is a compilation of thoughts about what it takes to be a leader at Hands & Voices! Hope you enjoy these simple comments! These are taken from the bi-monthly H&V E-NEWS series. If you would like to get on the list to receive information, resources, and updates from Hands & Voices, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
What are your priorities?
“It is easy to develop a list of fifteen to twenty priorities, but I would argue that this is the same as having no priorities. Human beings typically can perform at a high level only if they focus their efforts, and the greater the number of priorities you have, the harder it becomes to focus.”
(Robert Steven Kaplan, What to Ask the Person in the Mirror: Critical Questions for Becoming a More Effective Leader and Reaching Your Potential)
So, what are your priorities? I have discovered over the years that many people would like me to focus on their priorities, and if I don’t have a good mechanism for the n-word (“NO”), then I may never get to what is really important to me and to achieving our goals at H&V. Remember, sometimes saying ‘NO’ to someone else’s request for your time/energy is a ‘YES’ to getting to what you know are the really important things. So, today, you might want to practice a ‘no’ or two. Someone once told me that my plate is full, and every time I say ‘YES’ to something, something else on that plate is slipping off. That visual has helped me to understand that there are only so many hours in the day, and we just have to be smart about our desire to say ‘YES’ as well as our ‘NO’. I am so grateful for all of you out there that have said ‘YES’ to the priority of supporting families via the Hands & Voices network. Now THERE’S a good ‘YES’!
“Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast – you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.” -Eddie Cantor
It is always good to reflect on how far we’ve come at Hands & Voices, and where we are going! With over 50 chapters in full swing here in the U.S. and abroad, it is more important than ever to know where we are going and why! To all of you who put your heart and soul into this organization, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Don’t forget to have a little ‘down time’ when needed. Remember that our organization is here for the long haul. We want to be a part of something that will exist beyond us, and into the next generation of children who are deaf/hh. So, relax…. AND get ready for a busy, action packed year of supporting families who have children who are d/hh. I know I am!
“When you come upon a wall, throw your hat over it, and then go get your hat.” – Anonymous
Feeling a bit overwhelmed? Wondering if you really have time for all this? (And by ‘this’ I mean improving the systems that serve our children who are deaf/hh.) There are times for all of us when the obstacles seem too challenging. Someone says, ‘we tried that and it can’t be done’ and that seems to diffuse or deflate us. We are not sure whether our efforts will really make a difference. REMEMBER where we have come from, what we have accomplished already, and what we want to achieve.
We seek to support:
-A solid foundational start to the journey for our kids through informed decision making.
-Strong, healthy, communicating, language-laden children.
-Educational Excellence for all deaf/hh students.
-Prepared students ready to enter the work force.
Sounds daunting? If it were easy, others before us would have achieved these goals already. Keep your eye on the prize and keep moving forward. Together we can make a difference!
Pass it On
PASS IT ON…. One of our HQ Board members, Harold Johnson recently sent me a link to a TED talk about ‘Crowd Accelerated Innovation’ – talking about the concept of information dissemination and innovation in this age of technology (specifically YouTube). Not only the ability to pass on information, but about how innovation can actually be replicated and improved upon as it is passed on from one source to another. It’s been one of the defining characteristics of H&V. One chapter has a good idea, and another chapter replicates and builds upon on it -and successful support to families grows in both quantity and quality. So, when you have a good idea, a successful event, or good resources you’ve come across -pass it on… If you are interested in this concept and want to see the TED talk, click here.
Process is Important
“It’s not just what we do, but how we do it!” One of our favorite sayings around H&V HQ is to ask ourselves as staff/board members, “If I was not able to continue in my position, could the organization go on without me?” That is sometimes hard to do when our self-identity and desire to be needed is embroiled in our lives as leaders. This question ties to our current strategic plan focusing on sustainability and capacity. Organizations at some point cannot exist or depend on one particular individual. But it’s important to expand this concept beyond just the ‘what’ needs to get done to the ‘how’. What are the processes in place that keep the organization healthy? Decision making, prioritization of projects, project management plans…. It’s not just our ‘to do’ items that need consideration. It’s ensuring the procedures are in place and in writing so that if we left tomorrow, others could step in and not only know what to do, but how to do it. We want H&V to be strong, healthy and moving forward long after we are gone. That’s an empowering thought!
Find out more about Janet: Janet DesGeorges at Hands & Voices
I vividly remember the day we learned our son was deaf. New parents as we were, I remember being unsure of his future, feeling crushed by the decisions we faced, and feeling so incredibly alone. But what slowly built up our strength in those early months, throughout his life, and even today is the reassurance that we are, in fact, NOT alone. We learned that there are families all across Minnesota, all across the United States, and the world on the same journey. And when we come together and start to share our experiences, the differences between our geography, our cultures, our choices and paths…fall away. What is left is this common bond of loving our child so much and our need to reach out to each other for acceptance, wisdom, guidance, innovation, resilience, and even laughter. Hands & Voices means my family and most importantly, my son has a positive, up-lifting community who sees the gifts he brings and together, celebrates them.
We’re parents and families with children who are deaf or hard of hearing (DHH). Most of us are hearing ourselves (95% of us, according to the statistics) and our DHH child might be the first person with hearing loss we’ve ever met (not counting Great Aunt Louise).
Wherever you are in your parent journey with your child…whether you’re talking, signing, cueing or combining, or even if you have no idea yet what the best communication mode will be, you’re welcome here. Whether you’re child is newly identified with a hearing loss or a senior in high school, you’re welcome here.
This is Hands & Voices…we’re parents who are trying to make the best decisions we can for our children from birth until they leave the nest. It helps to share with each other so we started this blog.
If you want to know more about our organization, please visit the official website at www.handsandvoices.org
Welcome to this parent community. Please be nice. We’re all trying the best we can and would never hurt anybody’s feelings intentionally, so thank you for being sensitive with your remarks to the diverse perspectives shared on this blog. We reserve the right to moderate comments and will not publish anything that gives offense. If we have missed the mark for you, please let us know and we’ll try harder the next time.