Grant expands CNY after-school program for deaf, hard of hearing

Local News
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SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) An after-school program for deaf and hard of hearing students will now reach more children with helpful communications and life skills, thanks to a grant from the Central New Community Foundation (CNYCF).

Founded in 2003 — Whole Me in Syracuse has been serving members of the hard of hearing and deaf communities.

The after-school programs bring students from the Syracuse City School District and surrounding counties together to form bonds and learn from one another.

Whole Me’s founder, Chris Kovar, says learning sign language and other communication skills as a family can be life-changing. 

“A lot of times they feel like they’re stuck between the deaf world and the hearing world — they’re not quite sure where they fit in. They’re left out of conversations,” Kovar explained. “Quite often kids who are deaf grow up by and they hear the phrase, I’ll tell you later or it doesn’t matter or never mind and that’s very isolating. It’s very demeaning. It’s isolating. So when we bring the families here, they see how much their kids have to offer to the conversation.”

For one Fulton mom, finding ways to communicate as a hearing family and help her seven-year-old son, Joel, who has hearing loss, posed many challenges in the past.

Rosie Yaichuk says her son was born with minimal hearing loss. It was not until he was about four years old that the level of hearing loss showed a significant impact in his communication with their family.

“I noticed that it didn’t seem like he could hear me, if he wasn’t looking at me,” Yaichuk said. “If you’re thinking about a 4-year-old or a 3-year-old trying to piece together language with only hearing, you know, 70 percent of the sound.”

Deaf or hard of hearing children being born to hearing parents is not uncommon.

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) reports that more than 90 percent of deaf children are born to hearing parents.

About 2 to 3 out of every 1,000 children in the United States are born with a detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears, according to the NIDCD.

“Sometimes I think about it — the amount of tenacity he must have had and the amont of frustration that he must have been experiencing — it’s really astounding,” Yaichuk shared.

Working on Joel’s communication with his family and his peers are Yaichuk’s main goals.

“Just having the whole family involved and being accepted and having some people who understand this is a journey for us,” Yaichuk said.

The journey is led by Joel, who goes to school in Phoenix but travels to Syracuse with his mom to participate in Whole Me programs.

He recalls seeing his parents researching hearing aids and having so many questions of his own.

“Please don’t tell me I’m getting hearing aids. I have no idea why I didn’t want them. I thought I was just fine with the world around me,” Joel said. “My hearing aids can be so obnoxious sometimes.”

Joel says people will often ask him questions about his hearing aids — something he doesn’t always enjoy doing.

Next to playing video games — Joel loves to draw. Little by little, he is learning different ways to communicate.

Part of the core mission of the Central New York Community Foundation (CNYCF) is to help provide an opportunity for everyone and builds a hopeful, prosperous region for future generations.

Presenting a $35,900 grant to Whole Me fits the mission perfectly, according to Danielle Gill, CNYCF director of grants and programs.

“We know that families and support networks and communication,” Gill said. “All of those things are really key to quality of life and this project really fits into that very nicely.”

Since its inception, CNYCF has invested more than $190 million in community improvement projects.

CNYCF has received $45M in new contributions.

Over the past year, more than 3,000 grants totaling more than $19M have been awarded to 1,223 nonprofit organizations.

To learn more about Whole Me and its services, click here.

For more information about the CNYCF — click here.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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