People make hundreds of choices every day. In many cases, these choices are innocuous and often made on autopilot – for instance: what to wear, when to leave, how to drive. But for some people, the choices are more complicated, and the stakes, much higher…for instance: do I pay last month’s electric bill, or do I purchase a new hearing aid?
In Mecklenburg and Union counties, an estimated 123,000 individuals (84% of which are seniors) need hearing services. And 1 in 5 children from low socio-economic backgrounds needs speech-language and literacy interventions. Their ability to communicate should not be a luxury they can’t afford; their ability to hear and speak with clarity is a basic human right they deserve.
For 55 years, Charlotte Speech and Hearing Center (CSHC) has advocated for this right by providing access to quality speech-language and hearing services, regardless of a patient’s ability to pay. The organization is the only free-standing, nonprofit center of its kind in North Carolina and one of just 45 centers across the country.
Of CSHC’s work to serve low-income households, Executive Director Shannon Tucker says: “There isn’t anywhere else for these patients to get the assistance they need. Most are living at or below 300% of the federal poverty level, and through our hearing aid bank, they can get a hearing aid for around $250 instead of $3,000. That’s a huge difference for someone living on social security who is concerned about the economy, inflation, and a recession. They’ll have a tiny little nest egg and make the choice between raiding that nest egg for a hearing aid or having a house.” She adds:
The fact that CSHC does exist is no small feat. As Shannon observes, “This is a rather difficult industry to survive in, and I’m sure that’s why we’re the only center in NC. The work is a challenge to bill for, to fundraise for at times, and we’ve seen a lot of fellow agencies close over the past 10 years. Unfortunately, Covid did a number of centers in.”
It’s no surprise, then, that people travel from all over the state to meet with Shannon’s team – sometimes coming from as far east as the coast. When an individual can’t communicate, the impact is far-reaching. “If you’re a child, your learning will be significantly impacted. If you’re an adult, you’re limited in your career opportunities,” Shannon shares. “And as an older adult with undiagnosed hearing loss, there are so many risks, such as an increased likelihood of falls, cognitive decline, depression, and dementia.”
This is why CSHC emphasizes preventative treatments, particularly for the children in its care. The organization conducts about 2,000 speech-language screenings per year.
The trend is grave, but CSHC has spent five decades developing the necessary expertise to address red flags, connect families to resources, and provide early literacy interventions.
As Shannon says, “Our team has done a great job innovating and finding gaps in services. We don’t sit still and do the same thing. The world has changed so much in 55 years…We have a constant evolution of service delivery and keep a pulse on the needs of our community, and it’s what has kept us going. We get out into the community to engage with families and teachers – we don’t just sit in the clinic and wait for everyone to come to us. We have good results, and we’ve proven our impact.”
That impact was highlighted recently, during the organization’s anniversary celebrations, when a woman came into the office and told Shannon that CSHC had helped three generations of her family. CSHC cared for her grandmother as a little girl and then her mother.
“She said we helped her mom and changed her life when there were no other resources. She would have been sent off to a school for the deaf, but CSHC gave her the support she needed to be a successful person,” Shannon recalls. Years later, CSHC served the daughter in a moving, full-circle moment. “It was really amazing,” reflects Shannon.
If communication is the doorway to quality of life and equal opportunities, then CSHC is an essential key to unlocking potential for some of the region’s most vulnerable populations. With this nonprofit around, the next 55 years look promising.
Since 2012, TLLF has awarded a total of $410,000 to CSHC. To learn more about their work, click here.