ST. PAUL, MN—Luminaries from the worlds of entertainment, sports, government, business, and philanthropy joined with hearing care professionals on July 28, for the Starkey Hearing Foundation’s 2013 So the World May Hear Gala. The annual event, which drew over 1600 people, raised a record sum of more than $8 million to support the foundation’s charitable work, which includes donating more than 100,000 hearing aids annually to people in need around the world.
CELEBRITIES HONORED FOR ALTRUISM
During the 13th annual gala, a number of well-known people were recognized for their contributions to making the world a better place.
These honorees included the British business magnate Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, and a leading supporter of the Starkey Foundation; the actor Ashton Kutcher, co-founder of Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children, which fights against the sexual exploitation of children; Barbara Bush, daughter of former President George W. and Laura Bush, who is co-founder and president of the public health-focused Global Health Corps; and Jimmy Walker, CEO of the Celebrity Fight Night Foundation, which has raised $87 million for local charities around the country since he founded it in 1994.
Dennis and Leslie Hansen, who have participated in Starkey Foundation missions overseas, were cited as “Hearing Angel Humanitarians.”
Also honored was Chun Li Zhao, known as “Angel.” In introducing her at the gala, former President Bill Clinton, who has become a regular at the Starkey Gala, recounted how, at age 15, Angel was not allowed to meet him when he visited her small fishing village in China in 1998. The authorities hid her away because they were embarrassed by her deafness and by a condition, brittle bone disease, that made it impossible for her to walk and stunted her growth.
Despite her multiple disabilities, Angel’s spirit and determination, plus outside support, including from the Starkey Foundation, which provided her with her first hearing aids, enabled her to become an advocate for people with disabilities.
She came to the United States where in 2011 she met Kathy Johnson, a faculty member at St. Cloud State University, who worked with her in a personalized Educational Leadership Internship to learn about advocacy and disability rights in the US. The next year, Angel met President Clinton again at a Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) event, which led to her participation in a Commitment to Action. Her goal is to develop the first Parent Resource Center in China for parents of children with disabilities.
A SURPRISE APPEARANCE
Among the highlights of the evening came when Steven Sawalich, senior executive director of Starkey Hearing Foundation, surprised Bill Austin, founder of the foundation and also of Starkey Hearing Technologies, with an unexpected guest, Endreas. Endreas, a young man from Ethiopia, told attendees how Austin not only gave him the gift of hearing last year, but also arranged for him to receive life-saving medical care in Israel.
Several entertainers performed at the gala performed. These included Grammy Award-winning singers Lionel Richie and Marc Anthony; the reggae and alternative rock musician Matisyahu; vocalist Nita Whitaker; the stand-up comedian Sinbad; American Idol runner-up Jessica Sanchez, the vocal group ARIA, and the comedian Norm Crosby, who was master of ceremonies. Crosby was one of the first celebrities to acknowledge his own hearing loss and then advocate that others seek help for that disability.
Among the famous athletes at the gala were the National Football League rushing leader Adrian Peterson; the Olympic Gold Medal figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi; the skateboarding legend Tony Hawk; and former heavyweight boxing champions Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. Other representatives from the entertainment world included the actors Lou Ferrigno and Forest Whitaker.
VISIONS FOR THE FUTURE
In accepting his award from the foundation, Branson spoke about the power businesses have for creating change: “What we need to do, is get every single company in the world to adopt a problem. And if we can join with governments and social workers we can get on top of all of the problems of the world.” The man behind Virgin Airlines, concluded by recognizing the birthday of Tani Austin, co-founder with her husband of the foundation, and cueing the orchestra to play Happy Birthday.
Bill Austin told those who had gathered in St. Paul to celebrate and advance the foundation, “Hearing is a way to improve lives around the world and empower individuals to reach their full potential. We are the only ones that can change the future of this world. We have to start by reflecting caring, and by showing respect for life.”