12 outstanding individuals recognized for challenging hearing loss perceptions in their communities
Oticon, Inc. announced the winners of the 2020 Oticon Focus on People Awards, a program dedicated to honoring students, adults, and advocates who have surmounted hearing loss, and the hearing care professionals who have helped others do so. During the months of November and October, supporters cast more than 13,000 votes to determine the first, second and third place winners in the Student, Adult, Advocacy and Practitioner categories.
The 2020 first place winners in each category are:
● Student: Wyllow MacLaren of Cleveland, Tennessee is a budding entrepreneur on a mission to make a positive difference in her community. She started "The Giving Berries" charity to raise funds to gift the first American Girl doll to wear a hearing aid to every child at her summer camp for children with hearing loss. She succeeded! With the help of other young volunteers, Wyllow hosts "The Giving Berries" fundraisers to benefit local causes.
● Adult: Narita Snead of Richmond, Virginia was diagnosed with hearing loss as a child, and feared that wearing hearing aids would impede her ability to lead a full and successful life. It’s a tale she compassionately tells in her recently published children’s book, Zola Gets Hearing Aids. Today, the achievements of that worried little girl are a testimony to what people with hearing loss can achieve even under the most adverse circumstances. Narita is a respected nurse practitioner with advanced degrees in public health administration, and she owns and operates an independent health care service and hospice agency. She is also the founder of Sodality Respite Inc., a nonprofit that provides hospice care to homeless individuals.
● Advocacy: Dylan M. Rafaty of Plano, Texas is a navigator, influencer, and disability rights advocate committed to serving people with hearing loss and others in the cross-disability community. Dylan started DylanListed, a transition support services provider and is the Head of Accessibility Strategy & Partnerships for C-Hear, Inc., a company that developed a way to make images accessible and heard. His book, Occupy Special Education — Children Should Be Seen and Heard, encourages students with disabilities to speak up about their educational needs. Dylan serves on many executive boards, including the Texas Governor’s Committee for People with Disabilities. In 2020, he was inducted into the Susan M. Daniels Disability Mentoring Hall of Fame.
● Practitioner: Kristina Sheehan, AuD of Fort Wayne, Indiana is passionate about giving people with hearing loss the information they need to successfully navigate the world. This year, she worked closely with teachers and schools to advocate for students with hearing loss returning to school amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As director of audiology at GiveHear, Tina leads a dedicated team providing hearing health care to underserved adults and children. Through the nonprofit’s Circle of Giving program, patients give volunteer hours to the community for each hearing aid they receive. This unique approach reflects Tina’s own commitment to build the self-worth of individuals by restoring their hearing potential and providing them with opportunities to engage with their community through service to others.
"This year’s Focus on People Award winners are a unique mix of hearing loss champions, authors, executives, and entrepreneurs who have made a difference in their communities during an especially challenging year," said Nancy Palmere, Director of Consumer Marketing and PR for Oticon. "We hope their stories inspire others to advocate for the hearing loss community and empower people to pursue their dreams. We’re proud to say that Oticon’s life-changing technology and support of dedicated hearing care professionals are helping to open a world of opportunities for people with hearing loss."
Established in 1997, the one-of-a-kind national Oticon Focus on People Awards program has honored more than 300 outstanding individuals from across the United States. This year’s second and third place winners are:
• 2nd place – Sara Rodriguez, San Antonio, TX
• 3nd place – Owen Chapman, Mt. Pleasant, SC
• 2nd place – Matt Hay, Westfield, IN
• 3nd place – Matt Deller, Sun City, AZ
• 2nd place – Sherry Ball, Fall Branch, TN
• 3nd place – Jerry Bergman, New York, NY
• 2nd place – Jessica Messersmith, PhD, Vermillion, SD
• 3nd place – Sheri Mello, AuD, Raleigh, NC
Award winners were recognized during the Oticon Next: Discover More virtual conference on Jan 12, 2021. First place winners in the Student, Adult and Advocacy categories each receive a new pair of Oticon BrainHearing™ technology hearing aids and first place winners in each of the categories receive a donation to the charity of their choice. All 12 finalists receive a cash prize and a certificate of recognition from Oticon.
To watch a short video of our first place winners, visit www.oticon.com/FOP.
Oticon, Inc. – Life-Changing Technology
Oticon is one of the world’s most innovative hearing device manufacturers, with more than 110 years’ experience in the design and development of hearing aids for adults and children. Our comprehensive portfolio of life-changing technology improves not only the quality of hearing but the overall quality of life for people with hearing loss. Oticon challenges conventions and pushes the limits of technology to bring to market hearing solutions that exceed the needs and expectations of people with hearing loss, so that they can live their lives without limit. Our groundbreaking BrainHearing™ technology is helping to provide better hearing with less effort by giving the brain the clearest, purest sound signals to decode. For more information visit www.oticon.com.