Now Hear This

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If you or someone you know is deaf or hard of hearing, say hello to ALOHA. ALOHA stands for Adult Loss of Hearing Association, which provides services primarily to folks who became hard of hearing (HOH) or deaf after learning language.
“People often tell us they wish they had known about ALOHA sooner,” says Loretta Butler, office director. “Our goal is to reach HOH adults in Southern Arizona so they know where they can come for help.” Butler first started out as a client at ALOHA in 1986. “My hearing loss was mild as a child and now it is profound,” she explains.
“ALOHA helps deaf and HOH individuals with peer support, education and advocacy,” says S. George Ghorpade, Ph.D., board president. This includes helping people find solutions to communication problems they encounter in their daily lives and educating them about assistive devices and hearing aid options. ALOHA also helps family members and friends find pathways to better communication.
ALOHA offers an assistive device demonstration room where, by appointment, people can try hearing or alerting devices in a no-sales environment. “We do not sell or promote any equipment or service,” Dr. Ghorpade emphasizes. “Our advice is unbiased; our clients can shop for themselves, benefiting from our assistance. Many people tell us they wish they had come to ALOHA before buying their hearing aids. We educate them on how to be informed consumers.”
Dr. Ghorpade speaks from experience: he lost his hearing years ago as a result of quinine shots to control malaria. He had a cochlear implant in 2003, and today he is accompanied everywhere by Rover, his hearing-ear service dog. Among Rover’s many talents, if you call out George’s name, Rover will get his attention and guide George over to you.
ALOHA programs include:
• Weekly peer support group meetings held every Tuesday from 1 to 2 p.m. at the ALOHA office. The meetings feature informative discussions, along with questions, answers, advice and laughter. The support group also is a mentoring group, filled with people who have “been there” and are happy to share their experiences.
• Monthly support group meetings in Sierra Vista and — except during summer — in Green Valley.
• Monthly Desert Cochlear Connections meetings bring together people who want cochlear implants along with those who already have them, as well as audiologists and surgeons specializing in implant technology.
• Classes in beginning sign language and speech reading are offered at least twice a year for a minimal charge.
• First Tuesday of the Month Seminars provide education on new hearing technologies, coping strategies, psychology of hearing loss and related issues.
“We would like to expand ALOHA educational activities and extend our outreach to diverse communities,” Dr. Ghorpade notes.
Many people don’t know, or don’t want to admit, that they have a hearing loss. “There are about 70,000 deaf/HOH individuals in Pima County,” says Dr. Ghorpade. “Ninety-five percent of them could benefit with hearing aids/cochlear implants but only about 23 percent do,” he observes.
“We are a safe haven in which people can find solutions to their hearing loss difficulty,” Butler says. “At ALOHA, they find understanding, support and camaraderie among people who deal with the same difficulty. We often hear words of gratitude from people who found the help they needed to better function in the mainstream of life.”
ALOHA was created in 1984 by Gloria Baral, a teacher who became deaf and sought a hearing loss social group. As there was no such group at that time in Tucson, she created ALOHA. Gloria (who passed away in January 2012) chose the name ALOHA (which means welcome) because she wanted HOH people to feel welcome when they came for help. Twelve people attended the first meeting. Today there are 250 members and many others call or visit the ALOHA office seeking help.
After a number of years of meeting in borrowed or rented locations, a block grant in 1995 enabled ALOHA to pay the down-payment on its current location. The building has a very comfortable, homey feel to it — in fact, it is located in what used to be a home on east Fort Lowell Road.
With only one part-time paid employee, “our volunteers are indispensable to ALOHA,” says Dr. Ghorpade. Volunteer opportunities include working in the office, editing the newsletter, manning a table at health fairs, demonstrating assistive devices, serving on the board of directors, typing at support group meetings, writing and administering grants, being a computer tech, fundraising and helping with yard work and maintenance.
Volunteers also are needed for the Let’s Loop Tucson project, which encourages churches, businesses and public places to install an induction loop system that allows HOH people with a hearing aid telecoil to hear with better clarity.
“Our volunteers have fun! This is not a grim, overly serious organization,” Dr. Ghorpade observes. “We combine work with play and humor to make it worthwhile and enjoyable.”
ALOHA is a 501-c-3 non-profit; funding comes from membership dues, tax-deductible private donations and the support of service clubs. A one-year individual membership is $25; family membership is $30 and a business membership is $50. The annual signature fundraising event is the ALOHA Classic 100 Golf Event; the next golf tournament will be held in the spring of 2013.
To learn more about ALOHA or to volunteer, attend a support group meeting at 4001 E. Ft. Lowell Road, visit www.alohaaz.org, call (520) 795-9887 or check out ALOHA on Facebook.             — Wendy Sweet