It was the gratitude of those she helped that made USF student Heather Hoefer’s spring break trip worthwhile.
She was one of 12 faculty members and students who traveled to the Appalachian Mountains last week and provided hearing aids to the poor.
“They were so appreciative, and when they left, most of them said, ‘Don’t forget us. Come back,'” said Hoefer, a second year student in USF’s Doctor of Audiology (Au.D.) program.
The group collected more than $3,000 – part of which alleviated travel expenses, said Lauren Tolbert, trip organizer and second-year student in Au.D.
Tolbert said the group was able to raise money by sending letters to friends, family members and the community asking for monetary donations.
The students stayed and worked in Beverly, Ky. – 45 minutes from the nearest town, with no grocery store and no cell phone service.
“This population of people have very little materialistically but yet are so grateful for even the smallest things, such as hearing aid batteries, so it was also very humbling,” Tolbert said.
Students conducted about 150 screenings and 50 check-up visits in local churches, she said.
“The majority of people wanted to be able to hear the prayer request in church,” Hoefer said. “With their hearing aids, they are now able to hear the requests and also participate in church activities.”
The Appalachian area is the third most poverty-stricken area in the U.S., where the main source of income comes from working in the local coal mines, Tolbert said.
Large families often share small plots of land, squeezing extended family members into small trailers.
This is the seventh time the Au.D. program has sent a group of students and faculty to the area.
The group partnered with the Hear the World Foundation and donated remaining funds to the organization.
“We chose to partner with Hear the World because it is a mission that is in our own country,” Tolbert said. “So many people focus on international missions, which are great, but so many people forget that there are still … people that need services in our own backyards.”
The Hear the World Foundation was created to raise awareness about hearing loss and to offer advanced hearing technology to underdeveloped countries, according to the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences Web site.
Hoefer said many of the people fitted with hearing aids wanted to contribute to the foundation when they learned they were provided with donations.
“They benefited so much from the hearing aids that they wanted to give money to the cause,” Hoefer said. “This community is more concerned with helping others in need than the money in their pocket, and that’s a beautiful thing.”