A Season for Giving

 Speaking from the Volta Bureau Autumn banner

Emilio Alonso-Mendoza summerDear Alexander Graham Bell Community,

Manhattan and its surrounding neighborhoods are wonderfully festive at this time of the year. The music, the lights and people from around the world all converge into a very special air of holiday spirit. The magic of the holidays is evident everywhere and in everyone.

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to experience this magic once again when I visited New York and northern New Jersey with Sue Schmidberger, our chapter advisor. Our first stop was the Godwin School of the Bergen County Special Services School District. Kathleen Treni, a past president of AG Bell, warmly welcomed us with hot coffee and donuts. She is the principal of both its Hearing Impaired Program (HIP - preschool and elementary) and Secondary Hearing Impaired Program (SHIP - middle and high school). Both programs are housed in the host district of Midland Park and follow its curriculum. This arrangement offers students inclusion opportunities and interaction with age-appropriate peers with typical hearing.

Our tour of HIP included a preview of the holiday show that is produced every year. We were treated to an impromptu performance of two wonderful songs sung by some of the preschoolers. Their voices were loud and strong - it surely put us in the mood for the holiday season! In a second grade classroom we saw what a true collaborative education means for the students in HIP. It looked like a class in a typical mainstream environment, but it had two teachers working together - a general education teacher and a teacher of the deaf. The class was run so smoothly that we had to look very carefully to spot the students who were wearing hearing aids or cochlear implants. 

Students at Bergen County Special Services School
Students at a Bergen County Special Services School

We continued on to the high school where we met with some of the older students in SHIP. I asked them about their plans for the future and they asked me about my background and how I was chosen to be the CEO of AG Bell. Like any group of teens some were shy, some answered questions with brief replies and others stepped forward to try to take over the conversation. It was a pleasure for me to see these older children interact using listening and spoken language with such confidence.

Before leaving New Jersey, I was able to deliver an early holiday gift to Kathleen Treni (which will be shared with all of you very soon!) Her reaction reminded me of a child's who had just received the present she's wished for all year - full of joy and without any pretense or reserve. It was a gift for me to see her surprise and unabashed appreciation. 

Kathleen Treni and Student
Kathleen Treni with a student at a Bergen County Special
Services School

We continued on into New York City, down the east side of Manhattan, to visit Clarke Schools New York. Waiting for us there was the Director Meredith Berger, its Senior Development Officer Lillian Rountree, and the school's Development Associate Christina Danese. Founded in 1867 by Gardiner Green Hubbard, the Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech have a long history of teaching children who are deaf and hard of hearing how to listen and speak. (Its first student, Mabel Hubbard, married our own Dr. Alexander Graham Bell and was instrumental in helping him advance listening and spoken language.) 

Emilio Alonso-Mendoza at Clarke Schools New York
With children at Clarke Schools New York

Housed in a former bank, the tour of Clarke Schools New York proved to be very interesting. Imagine, having an audiological booth that was a bank vault with an entry door that is over a foot thick! But, the best part of the tour was seeing the children, all sitting comfortably on the floor, talking, laughing and learning in small groups. Being an inclusive school, where children with and without hearing loss learn side by side, it was difficult to tell who was who. Speaking with these little ones was a joy. It was heartwarming to see all of them greet their parents when they arrived to take them home at the end of the school day.

Melissa Willis
Executive Director Melissa Willis of
The Children's Hearing Institute

Our last stop was The Children's Hearing Institute in the Gramercy Park area of Manhattan. Founded in 1983 by Dr. Simon Parisier and his wife Elaine, The Children's Hearing Institute has dedicated itself to helping children with hearing loss and their families. For the past three decades, the Institute has pioneered research, education and therapeutic efforts that have immeasurably improved the lives of deaf children. We met with Executive Director Melissa Willis who gave us a wonderful overview of how The Children's Hearing Institute has worked tirelessly to enable children with hearing loss to achieve academic success and be educated in the mainstream. As we celebrate the joy of this holiday season along with its many sights and sounds this quote that appears next to the Institute's logo is especially meaningful " . . . that all may hear the universal language of music." AG Bell's mission is not only to bring spoken language to deaf and hard of hearing children, but to ensure that they can learn to hear all that the world can offer. As an organization each of us is dedicated to ensuring that these goals are achievable for children, students and adults with hearing loss.

As the year ends let's remember that this isn't just the season for spending time with your loved ones, it is also the season of giving. AG Bell kicked off its Annual Year-End Appeal last week, reaching out to new audiences and existing donors alike. We hope that you will become a part of our season of giving by donating to AG Bell at www.agbell.org/donate.

I look forward to seeing all of you in Denver for our convention, and can't wait to see our progress in advancing listening and spoken language in the next year!

Until next week,


Emilio Alonso-Mendoza
[email protected]


To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.
- Bill Wilson