Giving the Gift of Hearing

Ryan with Jay Leno
Ryan with Jay Leno

Ryan with comedian Jay Leno, host of NBC’s The Tonight Show with Jay Leno from 1992 to 2009

The Starkey Foundation rolled out the red carpet in St. Paul, Minnesota, on July 17 for its 16th annual ”So the World Can Hear Awards Gala.” The celebrity-filled event helped raise $9.5 million for hearing aids for people in need around the world.

The foundation, which grew out of the work of a for-profit company, Starkey Hearing Technologies in Eden Prairie, has given away more than 1.8 million hearing aids to people in need.

”This is a great organization,” said former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. ”They help people to hear who otherwise would have no chance of hearing, and then the world opens up for them.”

Many of the celebrities in attendance have also participated in missions around the globe, working shoulder to shoulder with Starkey employees to help fit individuals with hearing aids.

Former Major League Baseball pitcher Barry Zito traveled to Haiti in January to help deliver hearing aids. “I got to experience what it was like to see a kid’s eyes light up after the first time they heard sound,” Zito said. “I never realized how much of a blessing [being able to hear] really is.”



Former NASA astronauts Buzz Aldrin and John Duke both said that they benefit personally from Starkey hearing aids. “My hearing is awful without my hearing aids.” said Duke. “When I was in the space program, we didn’t use hearing protection. It took a toll on my hearing. I started using hearing aids, and these new technologies are really, really good.”

Gala honorees this year included actress Jennifer Garner, who was honored for her volunteer work with Save the Children. Paul Goldberg, Executive Director and co-founder of PACER, was also honored. PACER is a nonprofit organization that provides support to children with disabilities. Blair was honored for advancing humanitarian efforts in Africa.

Jay Leno was the emcee for the evening. Entertainment was provided by John Mellencamp, the Tenors, and country duo Maddie and Tae. American Idol winner Trent Harmon also took the stage, as did two members of the “The Hollywood Vampires,” Johnny Depp and Alice Cooper.

“Us rockers are probably responsible for a lot of the deafness in the world, so to be able to help someone hear is a very amazing thing for us to be able to do,” said Cooper, drawing laughter from the crowd.

Bill Austin, the Founder of Starkey Hearing Foundation, said that helping people hear is also one of the best ways to build bridges of peace around the world.

“Any fool can find out what’s wrong,” Austin said. “What you need to do is put a little effort into pursuing what’s right and trying to do something to help.” 



See Ryan's interviews on the red carpet.

Photo courtesy of the author