Friday, October 31, 2014

Century-Old Christmas Carol Event 'Snowballs' into Grants for Center

Volunteers and staff of the Center for Hearing & Speech carol at Hacienda Mexican Restaurant last year

Singing “Do You Hear What I Hear?” is a great way to usher in the holiday season.

But for low-income children in the St. Louis metropolitan area with speech and communications disorders, it can be a painful reminder of what they can’t do.
The Center for Hearing & Speech, along with the non-profit St. Louis Christmas Carols Association, seeks to change that tune.
In 1911, businessman and philanthropist William H. Danforth and his friends got together around the holidays and sang Christmas carols house-to- house. Their intent was to bring joy and good will to their neighbors. They were unexpectedly showered with money for their efforts. The dollar bills and change they received were donated to the Children’s Aid Society that helped needy St. Louis area youngsters.

The caroling tradition ‘snowballed’ into the non-profit agency now named the St. Louis Christmas Carols Association. Its chairman of the board is Donald Danforth III, great grandson of the original Christmas caroler.

Its mission is two-fold, said executive director Joan Koontz. “It promotes caroling as a way to promote peace and good will, and monies collected from caroling groups that participate throughout the St. Louis metropolitan area are distributed to area agencies that focus on the needs of children,” she said.

The agency celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2011. During that time it’s brought in $3 million, mostly in change and dollar bills, Koontz said. 

Last year, 38 agencies were awarded grants of $750 to $1100. These small allocations serve a nice purpose, Koontz said. “It’s not a lot of money but frees up resources that (a non-profit) can use for something else,” she said.

With its $750 grant from 2013, the Center for Hearing & Speech purchased one iPad, along with Boardmaker, a supportive interactive visual software program.

The iPad and its software allow Center speech/language therapists to customize treatment programs, chart progress, and even create printed materials to assist children and teens in therapy sessions and for practice at home.

The Center’s speech/language pathologists received iPad training in 2011, said Gina Cato, chief, speech/language pathologist.

Although it’s only been in use a few months, the iPad gives clear, immediate feedback to clients and provides a variety of therapy activities, she said.

“J is a three-year-old speech/language client who was absolutely thrilled to hear her voice replayed after she pronounced the word cup correctly.  The remainder of her therapy session was spent on other activities that emphasized correct pronunciation of the letter ’p’.”

“The iPad keeps her motivated in therapy while we’re learning the new sound and during play activities without the iPad,” Cato said.
M is an adolescent practicing social skills.  The iPad records his voice and replays his conversations.  He has an immediate and clear picture of what he’s said, how to take turns during conversations and practice listening skills.

The iPad was introduced by Apple in 2010. One of its first apps was designed to help those who are not easily understood and those without a voice communicate.

Proloquo2Go gives users a grid of buttons that when pressed, can compose a sentence that the app speaks for them. Users who type can type text and the app will speak the text.
“It’s used by people ages two and older with a variety of diagnoses including autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and stroke,” said David Niemeijer, Founder & CEO of AssistiveWare, the Netherlands- based company that has worked on and perfected the technology since 2005. 

“It is amazing to be able to work on an app such as Proloquo2Go that can provide people a way to communicate and express themselves,” said Niemeijer.

Since 2012, volunteers and staff for the Center for Hearing & Speech have sung Christmas carols and collected donations for the St. Louis Christmas Carols Association.

So you’re not Adele or Nat King Cole?  It doesn't matter, said Martha Coleman, the Center’s Communications & Volunteer Manager.  “Just bring yourself and a smile.  It’s a lot of fun,” she said.

The Center is expected to carol for about an hour or so sometime in December at a location near its Manchester Road office.  Those interested in suiting up and singing out please call Coleman at 314-968-4710. 

Any group can sing and collect funds for the St. Louis Christmas Carols Association.  Visit the website at  or call 314-863-1225 for more information.

The Center for Hearing & Speech is a 501 3 (c) non-profit organization that in 2013 provided $1.7 million in school screenings, speech therapy and audiology services to residents in metropolitan St. Louis and the surrounding communities.

It is a proud member of the United Way.

The Center can be reached at 314-968-4710 or check it out on the web at    


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