Following is a guest post from Anna Merrey-Welcome, a CHC friend and volunteer.

On October 21, 2013, 500 guests helped raise $550,000 at the Center for Hearing and Communication’s 2013 Feast. It was the 20th annual event, and the mood of joy and appreciation was reflected with a truly lovely sunset at the start of the evening. Taking place at Pier 60 in Chelsea Piers, the event space has wall-to-ceiling windows right over the Hudson and a spectacular view.

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Bid in the silent auction via iPad… Brilliant!

Bidders in the silent auction snagged prizes like tickets to open-captioned broadway performances, jewelry and rare watches, and exotic getaways to Lake Como, Italy; Jamaica; and more. Guests were able to bid via one of the 150 iPads circulating the room, meaning they didn’t have to choose between browsing the auction table or enjoying the culinary creations of 25 top NYC chefs.

True to CHC form, the room was full of warm and open communication—I met so many interesting people who shared their experiences as CHC clients, donors, staff members, and activists for people with hearing loss. Conversations and laughter abounded over wine provided by 15 vendors from around the world as guests mingled with friends, chefs, and celebrities from local NYC news stations, including Ernie Anastos and Bill Ritter.

After closing the silent auction and tasting stations, the second half of the evening began with guests taking their seats for desserts, port, and a warm welcome from Mr. Ritter. He spoke about CHC’s long history of providing services to the New York City and Fort Lauderdale, Florida communities—whether through programs at schools, the mobile audiology unit, or the clinical services offered downtown.

Moving, upbeat speeches…

The next speakers had all been directly aided by CHC. Heather Bogdanoff Baker spoke about her experiences at CHC, as an adult feeling isolated and devastated by hearing loss finally finding a space full of others just like her. She spoke with excitement about what the board has been focused on as CHC looks to the future.

Dr. Thomas Roland was presented with CHC’s 2013 Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian award, and the reasons why he was so worthy were expressed dearly and clearly by Ms. Daphna Brainson. Years ago, it was CHC and Dr. Roland that helped her navigate the challenges and emotions of raising a son who wasn’t ever supposed to speak—according the professionals he’d seen early on.

In fact, that son, Gabriel, is now a high school senior with a warm, caring aura and charming confidence (not to mention enviable height!), making him a truly room-filling presence. He took the stage to share his childhood memories of CHC, cochlear implant surgeries and follow-up care, and learning to cope at school. He told us that, ironically, what the doctors said he would never do (that is, articulate himself verbally) he’s better at it than the majority of his peers! If only we’d all had such great practice in our youth.

Gabriel welcomed Dr. Roland to the stage and presented him the 2013 Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian award. Dr. Roland spoke to his years of service here and abroad. His humbleness and passion for helping others came through as he spoke about his research on neurofibromatosis (cancerous growths at the end of auditory nerve cells) and cochlear implant surgeries and otology services performed in Uganda and other developing nations. It’s crystal clear how deserving Dr. Roland is of this wonderful honor.

At any other gala-type event, this would be the part where guests would start to make their way home, it being a Monday night and all. But the next part was too gripping to lose anyone’s attention. An extremely intense live auction experience was deployed by none other than Antique Roadshow’s Nicholas Dawes. Mr. Dawes sent the lucky (and very generous) winners home with five premium, only-in-New-York-City experiences.

What I discovered

Lastly, I want to emphasize how wonderfully accessible this event was. Every part of the program was American Sign Language (ASL-) interpreted by an energetic and mesmerizing interpreter, and “live captioned” onto two large screens on either side of the stage. I’d never seen this setup before, and originally assumed that all the speeches and been written beforehand so they could be typed up and displayed. But then I realized the captions, while accurate and with practically no lag time, included every off-the-cuff remark or chuckle from the speakers. I’m a friend of several people with hearing loss, and I’ve seen the types of situations they struggle in. I was so impressed with this solution and surprised I’d never seen it before. I noticed that even I, known for an almost scarily acute sense of hearing, moved my eyes to the captions a couple times to make sure I’d caught something correctly.

All in all, I had a blast and am so proud to be connected to this extraordinary, humble organization, its supporters, and thankful clients alike.

-Anna Merrey-Welcome