Jeff M. Cohen is the president of CHC’s Board of Directors. This is the transcript of his speech at our centennial gala.

President’s address

October 18, 2010, New York City

100 years ago, a teacher named Edward Nitchie dedicated himself to helping deaf people. But what you need to know is that he was an innovator and a problem-solver. To Nitchie, not being able to hear music or the sounds of nature was deprivation. Not being able to understand spoken language was calamity.

Nitchie was all about helping deaf people find ways to cope. He created a system for lip-reading and he wrote books about training your eyes to link certain lip movements with certain words.

And he started the Nitchie Service League which became the League for the Hard of Hearing, and more recently the Center for Hearing and Communication, now located in New York City and Broward County, Florida.

His granddaughter, Carol Nitchie George, is sitting right over here. I’m pretty sure that he had no idea that 100 years later – after the agency he started had helped over one million people – a guy like me would be standing up here in a tuxedo saluting all of the people who made this possible.

And yet, here I am. With estimates of 38 million people with hearing loss in the US, the need for what we do has never been greater.  As we head into Century #2, I want to tell you how we are going to meet that need. After all, the past 100 years have definitely taught us a thing or two.

First, you need a place to go where professionals care. One original caring teacher evolved into a professional services team of about 50 comprised of audiologists, speech pathologists, mental health professionals, social workers, and technology experts. Today, if your child or parent or friend has a hearing loss or communication challenge, you send that person to CHC.

On our balance sheet, the CHC professionals and their commitment to excellence are the true assets. The dedication of the staff is evidenced by Executive Director Emerita Ruth Green who’s been involved with CHC since the 1950s and still offers awesome advice from her virtual helpdesk.  Past Board Presidents John Scopaz and Joe Labato, who learned from the master, Irving Berelson of course, are a treasure-trove of knowledge and guidance.

I am reminded of this devotion tonight, and every day.

Of those 1 million deaf and hard of hearing people who crossed CHC’s threshold over the last 100 years, two of them belong to me and Shari. Our twins were born deaf in 1996. After receiving audiology services and speech therapy for half their lives at CHC, our kids exhibit the same endearing – and sometimes less than endearing – qualities of other mainstreamed teenagers.

If you can’t hear, how do you learn to speak?  That’s the ultimate communication challenge. As I look around this room, I see the group of people who taught Sam & Zach to hear and to speak, and who put our family back on track. I don’t know how to say it any differently:

The people, the staff who are here tonight; they change people’s lives.

What is it worth to Shari and me to have our deaf teenagers argue with us about curfew, sing songs that we don’t like, use words sometimes that we don’t use?

Everything. It’s worth everything we have.

Now, multiply that figure times 1 million people.

I think that’s the sum value of total good that CHC has done.

How much does it cost to make all that good happen? In real dollar terms, the answer is about 5 million dollars.

$5 million is what it takes annually to run this not-for-profit operation. Charging for our services gets us 40% of our operating budget.

The rest is fundraising.

So that brings me to the second thing we’ve learned from the first 100 years.

CHC cannot do what it does without benefactors. Cochlear support groups, hearing screenings, countless free services and programs. Regardless of ability to pay, we do not turn anyone away. We are the backstop for that parent or senior who has no other place to turn.

Tonight, I want to thank all of you for being here. I am thrilled to report that – so far – to help us sustain CHC – before the auctions – we have raised $815,000.

I would like to ask our Centennial Co-Chairs to stand.

From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you.

You two have led the way with your shining example.

I also want to specifically thank our Benefit Chairs.

Look around tonight and be very proud of what you have led us to achieve.

Finally, to my fellow 34 Board members, thank you so much for making tonight a success in every way. It is an honor and a privilege to serve with you.

As we begin Century #2, deafness and hearing loss issues won’t be going away anytime soon.

Technology continues to improve, but it’s expensive.

And as every parent of a deaf child and every child of a deaf parent knows, technology alone – without the support services and speech & language therapy – isn’t enough.

Yes, these are difficult economic times. And yet, when faced with difficult choices, we have tried hard to choose the path of innovation.  In fact, we cut the ribbon on our new Auditory Processing Center last week. I think Edward Nitchie would be proud.

So, let me end with a request. Help us spread the message about the importance of hearing health. If your parent or child or anyone you know has a hearing loss or communication challenge, send them to CHC.  We offer all the services you could possibly need in one central place. No one else does that.

When someone asks you, ‘Do you know where I can get my hearing tested?’ send them to CHC.  If you do this, you will have a double impact. You help that person get necessary services. And you help insure that CHC will be here for the next family in need.

Tomorrow, our second century of service begins.

Thank you for being here tonight to celebrate our first.

Please enjoy your evening.

Jeffrey M. Cohen
CHC Board President