At first glance, the Creech family look like any happy, beautiful, Southern family. If you look closely, you can see their grace is equally as strong as their grit as they’ve dealt with two children being born deaf, and turned their heartbreak into a heartwarming story.
“When we decided to have children, we never thought they would be deaf, so of course you don’t budget for that. When we had Caroline, and she was deaf we thought, how are we doing to this? What do we do? And just that not only has United Way already thought of that, but that they provide a way, is so amazing.”
Brandon and Kristen Creech are parents to Liam, 6 years old, Caroline, 3 years old, and Katherine, 18 months old. When Caroline failed her newborn hearing test, as parents they felt heartbroken and lost. The follow-up testing revealed profound, bilateral sensory-neural hearing loss. Brandon said, “We didn’t have anybody in our family or friends that were deaf, and we didn’t know what that life looked like… we thought that she will be limited.” They spent their first few days with Caroline in the hospital trying to digest the difficult news and figure out what to do next.
Three years and two cochlear implants later, Caroline is functioning successfully and mastering her speech and hearing above grade level. She attends the auditory-oral education Sound Start program at Savannah Speech and Hearing partially funded by United Way of the Coastal Empire. The program can hold up to eight students at a time from ages 18 months to 6 years old; so that the teacher and paraprofessionals are intimately dedicated to each student’s needs. Caroline started the precursor program, Mommy & Me with only 38 words. A year and a half later, her mom reflects on Caroline’s progress, “Now at the age of3, her speech ranks up with a 6-year-old from her marker testing. For her to have the speech of someone twice her age, that’s pretty impressive.”
Significant growth in such a short amount of time demonstrates the need for accessible programs like Sound Start. Funded programs do not just affect, in this case, the child’s education, but the families and friends beyond the classroom, and the rest of their future. A deaf child will not just have to work harder than other kids to learn, but they incur special education costs of $500,000 during their K-12 public school years and over $1 million in their lifetime. This program eradicates most of those costs for these families and communities by closing their learning gaps and getting them ready to transition to a mainstream education. Caroline will be ready to move into a regular classroom within the next three years for kindergarten like any regular kid.
Tracey Edenfield, Program Director of Sound Start and preschool teacher states, “Without United Way funds, we just wouldn’t have the availability and the tools that we need to get everything done… instead of asking where’s the money? Now we focus directly on the kids and their development.”
“If there was not a United Way, would there even be a Sound Start? And if there was, could we even afford that? It makes Caroline being able to communicate with us possible.”
When she was 20 months and entered the program, her hearing age was only that of a 12-month-old. Since then, she has learned 2-3 words every week, and over time that adds up to a big difference in a small child.
Kristen tells us that United Way, “allows us to afford the services that Caroline needs. In order for her to go to this program, I had to quit my job… so to go from a two-income family to one, had a huge impact on us…it takes a toll on your life. United Way makes it affordable for [Caroline] to go to this school and receive these services that she needs to thrive.”
United Way takes on some of that financial responsibility for effective programs like Sound Start, and other needs to better our community. Edenfield passionately sees the power of United Way as, “the impact is not, ‘do we put all of our family funds on this part of education for this temporary time?’, but now ‘we can just focus on our family and who she is in our family’ because United Way has been so generous.” And that is exactly what the Creech family has been able to focus on with Caroline.
Another hardship hit when their third child, Katherine, also failed her newborn hearing test. But the Creech’s had a different reaction to the news this time. Kristen shared, “When we talked about having a third child, we knew it would be heartbreaking if it happens again. But there’s a hope! Because there is this program that is going to help her, and she will be just as successful as her sister is. And we’re not as fearful to travel this road again.”
And looking back how far they’ve come on their journey, Brandon chimes in, “I wish we hadn’t wasted all the time in the hospital and her newborn stage being devastated and crying. We didn’t know what to do or if there was a solution to the problem. And now we are finally able to start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”