Hearing and Speech Agency to open new home

Ribbon-cutting set for today at facility

May 05, 2004|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

THIS SWIRL — Visitors to the Hearing and Speech Agency's new building on the outskirts of Northwest Baltimore can't help but be struck by the swirl of curves on the floor of the lemon-colored atrium.

This swirl - the shape of the human ear's cochlea - offers a larger-than-life glimpse into the work of the nonprofit agency dedicated to helping children and adults from the metropolitan area with speech, language and hearing needs.

Today, the state-of-the art $7.3 million facility will officially open, and the agency hopes the 47,800-square-foot quarters will allow it to grow beyond the 3,000 clients now being served each year.

"If I build it, they will come," Susan H. Glasgow, the agency's executive director, said. "But only if they know about it."

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is expected to preside at the ribbon-cutting. The building is in a park-like setting near the corner of Metro and Mount Hope drives, close to the headquarters of such groups as the American Red Cross, the Girl Scouts and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

As Glasgow walked through rooms equipped to treat major and minor hearing loss, she described the clients helped by the agency. Some are children with severe hearing loss or language difficulties due to autism. Others are baby boomers raised on rock 'n' roll who need their hearing checked. "You know: Uncle Joe who seems hard of hearing the last two Thanksgivings," said Debra Mitchell, an agency spokeswoman.

As the agency moved from a Victorian-era building in Charles Village to its new address, a young man told Glasgow - who selected the bright colors on the chairs, walls and carpets - that he didn't know deaf people could have such a nice place.

"I found that very touching," she said. "It's just like Candyland to us, so beautiful and uplifting."

Glasgow and others say it's a proud hour in the history of an agency started in 1926 by Baltimore's first lip-reading teacher, Olive Whildin. The Speech Readers' League of Baltimore provided a community center and offered job help for people with hearing difficulties.

Over the years its mission expanded to include the Gateway School for 50 children with speech, language or communication disabilities; classes in American Sign Language; an acoustically wired children's gym and cafeteria; audiology sound booths; an interpreter referral service; and speech-language therapy suites and services. It is the largest agency of its kind in Maryland, officials said, with 70 employees.

"The thread that wraps around it all is communication," Glasgow said.

Round tables with tiny chairs are set up for children's meals so they can become accustomed to everyday table talk, she said.

One of the agency's success stories is Taylor Riley, a 7-year-old girl from Northeast Baltimore. The Gateway pupil wears a cochlear implant device that has restored some of the hearing she started losing a few years ago.

"Now she's playing a little catch-up," said John Sloan, a clinical program specialist. "Now she engages people, but she has to learn to put words to body language."

Olga Polites, a clinical director, said Taylor had made a breakthrough in her one-on-one sessions. "I just read her a book, and she answered all the questions," she said.

Taylor's mother, Ureka Gordon, who works at the school as a teacher's assistant, said her daughter's disposition has improved. "She likes to talk now, and she'll talk you to death," she said.

Most of the money for the new building, named for Harry and Jeanette Weinberg, was privately raised. The Weinberg foundation, the largest donor to the project, is expected to contribute $1 million, agency officials said.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.