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A special holiday gift: Local business, nonprofit group give the gift of hearing

Timothy, 28, of Patchogue has a bone disease that causes adult-onset hearing loss. His hearing loss began in 2009. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Eight people have one more thing to be grateful for this Thanksgiving: the gift of hearing.

The Foundation for Sight and Sound, McGuire’s Hearing Centers and ReSound hearing aids teamed up for the eighth annual “Day of Hearing for the Holidays,” providing state-of-the-art hearing aids, fitting, fine-tuning and a year of free service to hearing-impaired individuals who need the assistance.

“The recipients are chosen by my staff,” said David Carr, owner of McGuire Hearing Centers, which has 10 locations across Long Island — including Riverhead and Greenport — and in NYC.

“They are people who fall through the cracks,” he said, for whom the devices, which cost $5,000 or $6,000 retail, are out of reach financially. “In the past, we helped a mom and children who all had hearing problems. She’d spent over $40,000 on hearing aids for her kids.”

Five people were fitted with new hearing aid devices Saturday at McGuire’s Riverhead office.

Paul Moore could not contain his joy Saturday after receiving new hearing aids from the Foundation for Sight and Sound. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Among them was Paul Moore of Riverhead, who could not contain his joy when the McGuire audiologist inserted the hearing aids in his ears. Grinning broadly, Moore kept wiping away the tears, but they would not stop flowing.

“This is beautiful,” he gushed. “I love it. It’s been a very long time,” Moore said.

Like Moore, many hearing impaired people rely on lip-reading or even sign language. Some just withdraw into themselves. It’s a common problem among the elderly, said Foundation for Sight and Sound founder Mitch Shapiro of Smithtown.

The foundation’s “Help America Hear” program was initially aimed at young adults, to help them gain independence, Shapiro said. “Now we’re finding a great need among the elderly.”

“It’s a very tough industry,” said Carr, who has served as resident of the board of the Foundation for Sight and Sound since 2010. “The instruments are expensive and there’s stigma involved, especially among the elderly. We spend more of our time in counseling, working to break down the denials.”

Today’s high-tech devices are miniature computers, Carr said. “They are pre-programmed for a particular person’s needs, with fine-tuning based on the person’s preferences.”

The nonprofit foundation fundraises with a golf tournament, poker night and support from Rotary clubs — Shapiro is a member of Smithtown Rotary. This year, Riverhead Rotary provided the Foundation for Sight and Sound with a $3,000 donation. Rotary president Angela Reese is a longtime supporter of the organization and chose to support it as her “president’s project,” said the club’s president-elect Daniel Lanieri, who presented the foundation with a ceremonial check on Saturday.

Shapiro, a motivational speaker and stand-up comedian, knows what it’s like to be deprived of two of the five senses. He lives with Usher Syndrome, the leading cause of deaf-blindness.

“I have worn hearing aids for 50 years and now have two cochlear implants,” he said. His vision loss has made it impossible for him to see objects, colors or read. His service dog, Sammy, age 8, accompanies him and guides him through daily life.

“Being blind and deaf is not life threatening – it certainly is, however, life altering,” Shapiro said in a statement. “One of the most important things I have learned through my personal experience is that there is only one way to move – forward …One step at a time.”

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Denise Civiletti

Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.