Jon and Libby Westerman have experienced both sides of the deaf and hard of hearing community’s opportunities. As a parent of an OVV graduate and a board member, Jon is well aware of the “numbers” and impact Ohio Valley Voices has on the children and families’ lives that attend the program. Jon and Libby have witnessed difficulties her parents have experienced in life, both of whom are Deaf.
“My son, Jack, now nine, was two days old when we found out he was deaf through a newborn hearing screening,” Jon comments. “We always knew it was a possibility, but it was still a shock. My wife’s experience growing up in a deaf household was challenging. Educational and communication opportunities afforded to her parents as children were extremely limited. My in-laws, who are both deaf, continue to lead disadvantaged lives due to the lack of opportunities when they were children. We wanted Jack to have the same opportunities as everyone else. We couldn’t let hearing loss hold him back in life.”
Jon and Libby were very aggressive in searching for ways to provide their son the opportunity to listen and speak. When Jack was just six-weeks-old, he was fitted for high-powered hearing aids at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. He received a cochlear implant, also at Cincinnati Children’s, at age two.
“We started our journey with Ohio Valley Voices when Jack was just ten weeks old. Libby was the one who jumped in full-time to help Jack,” Jon adds. “She attended an OVV parent education program and was totally dedicated.”
Jon attributes Jack’s reading comprehension, literacy, and academic achievement to the early intervention services he received at Ohio Valley Voices. “OVV’s educational process tremendously benefited Jack and our entire family. Fortunately, treatments and learning opportunities that were not available for Libby’s parents are there to help him.”
“We found Ohio Valley Voices when we were researching options for Jack,” says Jon. “I thought we were going to have to move away from Cincinnati. We had never heard of OVV. It turns out that OVV is one of the best programs of its kind in the world, and it’s right here in Cincinnati. OVV is one of our area’s best-kept secrets.”
According to Jon, OVV is results-oriented and data-driven. “The results speak for themselves,” he added. OVV has a unique blend of a medical and educational environment. “It’s not clinical; it’s more of an extended family,” Jon explains. “The younger the child is when they enter our program, the more favorable the outcome. Over 80% of children entering OVV before they are three years old graduate—typically by the first grade—with speech/language, academic, and reading abilities on par with their hearing peers. What’s even more amazing to me is that nearly 90% of OVV graduates who are 18 years old or older have gone on to post-secondary education.” Nationally, only 45% of non-oral deaf individuals (i.e., individuals who use sign language only) do not graduate high school and only 5% graduate college. “I think this speaks to the immensely positive impact OVV has on an entire lifetime—and even generations—not just the few years the children are in our program,” Jon says.
“As the parent of a hearing-impaired child that has experienced a great deal of success at OVV, I cannot overstate what this organization means to my family. It has changed the prospects of our son’s future and the future of so many hearing-impaired children just like him. The work that OVV does for these children and their families is so impactful, and the results are so amazing, it is difficult to imagine our life without them.”
As a board member, Jon thinks OVV’s most significant need is to expand the building at the Loveland campus. “We’ve nearly doubled enrollment over the last ten years. We’re bursting at the seams. It’s a good problem to have, but no less a real challenge. I want every parent of a young child with a hearing loss to experience the joy and hope we found at OVV.” As a board member, Jon’s primary goal is to raise awareness of the program to serve more children. “Our ability to raise money for the capital campaign to expand the school building and fund an endowment will ensure the long-term financial sustainability of the organization,” he states.
“I want us to be able to serve every child in this area whose parents are currently unaware we exist. Every week matters for these children. The clock is ticking on our ability to help.” Jon added, “One-third of the children who attend OVV come from families below the poverty line. In our 21-year history, no child has ever been turned away from OVV for financial reasons. We’re working hard to ensure this continues.”
Jon sums up his involvement with OVV, “I’ll continue to be part of OVV for a long time. As much time as we’ve dedicated to this incredible organization, we get so much more out of it than we put in. I feel incredibly fortunate to be a part of this.”
Jon and Libby’s “all in attitude” extends to their volunteer work on behalf of OVV. Jon joined the Board in 2018 and currently serves as vice president and a member of the Finance and Governance committees. Libby has chaired the annual fundraising Gala committee for the last three years. Their son, Jack, graduated from OVV in 2018 and currently attends Loveland Elementary School.
To learn more about the Westerman’s journey, listen to their 2018 interview here: