GREENFIELD — Tammy Benefiel sat in the far corner of the audiologist’s office, fiddling with the small lapel microphone on her shirt while her son, Justin, waited in a room on the opposite side of the building.
The 14-year-old was adjusting his hearing aid when he suddenly heard the loud and clear sound of his mother’s voice for the first time. What’s your favorite football team? she asked him.
Green Bay Packers, came Justin’s excited reply.
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Justin’s classmates at Greenfield Central Junior High School student volunteered to raise money to buy Justin, who has hearing loss, his own personal streamer — a cutting-edge piece of audiological technology he plans to use at home and church.
“I just really wished that I could hear my parents,” Justin said.
Loud and clear
The streamer is a personal device that is bluetooth compatible with Justin’s hearing aid, said Dr. Chris McQueeney, the Benefiel family’s audiologist. The device removes background noise and clears up the speaker’s voice; Justin can understand significantly better when people speak to him using this special equipment, McQueeney said.
The junior high provided Justin with a streamer solely for school purposes, but without one at his house, the teenager regularly experienced difficulty and frustration when trying to talk with his parents and sister, who don’t know sign language nearly as well as he does.
“He really likes to correct us when we make mistakes,” Benefiel joked. “When we sign something wrong, he’s all over us.”
Now that Justin’s classmates pooled their money to get him his own streamer, a whole new world of communication has opened up for the entire family, McQueeney said.
The streamer works up to 50 feet away, so Justin can now hear his parents speaking in any room in his house when they’re talking at a normal volume, Benefiel said.
When Justin first heard his mother speaking to him, he said he was initially surprised by her voice, which was so high-pitched, he thought she sounded like a ghost, laughed Andrea Espich, Justin’s interpreter.
After hearing his mom, Justin immediately asked her to hand the microphone to his dad. His dad’s voice sounds deep and gravelly, Justin said.
“Dad sounds like Batman,” Justin added with a chuckle.
Scotty Benefiel, Justin’s dad, said he was stunned by how easy it’s become to communicate with his son since they installed the streamer in their home.
Scotty Benefiel and his son are in a local bowling league together, and he’s looking forward to using the streamer to better teach Justin how to throw a hook, he said with a smile.
Justin is known by his classmates for his friendly face and personality, said Sara Garringer, Justin’s wellness teacher. She sees other students approach him in the hallway all the time, asking him to teach them a word in sign language.
He’s also exceptionally motivated, she added. Justin lost more than 30 pounds this year in her physical education, health and fitness classes.
One day, Espich told Gaarringer about something Justin had mentioned in passing one day. The boy told his interpreter he’d love a streamer like the one they used in the classroom for his house.
That gave Garringer an idea.
One of the books Garringer teaches in her class, “The Energy Bus,” uses the metaphor of a school bus to teach students about living a healthy, well-balanced life, she said. One of the books important lessons is “loving your fellow passengers,” showing empathy for other people in your life and the struggles they face daily.
Garringer used the message from the book and talked to all six of her classes about her plan. If everyone pitched in a dollar or more, they could work together to do something for one of their fellow passengers, she said.
Her students were in.
Students began donating cash at an surprising rate, Garringer said. Some gave their lunch money to the cause.
And word spread. Garringer quickly began to get phone calls from parents and grandparents who wanted to help out as well. They began collecting money around Thanksgiving, and before long, the group was able to raise enough to pay for Justin’s new streamer in full.
“One of the most important things you can do as a person for your wellness is give and serve,” Garringer said. “It brings a lot of joy, and it’s contagious.”
They didn’t look at helping as a fundraiser, Garringer said. It was more of a community coming together to help out one of its neighbors.
“We often overlook the opportunities we have to love other people,” she added.
McQueeney declined to disclose the exact price of the streamer system. But Tammy Benefiel said the students raised more than $500 together in their fundraising efforts.
The boy’s mother said she could never give enough thanks to the students and parents who helped her family. They don’t realize the gift they’ve given, because the Benefiels never would have been able to afford the equipment on their own.
“I’m still in shock they even did it, to be honest,” Tammy Benefiel said. “You just don’t hear things like this, you know?”
“For the first time in 14 years, he’s really hearing us clearly.”