Starkey and Delta Zeta: Building Bears and Relationships

For Bill and Tani Austin and Starkey Hearing Foundation, it’s all about helping the world to hear. The Austins are among the hardest working people I’ve ever met. They travel the world to give the gift of hearing. I witnessed them in action last August when my daughter Julia and I went on a Starkey mission trip to Peru. It was an experience that opened my mind and my heart. As I watched my twenty-year-old fit hearing aids on young children and older adults, I knew the week we spent in Peru was ultimately more valuable than the college education I was paying for.

Helping the world to hear is a huge undertaking that can’t be accomplished by one couple. So the Starkey team is resourceful and collaborative. They’ve developed a diverse network of volunteers, ranging from former presidents to professional athletes and musicians – and even an international sorority – to help them achieve their mission. Most volunteers never go on a mission. But they do important work by raising funds and awareness.

Delta Zeta Sorority has chapters throughout the United States and Canada. Its nearly 255,000 members join as college students but many remain involved throughout their lifetimes. Delta Zeta has been committed to speech and hearing as its philanthropy for many years. So joining forces with Starkey was a natural fit.

I met one of the alumnae, Diane Stecher, at Starkey’s Eden Prairie headquarters this past week. Diane, who lives in St. Louis, Missouri, traveled to the Twin Cities to participate in one of Starkey’s local missions (in which hearing aids are gifted to those who cannot afford them). Diane explained that Delta Zeta’s values are very congruent with Starkey’s so the relationship really resonates with the women. She expects it to be an enduring one.

It would appear that way. Delta Zeta’s 165 collegiate and alumnae chapters have gone all in for Starkey with a $5 million pledge to be fulfilled over five years. The members are creative. Leveraging a relationship with Build-A-Bear Workshop, the sorority members purchase and dress bears in outfits reflecting their own personalities – along with plastic hearing aids replicating the ones the children will wear. The kids love them. The women have a chance to be creative and to bring a smile to a child’s face.

On Sunday, Diane and other members of the Delta Zeta leadership team will attend the Starkey gala in St. Paul. Delta Zeta will be honored for its commitment to Starkey’s work, along with President George W. Bush and No Limits.

I love the fact that the collegiate women are embracing a need beyond their own. At a young age they are experiencing the satisfaction of helping others. While most will never go on a mission and experience the delight of fitting a hearing aid and watching someone hear for the first time, as Julia and I did a year ago, they are still part of an effort that is greater than themselves. And that’s a lesson that doesn’t require a tuition payment.

You can read more about my experience with Starkey in Bitter or Better: Grappling With Life on the Op-Ed Page.