April 9, 2011

If I were leader of the free world

Optimist International has extended the oratorical contest to include students with hearing deficits. Called the Communication Contest for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, students up to age 19 compete against one another to earn $2,500 scholarships in 49 districts around the world.

Like their hearing counterparts, the students prepare and present a speech on the same topic. This year it is, "If I were leader of the free world, the first issue I would address would be..."

Yesterday in Eagle, Idaho, the Eagle Optimist Club hosted the first communication contest for deaf and hard of hearing students in the state in many years. Six students participated and three will advance to the district competition. It was a good start on an excellent program according to Chairperson Myrna Harris. "It was good this year, and next year will be even bigger and better," she said.

Getting the program started in Idaho was a two-year project. Making the connections and plugging into the deaf community took some time, and honestly, happened accidentally as part of another program that Harris was involved with through the Ada County Sheriff's Department where she serves as an outreach and volunteer coordinator. Of course, it wouldn't have happened if the club had not been alert and reaching out to others.

In Burnaby, British Columbia, the Optimist Club has connected to the deaf community through Deaf BC. For nearly ten years, they have held the Communications Contest for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing at the Michael J. Fox Auditorium. This year 27 students participated. Their top three contestants will meet Eagle's top three at the end of April in the District finals.

It is rewarding to start a new project and extend the reach of Optimist Clubs. It is especially fulfilling to touch the lives of students who face challenges with grace and poise.  I believe that Optimist Club members learn from our students every year in the oratorical contests. Their views are fresh and full of hope and amazement. Through them, we experience optimism in action.
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