MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – St. Paul will turn into Tinsel Town this weekend during the 13th annual So The World May Hear Awards Gala at the RiverCentre.
Sunday's gala draws the biggest movie stars and athletes to St. Paul to raise money to provide free hearing aids for hundreds of thousands of people around the world, and in America. After all, hearing loss affects one in 10 Americans.
The passion to transform lives stems from an ah-ha moment years ago. Bill Austin says he became a doctor to help people, and he's since made it his mission to improve lives around the world through hearing.
"No one could do that much alone, and I wanted to be a part of a bigger contribution to life," he said.
Austin and his wife, Tani, founded the Starkey Foundation in 1984. Austin considers it the best job he could have. He's still very much active in fitting and distributing hearing aids, and prides himself in not using the office provided to him by his own company.
He says the work he does with the foundation feeds his soul.
"You've got one life to live, one life to give. You've got to make it count for as much as you can," Austin said.
The Starkey Foundation's contributions extend from its Eden Prairie offices to around the world. It's given away hearing aids in 110 countries, and Austin's passion has influenced movie stars, athletes and politicians to get involved.
One of those athletes is NFL wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald Jr., who's gone on seven life-changing mission trips with Austin and his team since 2009.
"You get a chance to talk with him, and you see the impact he's having on humanity. You want to be a part of it," Fitzgerald said.
For the football player, each trip is memorable, but a recent visit in Mexico reminded him that hearing is a delicate thing many of us take for granted.
Simply said, he considers time spent with one young boy an experience that changed his life.
Surrounded by the boy's family, Fitzgerald fit the child's hearing aids, then turned them on.
"His family saw it, and they got so emotional," Fitzgerald said. "I lost it. They lost it. It was one of those moments, you know, where you see somebody's life change. Not just his, but his family's and how they all communicate."
Austin said hearing is the basis for a child's learning and development. Eighty-five percent of what they learn comes through their ears -- including speech, complex thoughts and emotions.
The gift of hearing transforms lives, and Austin believes it can change the world.
"When you connect someone back to their family -- and back to the community through hearing when they've been shut off -- it's just like giving them life," Austin said.
The Starkey Foundation fit 131,000 people for free hearing aids last year.
It's pledged to donate a million more before this decade ends.
The So The World May Hear Awards Gala is slated for Sunday, July 28. The red carpet will have public viewing area starting at 3 p.m. Some of the celebrities in attendance include: Ashton Kutcher, Lionel Ritchie, Marc Anthony, Kristi Yamaguchi, Tony Hawk, Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen and Christian Ponder.
For more, go to the Starkey Hearing Foundation.
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