This post was originally published on the CoverMyMeds internal blog, summarizing an employee’s participation in GiveBackHack Columbus 2017.
Susan Bradley and her daughter, Eden, were doing a bit of spring cleaning around their home when they stumbled upon something they hadn’t seen in years: Eden’s old hearing aids.
Eden, 11, was born with unilateral hearing loss, also known as single-sided deafness. Her hearing was normal in her left ear, but she was unable to hear high frequencies or pitches in her right ear. She had particular difficulties with words with ‘s’ or ‘f’ sounds. Luckily, Eden was fitted with a hearing aid to help her at a very early age, and as she grew older, she was able to go without it.
So, it sat in a drawer until this past March.
Susan and Eden searched online for a place to donate used children’s hearing aids, but came up short. There were plenty of resources for adults, but none for kids. Inspired by another youngster in her neighborhood who started a non-profit, Eden and her mom sought to create their own.
“I was thinking something kind of small and super simple, and then we were introduced to the idea of social enterprise,” said Susan in a telephone interview. “I was very proud of her.”
The truth is, most private insurance doesn’t cover the expense of hearing aids, even though 37 million people suffer from hearing loss, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And because the price tag on hearing aids can range from $1,000 to $6,000, as many as 75% of adults who need one go without a device. Not to mention, hearing loss can sometimes be genetic, so multiple people in a single family might need assistance, the costs adding up.
“What I really want is for every child to be able to get a hearing aid if they need it,” said Susan. “I don’t want cost to be a factor. Especially when they’re little, that developmental piece is so important.”
Susan and Eden would need help to turn their idea into something tangible, so they set their sights on GiveBackHack. GiveBackHack gives a platform to people with ideas that have a social impact. Hundreds of mentors, developers, designers, and many others also attend the event to help get those ideas off the ground.
“Our goal is to recruit people like Susan and her daughter, and lower the barriers for them to get started in making an impact,” said Suzy Bureau, CoverMyMeds employee and GiveBackHack co-founder.
On the weekend of GiveBackHack, Susan and Eden pitched their idea for Ears On. The proposed non-profit organization would provide free hearing aids to those in need, donated by families across the United States.
“It was scary,” said Eden in an email. “There were a lot of people and we had to stand up in front of everyone and tell them our idea.”
Eight people approached Susan and Eden, wanting to help their cause, and after an intensive weekend of building, the team made their final pitch.
But competition was steep; around 15 teams gathered in a packed Columbus College of Arts and Design auditorium to present their ideas.
Eden fell ill with a fever and lost her voice. She didn’t want that to be an obstacle in Eden’s dream. So, Susan got on stage in front of more than 250 people and passionately made her pitch because, at the very least, she wanted audience members to walk away educated.
When it came time to announce the winners, Susan and Eden were nervous. As the judges rattled off 3rd place and then 2nd, she prepared for the worst.
“I remember leaning over to Eden and saying, ‘I don’t think we won anything, but we did our best’,” she said.
And then they heard their names.
Susan and Eden won $5,000, funded by IGS Energy, to get their project off the ground, and Susan won a scholarship to a three-day Executive Education Seminar through the Tony Wells Foundation.
“I was just blown away by the fact that we had this idea and people thought it was a good idea… people were investing in us,” she said.
“The judges for GiveBackHack in Columbus are prominent members of the top organizations creating a social impact in Central Ohio and beyond,” said Bureau. “Ears On resonated with them because they had a great concept that would make an impact, in their eyes, based on their experience.”
Since then, Ears On has continued to grow. The organization has filed to become a 501(c)(3) non-profit. They’ve grown through publicity such as an interview with NPR, and Eden has been named a HearStrong Foundation Champion for her work in getting kids free hearing aids.
But Ears On doesn’t want to be just a website. Susan said she plans to work with organizations, hospitals, and doctor’s offices to set up donation bins and get families matched with the right hearing aid.
“I just want to help other kids get hearing aids,” said Eden. “It’s been fun running our own non-profit. Not too many kids get to say that.”
And to think, it all started with a bit of spring cleaning.