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Learning Advocacy Skills and Making New Friends at AGBell’s LOFT

July 22nd, 2013 by | Tags: , , | Comments Off

LOFT (Leadership Opportunities for Teens) is a fantastic summer program for teens with hearing loss.  It was founded in 1996 by two Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf (AGBell) members, Ken Levinson, a cochlear implant recipient, and Donna Dickman. The LOFT program has been running for a total of seventeen years in various places throughout the country and accepting teenagers with hearing loss from all over the world.  Last week, I had the amazing opportunity to attend the 2013 LOFT program in Los Angeles, California for five days. I met and quickly became friends with twenty-one other teenagers, who all share similar experiences. If I could describe my experience at LOFT in one word, it would be—AMAZING!!!  It was a wonderful and life changing experience.

Jessica, Anna, Jessie, Monica, and Kara build spaghetti tower at AGBell's LOFT.

Jessica, Anna, Jessie, Monica, and Kara build spaghetti tower at AGBell’ s LOFT.

I knew about the LOFT program for many years by hearing about it from other friends with hearing loss who told me it was the best time of their life, but I never considered applying for it until this past January.  Last July 2012, I met my close friend, Anna, who I first met at Cochlear Celebration in San Antonio, Texas in 2007, for lunch when she was visiting my hometown.  She and I talked about applying to the LOFT program together because it would be a wonderful opportunity for us to see each other again, meet other people with hearing loss, and make new friends.

During my time at LOFT, I met many other teenagers with hearing loss who share similar hearing loss experiences.  My week was filled with team building activities, learning public speaking skills, and discussions on self-advocacy and access to technology.  It was surprising for me to discover that there are other teenagers who understood my struggles. For the first time in my life, I no longer felt alone.  We talked about how to obtain specific accommodations at school and bullying.

During each LOFT session, there was a challenging activity.  One of the most challenging activities was the skydiving stimulation!  We went to Universal City where they had an indoor sky diving stimulation.  While we had a blast with skydiving, it was extremely difficult because we had to learn how to coordinate our body well for sky diving and maintain it.   During another session, we did a team-building activity called “The Spaghetti Tower.”  With a box of spaghetti and a bag of marshmallows, we had to make the tallest tower. The activity focused on working together as a team. Our team unfortunately lost because we took apart our tower because we didn’t think it was tall enough.  The winning team of Spaghetti towers had the opportunity to pie our counselor, Ken, in the face. According to Ken, this has never been done before. Even though my team lost, it was still fun watching Ken get pied in the face by another team.

In evenings, we all went out to dinner in Los Angeles and enjoyed being able to communicate with each other through hearing and speaking.  We shared about how amazing the cochlear implant is, and how it made us part of the hearing world, allow us to attend a mainstream school and form friendships with hearing people.  On the last night of LOFT, we spent time together in a hotel suite. Oh boy!  We were LOUD just because we were talking! One of the major advantages of having a cochlear implant is being able to change the program to a noise setting. I was amazed that I could hear everyone clearly, even though it was extremely loud because everyone was talking like crazy.

In so many ways, LOFT has made a difference in my life because I learned a lot about self-advocacy. Because I often struggle doing group work because of my hearing loss, I learned that I shouldn’t let people speak more than me just because I can’t hear them.  I would highly recommend other teenagers with hearing loss to apply to LOFT. They will have chance to meet other teens with hearing loss from around the world and have the experience of a lifetime.

 

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