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Rudkin’s message being heard

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Boerne resident is nation’s top advocate for the hearing impaired

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    Boerne’s Emma Faye Rudkin holds the top advocate award she received last week from Oticon Inc. Photo courtesy of Oticon Inc.

Boerne’s Emma Faye Rudkin may be almost totally deaf, but she is getting her message across loud and clear.

Rudkin, 23, was honored by Oticon Inc. by being named the top advocate for helping to show that hearing loss does not limit a person’s ability to achieve, contribute and inspire.

She was one of four individuals honored.

“This year’s winners are a dedicated and diverse group who share a common goal: To eliminate negative stereotypes of what it means to live with hearing loss,” Oticon Inc. said in a statement after last Thursday’s ceremony at its headquarters in Somerset, New Jersey. “Our 2019 award winners are remarkable individuals whose courage, vision and commitment to changing attitudes and opening doors benefits all, but especially people with hearing loss.”

Established in 1997, the national Oticon Focus on People awards program recognizes individuals who have surmounted hearing loss or who have helped others do so, and altered their communities for the better. Oticon’s awards program now has honored more than 280 individuals with hearing loss and hearing care professionals over its 21-year history.

“This past year I had someone sit me down and ask me to take it easy on being too much of advocate … to calm it down a little,” Rudkin told The Boerne Star. “It really shocked me and crushed my spirit a little. I wondered if what I am doing really mattered and if it is worth fighting for justice still.

“I had to remind myself who I am and what I am made to do, which is to advocate and stand up for those who cannot for themselves. This award reassured me that I am exactly doing what I am supposed to be doing in my life. I have a renewed fire to stay on track for what God has called me to do. This award highlighted on a national level that this calling and advocacy battle is worth it always.”

Information from Oticon states it is one of the most innovative hearing device manufacturers with more than 110 years of experience putting the needs of people with hearing loss first. Oticon has spearheaded a number of technological breakthroughs which have made a significant difference for people with hearing loss.

Its awards program is dedicated to honoring individuals with hearing loss and the hearing care professionals who open new possibilities for the hearing impaired community.

“Thank you to all those who voted,” Rudkin wrote on her Facebook page late Thursday. “Fifteen-thousand votes came in and I’m so grateful to have this amazing award.”

Besides advocate, the other categories are student, adult and practitioner.

Rudkin, who said she has a 90 percent hearing loss, has dedicated her life to helping people with the same disability through Aid the Silent, a nonprofit she founded as a teenager in 2015. Today, the program helps economically disadvantaged deaf and hard-of-hearing children and teens reach their full potential and live more fully by increasing access to hearing aids and resources.

Rudkin also created global impact with a self-affirming campaign – #ShowYourAids – that went viral with tens of thousands of people posting their hearing aids and implants.

“The 2019 Focus on People award winners are another group of extraordinary individuals whose advocacy and dedication to making a difference for the hearing-impaired community has impacted countless lives,” said Nancy Palmere, director of consumer marketing and PR for Oticon. “Through their work and incredible accomplishments, these individuals are tearing down preconceived notions about hearing loss.”

First-place winners in the advocacy, student and adult categories received a cash prize, trophy, donation to a charity of their choice and a pair of Oticon hearing aids. The first-place winner in the hearing care practitioner category received a cash prize, trophy and donation to the charity of choice.

“The advocacy category honors individuals who are actively involved in advocacy and support efforts for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community,” Palmere said. “Winners in this category, like Emma Faye, display an optimism and ‘can do’ attitude that inspires and motivates – whether they are trying to change public attitudes, government policy or just one person’s life.”

“I work so much and so hard that I stay in a high-level operating zone for months at a time and often forget how to take care of myself,” Rudkin said. “My life is about others and sacrificing my time for our deaf children and teenagers that this award has made me pause and just be grateful. I am so thankful for the Boerne community and how it has championed Aid the Silent. This award is such a gift to my heart and to the organization that I am in love with my hometown all over again.”

In an earlier Boerne Star story, Rudkin said she suffered through a partial hearing loss at age 3 that has increased over time to a profound level.

“I grew up thinking my voice didn’t matter,” she said. “I thought my life had no purpose. I was desperate and desperate for help.”

She said she learned how to talk properly by observing the positioning of her mouth in a mirror and by placing her hands in front of her therapist’s mouth to feel the vibrations produced by certain sounds.

“My speech is the result of 10 years of therapy,” she said. “My articulation has a distinct sound. Many ask if I am foreign. It’s a different accent they just can’t place.”

She said lip reading is her main source of communication.

At age 14, while a student at the Geneva School of Boerne, she attended a Christian camp that changed everything.

“I started to really follow Jesus and I learned all of my pain could be used for good,” she said. “I came home a different person. All of a sudden, I was full of life. I knew my hearing loss was how God was going to use me.”

At age 16, Rudkin got involved with the Boerne chapter of Young Life, an organization with a mission to introduce adolescents to Jesus Christ and help them grow their faith.

“I started to share my story,” she said. “I learned how to really follow Jesus and pursue my dreams.”

Her nonprofit organization now operates with a $500,000 annual budget financed mainly through grants and donations.

Today, she travels around the country sharing her story and letting others know about the programs Aid the Silent offers to the deaf and hard of hearing community.

The other honorees are Student Catherine Fitzgerald of Mansfield, Massachusetts, adult Tony Reisdorff of Papillion, Nebraska, and practitioner Dr. Jennifer Lightfoot, of Alexandria, Virginia. In addition, Oticon recognized Dr. Amanda Mooneyham, M.D., of Redding, California, with an Outstanding Achievement Award.