No Limits for Deaf Children: The Humility of Real Heroes
When it comes to being a hero, there are many times when we recognize someone as a hero for doing something that is, at its core, very basic. Caring for others. Speaking up in the face of injustice. Sacrificing their personal wellbeing and comfort for the advancement of a cause. These are things that should not have to be celebrated. Yet, there is nothing wrong with celebrating a person, a group or an organization who is willing to step up, take a stand, and work with others to make the world better for underserved communities and those who feel marginalized and forgotten.
This is the mantle that Dr. Michelle Christie carries with her everyday. As Founder and Executive Director of No Limits for Deaf Children, she is responsible for the direction of the organization and for ensuring that the children, the parents and the supporters involved are informed, engaged, connected and are benefitting from the organization performing and fulfilling its mission. Since it’s inception in 1996, according to Christie, No Limits for Deaf Children has changed the lives of many children and families.
“We’ve have reached over 10,000 children and families throughout the nation and we’ve outreached to over half million people,” says Christie when asked how many children No Limits for Deaf Children has touched. And with part of the organizational mission being to teach underserved deaf children and their families the skills to succeed in school and in life, No Limits for Deaf Children has been on a 20-plus year journey of hugely impacting the lives of children with hearing loss and families with these children. “We’ve been very fortunate to do the best that we can to not only impact the children and the families, but also educate the community so they will feel comfortable approaching a person with a hearing loss.”
And it’s been an enormous impact so far. But it began with a simple relationship between a teacher and her student, which actually turned out to not be as simple as Christie first planned. “There was a little boy named John who was about 7 years old and he only had about 50 vocabulary words. A hearing child has 5,000 vocabulary words. My job was to get him to help him communicate and present in front of the class, and he was shy. His eyes would well up in tears and it would just break my heart.” Christie was a teacher at the time and began to build trust with the young boy. From there, she began to discover what made him tick.
“I called his family and asked them, ‘What does John like to do?’ And they told me that he loved music. So I thought that was great! So I bought in my boombox, and he loves Michael Jackson. So I brought in a Michael Jackson CD and I blasted it loud so that he could hear it and feel it. So we connected through music. That was really our connection to each other. And we started just growing together. That summer, there was no program for the children. I thought that if I can get John and other children with hearing loss to perform on stage, they would gain the confidence to speak in front of other people and eventually they would speak in from of their hearing classmates. So that was really the impetus of No Limits for deaf children.”
Since that fateful meeting, Christie and her team have grown No Limits for Deaf Children into a nationwide nonprofit organization with bi-weekly literacy classes, parent classes for children with hearing loss, includes STEM in their classes, and has a theater program that travels across the country and brings the art and resources of theater to the children of every city that it visits.
“Our headquarters are based in Los Angeles but we have produced No Limits shows in New York, Connecticut, Chicago, San Francisco, St. Louis. We can go across the country. Kids from the New York community will perform at a show. We bring our theater company to them. So it’s not Los Angeles kids traveling to New York, but instead kids with hearing loss from their respective city performing in that city.”
Due to this dynamic program that has a positive influence on the children and families it serves, No Limits and Christie were recognized in 2017 as part of the “CNN Heroes” program. When asked about what it was like to be recognized by CNN, Dr. Christie is reluctant to take credit: “Was it great for our organization? Yes! It’s fantastic that people learned about our kids. That was such a great thing.”
“For me personally, to be in the spotlight is hard. I like for the kids to be the center of attention. It was deeply humbling and an incredible experience because there were so many great things that came from it. Students from around the world asked me to speak to them by Skype and talk about hearing loss. They would share how inspired they were by our children with hearing loss. It was amazing. Being a CNN Hero, felt like that title belongs to the kids. The kids are the heroes.”
Still, Dr. Christie and No Limits for Deaf Children have managed to serve as heroes in the lives of many children with hearing loss, who may otherwise not be able to delve into the areas of theater, STEM education, sibling support, and more. They are filling a gap for children with hearing loss and their families that had previously been left empty. “We’re the only [program] in the country that has a theatre program for deaf children learning to speak.
“We’re the only program in the world that provides free services to deaf children between the ages of 3-18. We work with those school ages kids, and we provide services that the schools do not provide as many of our children are behind and we can help fill in the gaps that they’ve missed. It’s been a wonderful partnership with the schools. So the little theater idea in John’s day in 1996 has been pretty amazing to see how much we have grown. But would we like the schools to fill in the gap so there is no need for No Limits? Absolutely.”
But the need still exists, which means that Dr. Christie and No Limits for Deaf Children will be around for a long time serving the needs of children with hearing loss and continuing to be a hero in her own way. That means, continuing to build on the dialog and bringing attention to the educational needs of deaf children around the country. With all that they have done so far, we believe that Dr. Christie and No Limits for Deaf Children are well suited to continue on in this necessary work.
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