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Vikings Visit Starkey's Annual "Hearing Mission"

Vikings players visited an annual "Hearing Mission" hosted by Starkey Hearing Foundation this week in which children received custom-fit devices that will enhance the gift of sound that many take for granted.

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The sight of someone experiencing sound in a way they've never done is an incredible thing to behold, Vikings receiver Greg Jennings said.

Vikings players visited an annual "Hearing Mission" hosted by Starkey Hearing Foundation this week in which children received custom-fit devices that will enhance the gift of sound that many take for granted.

Jennings led a group that included Harrison Smith, Jasper Brinkley, Ben Tate, Adam Thielen and Charles Johnson, alumni players Matt Blair, Joey Browner, Dave Osborne and Stu Voigt, as well as Viktor the Viking to the headquarters of Starkey Hearing Technologies and its charitable foundation to see the great work that is done a little more than 1 mile north of Winter Park.

"It definitely is life changing, and anytime you're changing a life, you're making an impact," Jennings said. "There's times when you try to do things for different people and give them different things that can be taken away, but this is something you can't take away from someone. You give them something they've never had, never been able to acquire on their own, but you have a group of people coming together and giving them the joy of hearing and allowing them to enhance their lifestyle that much more.

"The impressive part is most of the people you meet already enjoy life," Jennings added. "They're not complaining. They enjoy life, and the moment you see their face lift with joy because they can hear, it's an increased joy."

Bill Austin founded Starkey in 1970 with a one-room operation, but the company has developed into a world leader for hearing instruments. Starkey's charity work originated in 1973 and has spread its assistance across the globe, providing more than 1.6 million free hearing devices that are accompanied by a message of sharing love between seven billion "brothers and sisters" of the world.

The process begins with a health exam, followed by an audiological test to evaluate the loudness levels and frequency thresholds. After determining the proper assistance level required, Austin said the recipient is able to select which style of device best fits their lifestyle and personality.

Austin's talents have been substantiated by the fact that he has fitted hearing devices for five U.S. Presidents, famous actors and musicians, but his passion is revealed through the help he provides through Starkey Hearing Foundation. 

"It gives me life. It makes me feel like I'm connected to life universally, it makes me feel like I'm part of tomorrow and part of the future," Austin said. "These children are going to grow up and have families of their own, and I've watched them grow up. I feel like I'm almost more connected to the gift of life, so I'm blessed. It's good work. People say it's remarkable that you do this. I would think it would be remarkable if I didn't do it. If I had the ability, I should do what I could to give someone a hand and give them a chance at life. I wonder how someone can stand aside if they've got the success in their life. How can somebody stand aside and not help someone out? I think that's part of life, and we've got to do our part."

Blair said Starkey Hearing Technologies helped his wife, her father and son with their hearing difficulties. He said his stepson is studying space engineering at Iowa State and going to study abroad in January. Blair said his stepson already had a great understanding of math, science and writing, but overcoming the hearing problem gave him an additional push, and Blair said it is great to see other lives impacted.

"Bill is a special man," Blair said. "God has given him a chance to help a lot of people, young and old, to hear, and I think that's what he is all about."

Austin said he appreciated the Vikings visit because it made the children feel special, saying, "I'm just an old guy that fixes ears, so I don't get that message to them as well as these guys do but I can help them hear." He added he appreciates the help he's received over the years in trying to brighten the world.

"No one can do much alone," Austin said. "If you want to be part of changing the world, and we need to do that, we need to pry back the darkness and reflect a little more light, if you want to do that, the only way is with a team and you need a lot of hands on board, a lot of people working together.

"Then we can all share that and be part of a greater gift than any of us could do alone," Austin continued. "I invite everybody to be on the team. You can work with us any way you want. I love to have the Vikings here."

Jennings joined Starkey Hearing Foundation on a mission to Africa and has appreciated the opportunity to also encourage the efforts closer to home.

"This one is so important because I've seen it in person, I've been part of missions," Jennings said. "I understand what they're trying to get done. I believe in what they're trying to get done. It's not just a one-time gift for them. This is becoming a way of life, trying to reduce hearing loss across the world and give those who have hearing loss hearing. Becoming a 'hearing angel' is something you don't take for granted when you've been a part of it because you see the impact that it has on a culture, on a home, that it has on one's life."

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