Breaking the Silence

Purdue grads bring sounds of serenity to youth with hearing loss

Story by Lesa Petersen

For hard-of-hearing children immersed in a hearing world, hearing aids are lifelines. But the minimum cost of $1,500 for hearing devices is prohibitive for the nearly 1 million underprivileged youth who need them.

Jillian Laski (HK ’13) is a star player on a Purdue dream team that is breaking the silence for these youth. Laski is vice president and director of social media outreach for the nonprofit philanthropy Sounds of Serenity (SoS), which provides financial assistance for acquiring hearing devices. The organization also provides mentorship and practical skills such as lipreading and techniques in distinguishing common sounds in speech — helping the students to keep up in the classroom and build their confidence and social connections.

Jillian Laski Jillian Laski (HK '13)

“My goal with SoS is to make sure that no child ever feels alone or faces unnecessary struggles due to economic hardship,” Laski says. Laski and Sounds of Serenity founder and president Andrea Mingo (College of Science ’13) are collaborating with Jennifer Simpson, director of clinical education in audiology at the Purdue M.D. Steer Audiology Clinic, to give a voice to patients and their families who otherwise would be without this vital support.

A near-death experience gave life to a cause

Mingo might never have heard the cheers of Purdue women’s basketball fans again. She might not even have lived to win two Big Ten championships.

Known as “Drey” to her family and friends, Mingo woke up from a medically induced coma on Thanksgiving Day in 2010 unable to hear. The bacterial meningitis that gave her a 50-50 chance to live also made her deaf.

At the M.D. Steer Audiology Clinic, the work began to help Mingo as she regained partial hearing in one ear. The road was rocky for the Purdue undergrad and basketball star, who had to rely on her teammates to help her play, struggled with keeping up in lectures, and found herself shying away from social interactions. Mingo says she had a choice — “to feel sorry for myself or to truly realize the potential I had to influence change.” Leaning on her faith, she chose the latter. In a difficult moment, Mingo heard the Serenity Prayer, which became the namesake for the organization she founded in 2012.

Andrea Mingo Andrea "Drey" Mingo (COS '13)

Taking root from seeds planted at Purdue

At the heart of Sounds of Serenity ( is the friendship between Laski and Mingo, who were basketball teammates when Mingo was diagnosed with meningitis. “Drey and I have been as close as sisters since our final year at Purdue,” says Laski, who manages social media for Sounds of Serenity, increasing awareness and engagement in the organization’s ventures like the very successful Sign With Us Sundays program she spearheaded. “When I first found out about Drey’s hearing loss, I was immediately able to relate.” Laski’s sister — who also loved playing basketball — is profoundly hard of hearing. “I had a front row seat to the hardships. And when Drey gave me an opportunity to work on something that would benefit children like my sister, I couldn’t say no.”

Purdue relationships have been crucial for the philanthropy’s growth and have broadened the pathways for the cause. Mingo is forever grateful to Lata A. Krishnan, clinical professor in the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, and everyone who worked with her at the M.D. Steer Audiology Clinic. “Coach (Sharon) Versyp and Purdue women’s basketball afforded me a platform to share an important message,” Mingo says. “Much of the support for Sounds of Serenity takes root from seeds that were planted there.”

And best of all, she is happy

When the Sounds of Serenity team wanted access to the front lines where the needs are most significant, it made sense to reach out to the M.D. Steer Audiology Clinic, where Simpson is a bridge between the philanthropy and those it seeks to serve. The funds from Sounds of Serenity have helped many families, Simpson says. “Other funding sources often don’t cover everything a child needs.”

Jillian Laski presents a check to Jennifer Simpson at Purdue’s M.D. Steer Audiology Clinic. (Photo courtesy of Jillian Laski) Jillian Laski presents a check to Jennifer Simpson at Purdue’s M.D. Steer Audiology Clinic. (Photo courtesy of Jillian Laski)

The SoS funds allowed the M.D. Steer Audiology Clinic to reunite with a patient that had been under its care for four years until, when the young girl was 6 years old, her family could no longer afford the visits. Simpson is grateful that the girl, at age 10, was able to return to the clinic, where she received new hearing aids — aids her family couldn’t purchase during the four-year gap. The improvement in the girl’s abilities was enormous, and her teacher emailed the clinic staff the next day to thank them and to tell them how much better the girl could hear and speak in class. “Wow!” the teacher wrote, “And best of all, she is happy!”

“Knowing personally how ostracizing living with a disability can be, my passion is fueled by the potential we have to change the trajectory of a child’s life,” Mingo says. Laski and Mingo plan to grow the reach of their philanthropy through partnerships with additional clinics and programs. The two are united in the power and importance of making lives better for the hard-of-hearing community.

“We want to expand our reach and help as many children as we can,” Laski says.

Andrea “Drey” Mingo speaks to the Purdue women’s basketball team during a visit in February 2017. (Photo courtesy of Jillian Laski) Andrea “Drey” Mingo speaks to the Purdue women’s basketball team during a visit in February 2017. (Photo courtesy of Jillian Laski)

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