The Starkey Hearing Foundation and the Minnesota Vikings teamed together on Tuesday to put on their annual holiday hearing mission. The two sides teamed together to help fit local patients with complimentary, customized, state-of-the-art digital hearing devices.
The two sides have been building a partnership together for years that is extending further than just business, or at least that is how Starkey co-founder Tani Austin sees it.
“They become part of our family,” she said. “It really is a Vikings and a Starkey family and a community family. When you can reach out and touch that person, whether they are reading a book or touching the community through food drives or whatever it is. But when you can help someone hear you’re connecting them back to life and it’s instant. It’s like a light switch. So these guys, there’s something that ignites in them when they see that that they actually get to be a part of. So I think that’s why it isn’t just an event, we become a family.”
Former Vikings linebacker Matt Blair is a prime example of this relationship. He originally started attending Starkey events years ago and continues to show up to them long after he has retired from the NFL. His family is great friends with the Austins and the two sides visit each other’s homes and have dinner together often.
Blair doesn’t remember when he first met William and Tani Austin, but he knows it was years ago. The two sides became close after the Starkey Foundation did work on his wife and stepson’s ears.
Not all players have the same relationship and experience with the foundation as Blair does, but each of the players that attend these missions find themselves wanting to do more and more to help out the Starkey Hearing Foundation.
Starkey uses hearing to show kindness and compassion in others, as well as to change lives around the world. The foundation has pledged to provide more than one million hearing aids this decade to those in need. The gift of sound can be a gift that few people can truly understand as hearing is something that they take for granted.
But when the players experience someone, especially a child, hearing for the first time, everything gets set into prospective for them.
Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph has been attending Starkey events since before the start of his rookie season in 2011 and he has been hooked since. The dedication and passion that the Austins show never ceases to amaze him and now any time someone from Starkey gives him a call asking to help out he is more than willing to lend a helping hand.
“It’s pretty incredible,” Rudolph said. “Whether it’s someone hearing for the first time, someone getting fitted hearing technology, for me personally, when you see the kids who maybe have the bigger bulky hearing aids and they get something more subtle and you can’t really see – the confidence they get up and leave the chair with because now they can go to school and no one’s going to know that they have a hearing aid because you can’t see it. Just the expressions on their faces, it’s priceless for us. I think at times we get more out of it than the kids do.”
Another regular contributor to the Starkey Hearing Foundation is Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. He was first introduced to them early on in his NFL career by his good friend Larry Fitzgerald, who is a Minnesota native and wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals.
Peterson has attended multiple missions inside the United States with the Starkey foundation but he has also been on two outside the country. He has been to Uganda and Rwanda with Starkey, and what he has seen them accomplish has truly changed his outlook on life.
“I remember a couple years ago we went out to Africa and I want to say we were in Uganda,” Peterson said. “It was my first time experiencing seeing a kid hear for the first time. I remember, I think, Fitz was bending over and he was like, ‘Bop, bop, bop’ and just the look on that kid’s face when he heard for the first time was like, I think I had to turn around and walk away and kind of gather myself. It really put things in prospective on how people struggle. Some people go a lifetime without hearing, so to be a part of a group like the Starkey Foundation that helps people hear again is amazing. It’s an amazing experience.”
Tuesday’s mission saw about 60 people receive hearing devices, which is a relatively small mission for the Starkey Foundation, but for everyone involved in helping out that was just enough. They are focused on just helping out anyone who needs it, so they are happy with any amount of people that decide to show up.
“We’re all here so we can help these guys be all they can be for the future of our world and it’s just good to have the support,” said William Austin. “It’s good to have people who care about people. People helping people is the best work you could possibly do, so we get to share that work.”
With the Starkey Hearing Foundation headquarters and the Vikings training facility separated by less than two miles, it originally made a lot of sense for the two sides to team up and work with one another to help out as many people that they could.
But after years of teaming up, the relationships formed between the two sides have done more for the two organizations than the close proximity ever could. It has brought the two sides closer than ever, which not only benefits them, but everyone in need they help out.