Local teen helping the deaf
By Kelly O’Connor
A senior in high school, Warren Ryan worked all summer without pay.
Since age 14, most of his summers and school breaks have been spent the same way.
Inspired by his deaf uncle, the 17-year-old Rancho Mirage resident has invested three years to planning a nonprofit advocacy group for the deaf.
Warren’s efforts are coming to fruition with the launch of his Web site, Deafsense.
The Coachella Valley’s hearing impaired population, Warren hopes, will reap the benefits.
"We want to be there for any questions, needs or concerns the deaf have," he said.
Deafsense is modeled after the Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness, Inc. (GLAD). The non-profit organization began 35 years ago and now operates on a $5 million budget, helping 300,000 people each year.
Warren’s aspiration for Deafsense is that it too will evolve.
"I’d like to see it grow significantly and serve the needs of all the deaf in the valley," he said.
Such assistance is long overdue, said Rancho Mirage audiologist Judy Marquess-Lara.
"I think Warren is incredibly gifted and talented," she said. "He came from a state that really had it together as far as resources for the deaf, saw no one was doing anything here and stepped up to the plate."
Fueled by frustration
Eight years ago, Warren moved from Aspen, Colo., to the valley with his mother and uncle. In the ski community, Warren’s uncle found work doing data entry at a bank and was also employed at a Gap clothing store.
Since moving to the valley, Warren’s mother, Sherry Ryan, has watched her deaf brother’s fruitless job search. Work opportunities for the deaf are limited, she said.
"Warren witnessed my brother’s frustrations firsthand and wanted to do something," she said.
In her Rancho Mirage home, Sherry Ryan beams with pride as her son talks about his intent to help the deaf community. This past month has been a major turning point for Deafsense, Warren said.
Before heading to boarding school in Connecticut, he selected two board members for the advocacy group. One is Maruess-Lara. She’s been a certified clinical audiologist in the desert for five years.
She has watched as patients wait several months for state assistance and hearing resources.
"One of the reasons for Deafsense is to light a fire for these people," Marquess-Lara said.
To communicate, the hearing impaired need hearing aids and TTYs or TTDs, telephone systems for the deaf.
"There are people who are deaf or have profound hearing loss who have requested hearing aids and it’s taken months, even over a year to receive them," she said.
No small task
The goal of Deafsense is to help the deaf live independently through job training and job placement.
But for now, Warren is working to secure resources, raise money and find volunteers to help achieve his goal.
"I’d like to see this area not shun away from a group of people that really need their support," he said.
Cathedral City businessman Tony Crowell has already volunteered his time and expertise.
He works at Precision Network, a computer network installation company in Cathedral City and is also a Deafsense board member. Crowell launched the Web site after Warren put together the plan.
"I’ve had people in their 40s and 50s come to me with plans that aren’t nearly as detailed as Warren’s info," Crowell said.
He has also agreed to teach computer training courses through Deafsense. Impressed with Warren’s intelligence and diligence, Crowell is hopeful for the future of the organization.
"I don’t see Warren as much of a child, because he is very committed to his goals," Crowell said.
The time Warren has invested is proof. Talking about how he spent his summer vacation, he sounds more like a businessman than a high school senior.
He filed paperwork with the Internal Revenue Service and met with city representatives about finances. The meetings were to discuss a recycling program that Warren would like to launch in Indian Wells and Rancho Mirage to raise money for Deafsense.
Although 3,000 miles away at school, Warren stays connected to his local venture.
"It’s been extremely daunting at times, Warren said, But I’ve worked so hard. I’m not going to let it fall apart now."
Kelly O’Connor is a reporter at The Desert Sun. She can be reached at 760-778-6435 or by e-mail.
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