The Founding of WHOLE ME, Inc.
WHOLE ME, Inc. is a 501 © (3) non-profit organization which strives to identify and mitigate challenges experienced by Deaf individuals from infancy through adulthood and their families through the development and implementation of educational, social, and community resources that will facilitate full accessibility in life choices.
The agency was formally established in 2003 by four individuals, experienced in the development and needs of Deaf and hard-of-hearing children and who volunteered to set a strong foundation for WMI to grow and provide services using their own resources to foster independence, self-sufficiency and eventual employability for Deaf and hard-of-hearing children.
This small group of dedicated professionals were literally sitting around a kitchen table saying…”these kids need something more” in their lives when their school day ends…and after a moment of awkward silence we all looked at each other and said “OK, so where do we start?” We realized that while structured educational services were provided to learn academics, social interaction after school was challenging and sometimes lacking. Many of the children came from different school districts and did not have the opportunity to form friendships with children near their homes due to communication difficulties.
And so, we took a leap of faith and this new endeavor began, the four of us, an all-volunteer staff, working from our homes, using our own resources while holding full-time jobs began an incredible journey driven by passion, experience and optimism that WMI could be established. We had to follow the guidelines set by the Federal government and New York State in order to become a viable non-profit organization and to our amazement, in 2006 WHOLE ME opened their first office in Lakeland, NY.
While one of the Co-Founders was Deaf and could share her experiences being Deaf in a predominantly “hearing world”, we strongly believed that we also needed the input and support of the Deaf community in our area in order to establish a viable organization to respectfully and truly meet the needs of the Deaf and Hard-of-hearing children.
Hearing loss is extremely isolating for both young and old, but it is possible to lessen that isolation and change the direction of a person’s life by working with them, their families and their community at large to break down the barriers to effective communication.
Being “deaf” is not a visible characteristic, and people often don’t realize that services are necessary to make accessibility to communication available to all people. Approximately 80% of deaf children are born into hearing families who often never learn sign language which leads to a very limited exposure to daily conversations causing them to feel alone and isolated within their own family beginning at a very young age. Early detection is essential so that the deaf child may grow, develop and increase their knowledge base.
The Co-founders believed the most important piece of WMI was the focus on the “Whole Child”, hence the Acronym WHOLE ME, which stands for work, health, organizational skills, life experiences, entertainment choices, math and English. The name “WHOLE ME” symbolizes the all-inclusive nature of the organization’s goals to strive to identify and mitigate challenges experienced by Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals from an early age until adulthood.
WMI provides invaluable and unique services and programs to Deaf and hard-of-hearing children and young adults and their families that respond to the individualized linguistic, social, academic and career developmental needs of this traditionally underserved population. As WMI grew, financial support became crucial and we began to research funding sources in our community who played a crucial role in the success of WMI programs and continue to do so. Without these community resources and Mrs. Kovar’s excellent grant writing skills, WMI could never have become what it is today. We are forever grateful to our supporters, especially in our early years.
Since 2016 the current all-inclusive staff of predominately Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals is housed in the WHOLE ME office on James Street in Syracuse, NY, which provides a much larger space designed to accommodate the growing number of children and adult clients. The staff develops, promotes and supports WMI’s growing programs and services and sometimes has personally experienced many of the same obstacles and discrimination their clients face.
In addition, the Executive Board of Directors, a group of dedicated individuals, both Deaf and hearing, from our community who work collaboratively to offer their perspective, guidance, and expertise to support WMI and its goals. The Board’s dedication helps to lead the organization and the population it serves in a respectful and genuine way.
WMI continues to grow as an exceptional source of services for Deaf and hard-of-hearing children and adults in our community due in large part to the leadership, passion, perseverance, and commitment of Christine McCarthy Kovar, who has served as the CEO of WHOLE ME, Inc. since its beginning following her “dream” to fruition.
Mrs. Kovar has guided and led WMI into the valued community-based agency it is today and will continue to be by developing strong partnerships with other community service providers, funding sources and foundations, educational programs and institutions as well as businesses and industries in central and western New York. She has passionately led WMI forward to realize our “dream” of an agency to serve Deaf and hard-of-hearing children and their families.