Sottolano, 62, who lives in the town’s Tariffville section, recently returned from a mission trip to Jamaica with Songs for Sound, a group based in Nashville that works to provide cochlear implants and hearing aids to deaf children.
Sottolano explained that 360 million people worldwide suffer from some form of disabling hearing loss, but the problem is particularly dire in Third World countries, where children with disabilities are often left to fend for themselves.
So after receiving backing from Mark Hoch, general manager of New Country Motor Car Group , Sottolano joined the group’s founder, Jaime Vernon, two audiologists and two speech therapists to help bring hearing aids to children attending the Jamaica Christian School for the Deaf.
The volunteer group had four days to conduct hearing and comprehension tests for more than 60 deaf students at the school. Within that short time period, the group was able to distribute nearly 70, $1,000 hearing aids so that every child was fitted with at least one, and in some cases, two devices.
“My job was to document all of this,” said Sottolano, who is working on a documentary for the organization. “Everyone did what we had to when we were down there and in the end we got it done. And every single child, to our amazement, gained some level of sound.”
Sottolano captured the children’s reactions as they heard the sounds of others and the sound of their own voices for the first time.
“It is the most rewarding thing that you could possibly imagine,” he said, explaining that the speech therapists would cover their mouths as they made a series of three distinct sounds for each child to repeat. “When you look at the videos, you’re going to be amazed.”
Sottolano described one moderately deaf teenaged boy who was able to articulate words within hours of receiving his hearing aids.
“In the course of a couple hours, his speech capability improved, he was self-correcting,” he said, adding that one of the most amazing moments happened after the therapist said, ‘I love you.’ “He turns back, clear as a bell, he says ‘I love you.'”
The group now hopes to raise money to return to the school this fall.
“The goal is to try to go back and take it to the next level now,” Sottolano said. “We planted a seed … Hopefully, some of these kids will be recipients of cochlear implants.”