Message for Spring

Fashion show brings hope to indigent deaf and hearing impaired

Emily Womac, left, models clothing from Boyd Thomas, and Xamena Bangdash shows off a spring dress from Razberries.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

Emily Womac, left, models clothing from Boyd Thomas, and Xamena Bangdash shows off a spring dress from Razberries.

John Berry is excited about a fashion show.

Not that he’s looking for a dapper new wardrobe. His excitement is building for a fashion show because of what the show will mean to those in Blount and surrounding counties who can not hear.

Berry is founder of the Hearing and Speech Foundation and owner of Blount Hearing and Speech Services. As foundation founder, Berry helps coordinate the activities of the foundation and sees first-hand the life-changing difference the foundation makes for low-income clients who otherwise could not afford services.

“Swing Into Spring” fashion show luncheon, a fundraiser for the foundation, will offer an opportunity to share some of that information with the public, said Berry. During lunch, Donna Cunningham will share her story of how the foundation touched her life with the gift of sound.

“There’s a lot of excitement around the fact that we are having someone who has directly benefited from our foundation talk to people during lunch. Talking to people always brings back what’s important,” Berry said. “We’re helping change individual’s lives. We get to see it every day, how it changes them. We watch them get jobs, learn to communicate and bring back relationships. All these are wonderful truths about how our services have changed lives.”

Berry said money raised at the fashion show each year helps to serve 10 new people and keep the operations open for a month. “It always has a great impact on our ability to provide services,” he said.

Berry said one of the things that is important is helping people in the community become more aware of the foundation. “Lots of people who come are hearing the message for the first time because each show brings more and more people in from Blount and Knox counties and surrounding areas.”

The third annual Swing into Spring Fashion Show and Benefit for the Hearing and Speech Foundation will be on Tuesday, March 23, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. This year the show has a new location and a new identity.

“This year’s fashion show is going to be a step up from last year,” said executive director Amanda Womac. “Not only are we going to have it at RT Lodge, but we’re changing the format. We are serving lunch upstairs, where Donna Cunningham will share her experiences as a Foundation client. The fashion show is outside with a runway and covered stage. Abby Ham of WBIR TV will be describing fashions furnished by Boyd Thomas, Elle Boutique of Knoxville and Razberries.”

Womac said the new location for the fashion show will open it up to more Maryville residents. “One thing about having it at RT Lodge is that more people should be able to get away for a long lunch to attend,” she said. “RT Lodge is a beautiful setting. It has a rustic, down-home feeling that will put people at ease.”

Womac said everyone involved in planning the fashion show is excited about the new format.

“In the past, we’ve always had models walking around tables while people were eating or finishing their meals. This year there is an actual runway and stage,” she said. “That is going to really bring the notion of professionalism to the fashion show. We’re very excited about that.”

Womac said the table and stage decorations will be sure to put people in the mood for spring. Decorations will be provided by Sara Berry, owner of Trillium Cove Home and Garden and wife of Hearing and Speech Foundation founder John Berry. There will also be a silent auction and door prizes. Silent auction items include a hand-crafted necklace, bracelet and earrings; locally-thrown pottery; a potted arrangement from Trillium Cove Garden and Home and bottles of wine.

“It will be a very spring-like atmosphere,” Womac said. “Come ‘Swing Into Spring’ with us.”

Womac said guests will enjoy the cuisine prepared by Chef Rick Mace who came to the RT Lodge late last year. Mace was executive chef at the Michelin-starred Daniel Boulud Brasserie at the Wynn Resort in Las Vegas.

Chef Mace’s menu for the afternoon will be spring salad with wild greens, shaved radishes and asparagus; Springer Mountain Farms chicken with carrots, chickpeas and scallions; Cruze dairy buttermilk panna cotta and rhubarb compote.

Womac said the foundation has grown in the last year with a new website at “We refocused on developing our hearing aid assistance program and are currently serving 647 patients in 27 East Tennessee counties,” she said.

Womac said Blount, Knox, Anderson and Monroe counties have the largest number of clients followed by Loudon and Sevier counties.

“We are also developing our hearing aid recycling program,” she said. “In 2009 that program alone helped us save $20,000 in costs. We accept used and broken hearing aids as in-kind donations to the foundation. Participating hearing aid companies will refurbish them for free or take the parts and credit it toward the cost of hearing aids we buy in the future.”

Womac said one of her jobs is working to get grants to help support the program that provides the gift of sound to people of East Tennessee.

The foundation also is working to reach new levels on two fronts - the research and development program and the training program.

“The research and development program is ramping up to publish more case studies about speech perception and how the research we do through the foundation will be able to improve the function and fitting of hearing aids in the future,” she said. “We have cutting edge research coming out of the foundation that we’ll be presenting at conferences over the next year or two. Coupled with that is a training program that focuses on Verbotonal Methodology.”

Womac said the mission of the Training Program is to provide a multi-sensory approach to auditory training for special education teachers, teachers of the deaf and hearing-impaired, speech/language pathologists and audiologists. The program enables professionals to integrate these techniques into the areas of speech and language therapy, curricula development and hearing aid fitting.

Womac started out as a technical writer in the research and development program of the foundation and helped put together a research presentation given in Tampa in March of 2009. In May of 2009 she became coordinator of the foundation when then executive director Megan Smith took another job. “I saw an opportunity to help out a bit more,” said Woman. “I helped organize the annual tailgate party and found myself swamped with work but loving every second of it.”

Now as executive director, Womac said she has her work cut out for her. “As executive director I’ve been able to come in and see where I can restructure the foundation to enhance our abilities to not only take more patients and provide more assistance to the community, but to help in moving our mission forward toward becoming a cutting edge research and training facility,” she said.

Tickets for the event are $45 each and are tax-deductible. Tables of eight are available at a discount. For more information about the Foundation, visit, or contact Amanda Womac at

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