The Starkey Hearing Foundation brings big celebs to Minnesota

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Robin Williams IMG_2973cropped.jpg
Robin Williams
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Last Saturday, the Starkey Hearing Foundation held its 12th annual So the World May Hear awards gala at the Saint Paul RiverCentre. The event drew support from some of the biggest celebrities in Hollywood, including Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Chevy Chase, and Forest Whitaker. Attendees enjoyed musical performances by Glenn Frey, Billy Ray Cyrus, K'NAAN, Jackie Evancho, Michael Johns, and Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers.

The star-studded evening, which raised more than $7.2 million last year, aims to increase awareness and funds for global hearing initiatives. In addition to programs like Listen Carefully, a project dedicated to educating youth on ways to protect their hearing, the Starkey Hearing Foundation provides hearing devices to children and adults in the United States and in more than 97 countries worldwide. Last year alone the Starkey provided 131,000 hearing aids to people who normally would not have access to hearing devices.

Tani Austin, who founded the organization with her husband Bill, says that providing a better future for children around the world motivates her continued efforts.

"It's not just a piece of plastic that we give these kids. We let them know that each and every one of them are important to us," Austin says. "When you connect that sound and these kids are looking at you, they never forget you and you never forget them. We've fitted thousands of hearing aids and each fitting is special. You think that you're going to change a child's life but then they change yours."

Each celebrity in attendance has a personal connection to the Starkey Foundation, whether it's through their friendship with Bill and Tani Austin or an experience they have with hearing loss in their own lives. For Billy Crystal, that connection is his father-in-law, who has worked with the Austins to improve his hearing.

"My father-in-law doesn't hear. Since the first time Bill and Tani met him five years ago, they've been selflessly trying to help him and they've been amazing," Crystal says. "He [my father-in-law] is just a tiny blip in what they do around the world. They're extraordinary people who just give and don't ask anything in return."

Alan Kalter says he shows his support at the gala because of the life-changing work the Austins and the Starkey Foundation are doing.

Alan Kalter IMG_2830.jpg
Alan Kalter

"I'm here because of Bill and Tani and all the people they help. Not only do they help with a person's hearing, they deliver a message to listen carefully to people who can hear not but may not be able to in the future," Kalter says. "They give the gift of hearing to children and adults and they're really changing lives. It brings tears to the eyes to hear about it, let alone to see it."

In addition to the admiration and respect attendees have for the Austins and for the Starkey Foundation, they also share a love for Minnesota and, for one actor, a love for City Pages.

"I read City Pages this morning! I think it's a fantastic, beautiful paper," says Paul Johansson, who starred in the television show One Tree Hill says. "Starkey is a really great foundation, and I feel connected to it because my mother was hearing impaired. I'm grateful to be in Minnesota for this event. I'm going to write a movie about Minnesota. People from Minnesota are like people from where I'm from: British Columbia. People are smart and self-sufficient. It's a great city-and a great place to bike."

For Alan Kalter and his wife, Vikings games and golfing are a must when they're in the state.

"We love the Vikings," Kalter says. "We're Giants fans who root for the Vikings when the Giants are out of it. I also love the golf courses in Minnesota. Your land is beautiful. When people think about land in Minnesota, even in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, they think flat, but when you get to the golf courses it's not flat. These are the most beautiful, contoured golf courses around and we really enjoy them. "

Brothers Chris and Kyle Massey are partial to Mall of America, and try to stop there on their visits to Minnesota.

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Kyle and Chris Massey

"I love the Mall of America," Chris Massey says. "I do the full Mall of America experience: shopping and rides."

For pro-skateboarder Tony Hawk, his love for Minnesota is all about work.

"I've been here a few times skating doing exhibitions," he says. "My favorite skate park is 3rd Lair. It's a good one."

Actress Maria Bello, who was honored at the gala, says that she thinks Minneapolis and St. Paul are great cities.

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Maria Bello

"I came [to So The World May Hear awards gala] last year, and I couldn't wait to come this year," Bello says. "The people in Minnesota are so kind and generous. They will literally stop me in the street to say hello. Not because they know me, just because they're lovely generous people. It's a beautiful place."

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