WHITTIER, Calif. (KABC) -- Audiologists decided the best way to mark the 60th anniversary of the Whittier Hearing Center was to give back to the community.
"We're only here because the community supports us," said Dr. Mary Ann Gilbert, a doctor of audiology with the center.
Gilbert and her colleagues created "Project Gratitude" where the center partners with a different non-profit every month.
"It's all about the lives we change. We pay it forward and those people go out and they help other people," Gilbert said.
They've helped feed homeless children, raise money for domestic violence prevention and traveled on mission trips to provide free audiology work via the Starkey Hearing Foundation.
Gilbert headed to Mexico and her colleague, Dr. Kim Ortega, visited Peru.
"To see a child who has never heard their own voice before and they just start to sing and start to play and just to yell out because they're so excited...it's really hard to not cry myself, to feel how happy she is," Ortega said.
Back in Whittier, they held an essay writing contest to determine who would win free hearing aids.
Jennifer Cruz wrote about her mother, Shelly Martin. Cruz said that Martin lost her hearing due to chemotherapy drugs she took during her third battle with cancer. Martin also lost her husband suddenly two years ago.
"We've been through a lot in the last few years," Cruz said.
Martin was chosen to be fitted for new hearing aids.
"We're so excited to finally have some good things happening for us," said Cruz.
After her fitting, Martin was emotional.
"I'm really excited because now I can hear my kids and my grandkids," she said. "I can hear again. I don't have to sit and just be quiet."
Debi Sherwood also started to cry when her hearing aids were turned on. She's suffered from hearing loss for years. Sherwood works in a call center at Medieval Times and sometimes can't hear her clients.
"It's just so heartbreaking, I get frustrated. I will even break out in a sweat if I know I'm asking it another time, like the third time it's like 'oh my gosh,'" she said.
Sherwood said being able to hear better will change her life significantly.
Fellow winner Katarina Ericksson said her hearing loss has prevented her from earning certain employment in the past.
"I really messed up one job interview really bad because I completely misunderstood what they said," Ericksson remembered.
She currently works as a horticulturist and spends most days outside.
"I miss the birds singing. I miss the wind wrestling in leaves. I don't hear that anymore," she said.
But thanks to her new hearing aids, she'll be able to again.
"It's so crisp and clear. It's like having a blurry picture and seeing its beautiful colors," she said.
Whittier Hearing Center donates free hearing aids
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