DENVER — Have you ever been in a conversation where you were not quite sure what the other person said, but you smiled and nodded anyway, just to be polite? 7Everyday Heroes Crystal Vaccaro and Spencer Kontnik admit they have.
"I have definitely been guilty of acting like I understand what people are saying but I really don't know what they're talking about. And I think that happens to a lot of people who are either deaf or hard of hearing," Vaccaro said.
That is why she and Kontnik formed the non-profit called The Smile and Nod Project. It is designed to help the hard of hearing and deaf communities.
"The idea is, if you're able to advocate with people with a little bit of hearing loss and people who are deaf, people all along the whole spectrum, you can create a stronger community and a stronger voice," Kontnik said.
"And with that community we create, we have a stronger support system, more freedom, more jobs, and just overall happier lives," Vaccaro added.
Kontnik is a successful lawyer in Denver who is hard of hearing.
"I was born with bad hearing in my right ear and good hearing in my left ear. Then, when I was six years old I was playing baseball at recess and I was hit in the head with a baseball ball bat on my left side. And that's when we found out I had lost all the hearing in my left ear. So, now I have one deaf ear and one ear with a profound hearing loss," Kontnik said.
Kontnik reads lips and wears a hearing aid, but his captioning telephone has been really helpful for his job.
"Especially when I'm talking with judges or officials with the court it can be very difficult for me to hear on the telephone," Kontnik said.
The phone is how he met Vaccaro. Her job involves helping people set up the phones. Vaccaro got in the industry after meeting someone in her first year of college who was deaf.
"My freshman year of college I met Meg," Vaccaro said.
She admits, before she met Meg, she was pretty clueless about the deaf community.
"I made you become my friend," Vaccaro joked with Meg.
"You worked really hard at it. I moved here to get away from you and you followed me," Meg joked back.
Meg helped Vaccaro understand a whole new world. Soon, Vaccaro decided she needed to do something beyond just helping with captioning telephones.
And the Smile and Nod non-profit was born.
"We provide events for the community. We can provide grants," Vaccaro said.
Emergency room nurse Clarissa Hardman has benefitted from a Smile and Nod grant.
"I applied for a stethoscope, an electronic stethoscope. I'm a nurse for 15 years in the emergency room and I have a hearing deficit," Hardman said.
Hardman found it cumbersome taking her hearing aids in and out all the time while helping patients.
"By giving this one little tool to one person we're actually helping hundreds of people," Vaccaro said.
"I can hear breathe sounds like I have never heard. I have confidence like I have never had before. It is absolutely incredible," Hardman added.
The Smile and Nod Project is not telling people how to live their lives, just trying to help them live the life they want.
"It is part of the reason why I think this project is wonderful. It helps people understand how a deaf person has a different experience," Meg said.
"How do you create meaning in your life? This is a way I create meaning, is by helping other people," Vaccaro said.
Mitch Jelniker anchors Denver7 in the mornings from 4:30 to 7 a.m. He also features a different 7Everyday Hero each week on Denver7. Follow Mitch on Facebook and Twitter. Nominate a 7everyday hero here.