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World Leaders, Celebrities and Athletes Attend Starkey Hearing Foundation Gala

On Sunday night, a host of celebrities and supporters celebrated the Starkey Hearing Foundation’s 2013 So the World May Hear Gala in St. Paul, Minn., raising more than $8 million to support its charitable work around the world. VIPs and celebrities in attendance included President Bill Clinton, Sir Richard Branson, Ashton Kutcher, Marc Anthony, Lionel Richie, Barbara Bush, Sinbad, Kristi Yamaguchi, Mel B., Lou Ferrigno, Bill Rancic, Greg Jennings, Tony Hawk, Forest Whitaker, Shannon Elizabeth, Kevin Sorbo and Verne Troyer, among others.

Honorees and presenters from the 13th annual So the World May Hear Gala pose with Bill and Tani Aust ...

Honorees and presenters from the 13th annual So the World May Hear Gala pose with Bill and Tani Austin, of the Starkey Hearing Foundation. (left to right) back row: Forest Whitaker, Dennis Hansen, Leslie Hansen, Bill Austin, Barbara Bush, President Bill Clinton, Xiao Mo, Jimmy Walker, Sir Richard Branson; front row: Tani Austin, Angel Chun Li Zhao (Photo: Starkey Hearing Foundation)

The gala, which draws numerous celebrities and supporters annually, is the foundation’s largest fundraiser, raising money to continue its programs around the globe. The gala also honors men and women whose contributions to our world have made it a better place. It celebrates the spirit of giving and showcases the tremendous impact caring and sharing have on the lives of others.

Master of Ceremonies, Norm Crosby, started off the evening with a comedic welcome, followed by a moving performance by Nita Whitaker of “Amazing Grace,” which included a bald eagle flyover. The program was filled with speeches from presenters and honorees, a live auction and world-class entertainment.

2013 presenters included President Bill Clinton, Forest Whitaker, Fred Whitfield, Bill Rancic, Evander Holyfield, Yank Barry and Michael Kutcher.

An emotional introduction from Michael Kutcher captivated the audience as his twin brother and Starkey honoree, Ashton Kutcher prepared to take the stage. Michael described his brother as a protector, and related that same quality to Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children, the foundation Ashton Kutcher cofounded in 2009. Thorn was created to disrupt the predatory behavior of those who abuse and traffic children, solicit sex with children, or create and share child pornography.

President Bill Clinton thanked Starkey founders Bill and Tani Austin for their inspirational work and recognized each of the evening’s honorees before he introduced Starkey honoree Chun Li Zhao “Angel.” Angel was born with brittle bone disease and was raised in a rural fishing village near Yangshuo, China. The former president spoke of Angel’s spirit and determination to overcome obstacles unfathomable to most people. He told a story of how, at age 15, Angel was not allowed to meet him when he visited her village. The authorities hid her away because they were embarrassed by her disability. Angel has since become a leading advocate for disability rights.

As a member of President Clinton’s Global Initiative, Starkey Hearing Foundation has pledged to fit and give more than 100,000 hearing aids annually to people in need, for a total of 1 million this decade. At the Gala, the Foundation announced it has fit more than 165,000 hearing aids in the last year alone and is nearly 40 percent ahead of schedule on its commitment.

Another highlight of the evening came from Steven Sawalich, senior executive director of Starkey Hearing Foundation. He discussed Operation Change, a movement the Foundation is building to inspire young people to take action and be a driving force for good in their communities around the world.

Sawalich also surprised Bill Austin with a very special guest, Endreas, a young man from Ethiopia. Austin not only gave Endreas the gift of hearing last year, he also arranged for him to receive life-saving medical care in Israel. Endreas called Austin his “father” as he shared his story with the audience, moving many to tears.

2013 honorees included Sir Richard Branson (founder, Virgin Group), Ashton Kutcher (cofounder, Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children), Barbara Bush (Global Health Corps), Jimmy Walker (Celebrity Fight Night), Dennis and Leslie Hansen (Hearing Angel Humanitarians) and Chun Li Zhao “Angel” (Partners in Excellence).

Honorees were recognized for the change they are making in the world, and each spoke about their causes and the work Starkey Hearing Foundation does globally.

“It is an honor just to do the work I do every day with Global Health Corps,” Barbara Bush, CEO and cofounder of Global Health Corps, said. “It is unbelievably inspiring and encouraging to go on the Starkey missions and see people’s lives change in one minute.” Bush has participated in three Starkey hearing missions, two in Uganda and one in New York City.

Sir Richard Branson spoke about the power businesses have for creating change. “What we need to do, is get every single company in the world to adopt a problem. And if we can join with governments and social workers we can get on top of all of the problems of the world,” Branson stated. “Businesses can use their entrepreneurial skills to look at a problem and see it differently.” Branson concluded his speech by recognizing Foundation cofounder, Tani Austin’s birthday, and queuing the live orchestra to play “Happy Birthday” as the audience sang.

The evening included performances by GRAMMY Award winners Lionel Richie and Marc Anthony, reggae and alternative rock musician Matisyahu, vocalist Nita Whitaker, stand-up comedian Sinbad, American Idol runner-up Jessica Sanchez and vocal group ARIA.

Couples salsa danced around the ballroom while guests formed a conga line and made their way closer to the stage during Marc Anthony’s performance. Jessica Sanchez impressed the audience with her powerful rendition of Whitney Houston’s classic “I Will Always Love You.” Sinbad kicked-off his act with a musical impression of Prince, followed by a comedic routine that kept the crowd laughing. Lionel Richie closed the evening with a number of songs, including his hits “Dancing on the Ceiling” and “All Night Long.”

Attended by more than 1,600 people, the 2013 So the World May Hear Gala raised a record-breaking $8 million through ticket sales, sponsorships, donations, and live and silent auctions. All funds will be used to further the Starkey Hearing Foundation’s life-changing work.

“Hearing is a way to improve lives around the world and empower individuals to reach their full potential,” said Bill Austin, founder of Starkey Hearing Foundation. “We are the only ones that can change the future of this world. We have to start by reflecting caring, and by showing respect for life.”

Hearing missions are the primary way Starkey Hearing Foundation realizes its goal: So the World May Hear. In the last year, the foundation’s team of audiologists and staff has conducted missions in 19 countries and provided thousands of hearing aids to low-income Americans through the Hear Now program.

More information about the foundation’s work can be found on Starkey Hearing Foundation’s website, Facebook and Twitter pages.

About Starkey Hearing Foundation
Starkey Hearing Foundation uses hearing as a vehicle to reflect caring and improve the lives of individuals, families and communities around the world, by helping them reach their full potential. Hearing loss affects one in 10 Americans, and 63 million children worldwide, yet many do not have access to the hearing devices that can help them. Starkey Hearing Foundation fits and gives more than 100,000 hearing aids annually, and as a member of President Clinton’s Global Initiative, it has pledged to fit one million hearing aids this decade. In addition to giving the gift of hearing through worldwide hearing missions, Starkey Hearing Foundation promotes hearing health awareness and education through the Listen Carefully initiative and provides hearing instruments to low-income Americans through the Hear Now program. For more information on Starkey Hearing Foundation, visit

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