When it comes to telling others about issues impacting those with hearing impairment, Mrs. Arkansas Courtney Chivers would love to shout her message from the rooftops.
But seeing how this could contribute to the very problems she is treating, she prefers to disseminate her message quietly and effectively through her actions and through her work.
A graduate of Vilonia High School, Courtney is a practicing audiologist, the owner of Arkansas Audiology in Conway and the reigning Mrs. Arkansas America 2008. In September she will vie for the title of Mrs. America, taking her platform of hearing impairment and noise exposure issues to the national level.
Courtney has a Bachelor's degree in Speech Pathology from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, a Master's in Audiology from UAMS and a Doctor of Audiology degree from the University of Florida. She said that a Master's level degree was the highest educational level needed when she first started pursuing a career in Audiology. Soon after, the rules were changed, and Audiologists needed at least a clinical doctorate, which she did not have. She said she could have been grandfathered in and practiced without a doctorate, but "that's not how I am," she said. Courtney did a "working professional" degree at the University of Florida. "I really wanted to earn it, not just put the letters behind my name," she said.
At the time, Courtney was working at the Conway Hearing Center for a couple getting ready to retire. She said she was lucky enough to be in a position to purchase the practice from them when they retired, changed the name, and the rest is history.
She's Mrs. Arkansas America!
So how did this self-proclaimed tomboy work her way to being Mrs. Arkansas? "I always thought about entering pageants, but I wasn't the pageant type. I was never serious about it," she said.
When the opportunity came to enter the Mrs. Arkansas Pageant, she didn't think she was a good candidate because she didn't have a platform. A friend said, "What do you mean you don't have a platform? How could you not have a platform? You work with the hearing impaired every day."
The opportunity to take her message to the masses apparently caught her attention.
Courtney entered the pageant, taking with her a platform of promoting Audiology as a profession and educating others about hearing impairment. On June 7, she earned the title. Since then she has attended Arkansas Travelers and Arkansas Twisters games, appeared on Little Rock television, been in several parades, and spoken to several different civic and social groups.
More importantly, as Mrs. Arkansas she has been educating others about how loud noise from everything from military weapons to IPods to loud music can damage hearing. "This is a great vehicle to bring awareness around the state. I'm really excited about being able travel across the state discussing hearing impairment issues," she said.
In addition to her work as an Audiologist and an educator, Courtney will be the Arkansas representative to the 2009-2011 Audiology Advisory Council meeting of the American Speech Hearing Language Association. There she will work with the other state representatives for legislation to be passed regarding increased Medicare coverage for the hearing impaired, including hearing aids for seniors.
"Seniors can be forgotten," she said. "ARKids helps with the costs of hearing aids for children. We have to get Medicare to start covering expenses for the elderly. I'm really excited to represent Arkansas and other audiologists around the state."
Courtney works through her office to find organizations that provide free hearing aids for seniors who can't afford to buy them or don't have adequate insurance coverage.
"I got into this business to help people. That was my goal: To know that no one leaves my office without an avenue to get what they need," she said.
Courtney said many seniors qualify for different programs that will provide them with free hearing aids, but they just need to know where to find those programs. At Arkansas Audiology, Courtney offers her time to help seniors "get set up and know how to use their hearing aids."
"A lot of Audiologists get into this business for the money. That's not why I got into this. I'm a real caring person, and I can see real needs," Courtney said. Many times she gets referrals from seniors who tell their friends how Courtney helped them out with their hearing aids. This is fine with Courtney, who is currently working on setting up her own foundation for people to go through to get hearing aids. Courtney is also interested in her foundation helping Arkansans, many of whom live below the poverty line.
"It doesn't keep the lights on, but it's the feeling that you're doing good," she said. "Just because they live under the poverty line doesn't mean they should be forgotten."
An interesting point she has found is that is sometimes necessary to reach out to the sons and daughters of senior citizens about hearing aid issues, because "you can't always reach out to seniors." She also talks to this same group of people in their capacity as moms and dads regarding the dangers of IPods and loud music for their young children.
"More than 5 million children, ages 6 to 17, in America have hearing loss that is directly related to noise exposure. There are only 30 million people nationwide with a hearing loss," she said, noting the high number of children affected.
Courtney said a recent study looked at the loud music playing in stores in malls across the country, and the music played in one nationwide chain was 85 decibels, which is louder than what is allowed in factories. "If that had been in a factory, OSHA could be in there to stop it, but we're letting our teenage kids work in these places," she said. "It's just important that we are aware of these noise dangers and that we are aware of what we can do to protect ourselves."
Courtney has lived between Conway and Vilonia for more than 20 years. Her family, the Wallis family, is still in Faulkner County and nearby for moral support. Her biggest fan, however, is her husband, Clint, who "is the silent partner and the backside supporter." Clint works at Hawker Beechcraft in Little Rock. "His job is more important than mine because he's my biggest supporter. He keeps my morale up. I have a great family, and he's my best friend." Courtney and Clint's family is rounded out by two miniature schnauzers.
Mrs. America Pageant
On Aug. 24, Courtney will leave for Tucson, Ariz. , to vie for the title of Mrs. America. The contestants will participate in preliminaries the week before the pageant, which will be held Sept. 2. The women will compete in evening gown, interview and swimsuit competition, and an additional state costume contest, which will not be included in the final total.
Throughout the pageant, Courtney will be able to bring her platform to a nationally televised audience, hopefully to loud applause