BBBS mentor's past connects with boy

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Todd Mishler | November 3, 2013

DELAVAN -- It's one thing to recognize a problem. It's another matter to find an ideal solution.

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Zach Cooper is a typical third-grade student at Turtle Creek Elementary in Delavan. However, his life at home is much different than most students once the final bell rings.

He can hear, but his parents, Justine and Chris, are deaf. Thus, communication always has been the utmost challenge for the couple in raising their son, who turns 9 later this month. And as Zach, an only child, has grown increasingly independent, the Coopers realized they needed help.

“It is hard to discipline Zach sometimes; he knows I have physical limitations and I can't make him do anything,” said Justine, 33, who was born prematurely, which caused deafness and cerebral palsy. ”So communication is important. When he was small he was often out of control, but as his sign language improves, his behavior has, too. Finger spelling is still hard for Zach, so we often misunderstand each other. It is hard when we are out as a family sometimes. Zachary wanders off and we sometimes have a hard time getting his attention. He can be stubborn and wants to be his own boss. Zach says sometimes he wishes he didn't have deaf or disabled parents.”

So, they contacted Karen Medema of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Rock, Walworth and Jefferson Counties with their rather unique request: Could the organization find a hearing volunteer who also had grown up with a deaf parent or parents?

“To their credit, they contacted me, because Zach was struggling to find his place,” said Medema, the community-based enrollment coordinator in Walworth County. “The scenario presented quite a challenge, but I already knew Rich (Hirte). And even though I knew he was busy, I reached out to him and he stepped up to the plate.”

Hirte, a pilot and Delavan resident, took on the role of Zach's big brother more than a year ago. And Hirte's wife, Grace, has developed excellent sign language skills and offered them at a recent visit to the Coopers' home off Creek Road.

Read the complete story HERE.

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