Marty Dunagan - A Sign of Hope, Helping Children Find Their Voice in the World
Research shows that early learning programs play a critical role in building a child's foundation for success in school and in life. But for children with hearing or speech impairments those first few years are even more important when it comes to classroom readiness.
This week's 'Pay it Forward' begins outside Brainerd United Methodist Church. That's where we meet Jamie Cobleigh, whose dear friend helps children find their voice in the world.
Jamie says, "I nominated Marty Dunagan. She's been a friend of mine for many years and I'm just proud as I can be of her."
Jamie is telling us about Marty's Center, a new school that specializes in children with hearing and speech needs.
"She started it on her own. She's done all the work to set it up. The funding is coming from strictly donations and she deserves this," Jamie says.
The church donated space after another organization closed its doors.
Choking back tears Jamie says, "There are children in her class that had no place to go, so, she just took it upon herself to start this program."
Marty chose to take no salary for the first months to cover expensive equipment costs.
Jamie says, "She not only does this as her job, but she does it as a part of her life. She cares about these children. She not only gives them her time, but she gives them her heart."
After counting out our 'Pay it Forward' cash, Marty's husband, Randy, meets us and walks us to her room.
Marty, who was born profoundly deaf, is delighted to see us.
Jamie walks into the classroom and hugs Marty and then says,
"On behalf of NewsChannel 9 and McMahan Law Firm we wanted to give you a 'Pay it Forward' because nobody is more deserving. I am so proud of you, and, I want to give you $500 to use in your program or whatever you need it for. Hold out your hand... $100, $200, $300, $400, $500. Without you these kids would not have this opportunity. I'm so proud of you!"
Marty is proud to introduce her students. She walks in front of the room and signs to the preschoolers.
Looking at each child, Marty signs and says, "Hi! Tell her (Jamie) your name. Ty-ler."
We meet all the students, including 3-year-old Gregory who just got new hearing aids. Speaking to Gregory, Marty asks him, "What's your name? Say 'Greg-o-ry.' Greg-ory, say 'Hi.' Say, 'Hi, Ja-mie.' Hi!"
I ask Marty why she chose to take on this non-profit mission and her reply is immediate and emphatic.
"Because the children need it! If they don't get the language they need in the first five years of their life, they're going to be delayed for the rest of their life."
Marty is 'Paying Forward' now -- the same gift her mother gave her years ago.
Marty says her mother helped her reach her full potential.
"She made sure that I got what I needed when I was little, and this was before all these laws were passed. Now we have laws, but it's not enough and they're running out of time."
Marty smiles as she tells me about her students, students like Gregory, who with a little help can do anything.
As we get ready to leave Jamie stands up and signs to the class saying, "Let's see if I do this right... I love ALL of you."
Marty moves near and signing to the children she smiles and says, "Jamie is my friend."
Their voices and hearts are heard loud and clear as each child signs this poignant reply: "I love you."
In 1985 Marty Dunagan was crowned Miss Tennessee USA, the first deaf contestant to be awarded this title.
If you would like more information on Marty's Center, at 4315 Brainerd Rd. in Chattanooga, you can contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org or call (423) 509-9718.
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