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UGA nonprofit distributes free earplugs to growing list of music venues

Kathryn Kao

August 5, 2015

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Since its creation in 2009, We're hEAR For You—a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization focused on raising awareness for noise-induced hearing loss—has distributed over 300,000 pairs of earplugs to the general public. Within the last year alone, over 150,000 of these were supplied to designated music venues, recording studios and festivals across the nation.

With the help of numerous institutions at the University of Georgia, We're hEAR For You has quickly expanded its chapters to include popular music venues in Atlanta, Denver, Nashville, Tenn., and most recently, Austin, Texas.

The Athens-based organization was created by two UGA graduates—Caroline DeCelles, a speech-language pathologist based in Denver and Katie Carmody, the marketing director and head of artist relations at the Georgia Theatre. Today, the nonprofit is best known for distributing free earplugs to various music venues around Athens.

"Your hearing is a resource you have to protect because you can't get it back," said Carmody, who serves as the executive director of the organization. "The damage is cumulative."

The organization offers free hearing screenings at live music events, as well as on campus during International Hearing Awareness Day, through UGA's Speech and Hearing Clinic in the College of Education. In addition to working with UGA's Institute for Nonprofit Organizations in the School of Social Work, the organization also seeks advice from the Business Law Clinic in UGA's School of Law and often coordinates educational sessions with the music business program in Terry College.

"It's been great to tap into all the resources the university has to offer," said Carmody. "They have helped us grow and maintain what we do in a proper manner because that can be tricky in the nonprofit world. It's very different from just your average business."

We're hEAR For You also hosts several educational initiatives and fundraisers throughout the year. Every year, they organize a booth at AthFest to distribute earplugs and important information about hearing conservation and noise-induced hearing loss.

During the school year, Carmody even speaks to prospective music business students at the university to raise awareness.

"I think for a lot of people it's not something they think about," said David Barbe, the director of UGA's music business certificate program and whose class Carmody often visits. "It's not like the chicken pox where you get better. Once your hearing deteriorates, it's only going in one direction."

This past March, We're hEAR For You officially announced its expansion into the Texas music scene at the South by Southwest Conference in Austin. Music lovers can find their products at popular music venues including the 40 Watt Club, Hendershots, Little Kings Shuffle Club, Nowhere Bar, The Tabernacle, The Loft, Center Stage and many more.

The organization's free earplugs are also on tour with various artists and musicians such as Bassnectar, New Madrid, SHEHEHE, Umphrey's McGee, Moon Taxi, Drive-By Truckers, Paper Diamond and Phish.

"We're putting the word out there that hearing loss can be caused by live music," said DeCelles. "By providing free earplugs, we hope that people use them to help protect their hearing."

DeCelles earned both her bachelor's and master's degrees in communications sciences and disorders from the College of Education, while Carmody graduated with a degree in recreation and leisure administration from the College of Education and a certificate in music business from Terry College.

For more information about We're hEAR for you, visit http://werehearforyou.org/.