Making a difference for hearing-impaired kids

Last October soccer legend and espnW contributor Julie Foudy leveled a challenge to a few of her espnW teammates. Inspired by her daughter's desire to help tsunami victims in Japan, Foudy asked us to team up with our daughters to create a community service project for her annual Choose to Matter contest.

In most cases, if a two-time Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion challenges me, I politely decline. (I'm no fool and I hate to lose.) But the opportunity to help others and talk a little smack was compelling.

I don't have a daughter, but I knew just the person with which to team up -- 12-year-old Eliza Peters. The sixth grader and I first became friends with last March. Eliza's dad emailed me on her behalf, hoping they might be able to take a tour of the ESPN1000 radio studio, where I work as a "SportsCenter" anchor.

Courtesy of Sarah Spain

Sarah Spain and Eliza Peter's have bonded over their shared love of Chicago sports.

Eliza and I hit it off immediately. She talked about her favorite Chicago teams, asked me lots of questions about my job and even interviewed me for her school paper. She was in awe of the people I'd met through work ("Derrick Rose." "No way!" "Jonathan Toews." "Jealous!")

I loved her enthusiasm, her toothy grin and how much she bonded with her Dad over sports. We were so busy chatting, I never even noticed the small, sparkly hearing aids in her ears.

Eliza was diagnosed at age 5 with a hearing impairment and, after two unsuccessful surgeries, she started wearing hearing aids. She's deaf in one ear and has moderate hearing loss in the other. The aids help her, among other things, to stay active in sports, playing basketball and running cross country in her hometown of Geneva, Ill.

When I called Eliza about the charity project, she was on board right away, suggesting we find a way to raise money for young athletes who can't afford hearing aids. Until I met Eliza, I had no idea that hearing aids aren't covered by most insurance. At a cost of at least $2,500 per ear, they can be a financial burden for a lot of families. Kids shouldn't have to drop out of sports because they aren't able to hear the whistle or communicate with teammates on the court or field.

Just a few days into the new year, Eliza and I began our efforts in earnest. We teamed up with the Chicago Hearing Society to set up Eliza's Hear The Cheers Fund, with all the money raised going to young athletes in need of hearing aids. We created a donations page on the CHS site and started reaching out to friends, family and people in our social media circles for donations.

I began gathering signed sports merchandise from athletes and pro teams to give away as prizes. Those willing to give $10 or more to the cause will have their names put into a raffle. Among the goodies: a signed Charles Barkley basketball, a signed Jeremy Roenick Blackhawks jersey, a signed Starlin Castro All-Star Game ball, a signed Brett Jackson Cubs jersey and signed San Jose Sharks and New York Giants merchandise.

Eliza and I are also doing some in-person fundraising, manning a donations table at the local high school's boys basketball game on Friday night.

I'm so glad I accepted Foudy's challenge to get out and make a difference. It's been remarkable to see how many people are willing to help out in the name of a great cause. It's incredible to know that some young athletes in need will get the gift of hearing because of the generosity of our friends, family and Twitter and Facebook followers.

Beginning Feb. 1, the public can vote on the best projects in Foudy's "Choose To Matter" contest. But at this point, it feels as though Eliza and I have already won.

In a little over a week of fundraising, we've raised more than $10,000! There are a few days left to donate and be eligible for the prizes. Every $10 gets you a raffle ticket. Click here to do your part to help kids Hear The Cheers!

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