Community Members Find Hope, Connection at Voices of Hope for Aphasia Community-Based Center

by | Apr 28, 2022 | Health & Human Services, Older Adults | 0 comments

With only about a dozen community-based aphasia centers across Pinellas County, Voices of Hope for Aphasia is one of the largest.

Aphasia is a disorder that causes a loss of the ability to understand or use language. This condition often follows a stroke or injury that creates brain damage. Over 1 million people in the United States have aphasia, and it’s more common than Parkinson’s disease, muscular dystrophy, and ALS. Yet, only about 8% of people have heard of aphasia and can identify it as a language disorder.

Hope For Those With Aphasia

Mike Caputo, Largo resident and founder of Voices of Hope, realized the lack of awareness and resources for people living with aphasia after surviving a stroke that limited his ability to speak and use the right side of his body.

In 2012, Mike created Voices of Hope for Aphasia to provide a place where people with aphasia and their families can find support. The organization also raises awareness and provides education about the condition. Voices of Hope gives people with aphasia an opportunity to come together and come alive. There are only about a dozen community-based aphasia centers across the county, and Voices of Hope for Aphasia is now one of the largest.

What began as meetings in a small office twice a week has expanded to programs offered five days a week with accessibility in both St. Petersburg and Dunedin, and a new location soon coming to South Tampa.

A Place Where Everyone Is Heard

Voices of Hope offers structured activities for those affected by aphasia; the following are some of its programs. Living with Aphasia
group activities for members to participate in and socialize while pursuing interests. Max Adventures organizes group outings to local museums, restaurants, baseball games, and more. Aphasia Gives Back provides opportunities for members to engage in events and activities that give back to the community. There are also programs for the whole family to connect and develop communication techniques and support systems.

In the summer of 2021, Voices of Hope opened its first full-time facility. Before that, the organization relied on donated space from various partners and donors. Now, the Voices of Hope hub has multiple rooms for programs and meetings, and it can remain open as a safe space for members even when the programs aren’t in session.

Programs With Value Beyond Measure

To its members, Voices of Hope’s value can’t be overstated. The time following a stroke or traumatic brain injury can be stressful, confusing, and isolating. Most families living with aphasia aren’t even aware that the term exists, let alone that there are resources to help.

When members discover Voices of Hope, it can be life-changing. “He comes alive when he’s with the groups,” says Ann Dingman, describing her husband and long-time member, John Dingman. John expresses that he would be sitting at home watching TV without Voices of Hope. Instead, he is making friends, has taken up painting, and frequently engages in the community.

John says before Voices of Hope, “… I would just sit and listen.” The programs have made him more confident, independent, active, social, and ready to initiate conversation. When asked about his favorite part of Voices of Hope, John responded, “Everything. I could be here all day, every day.”

Voices of Hope programs could not have the success they do without the staff, volunteers, board members, donations, and funding from organizations like Pinellas Community Foundation. Debbie Yones, Voices of Hope for Aphasia’s executive director and a 10-year staff member, explains that most of their funding pays for skilled professionals, including speech therapists and artists, who make the programs possible.

Even the board members help contribute to overhead costs so that all donated funds can go directly to the programs. “The power of the program is in the people that run it,” according to Debbie, and the program leaders create engaging and valuable experiences for everyone involved.

A Growing Need for Awareness

As for challenges, the biggest one facing Voices of Hope is outreach. As aphasia is a largely unknown disorder, it’s challenging to reach individuals and families who need these services.

Debbie says that most of their new members come from speech therapist recommendations, partnerships with local hospitals and rehabilitation centers, and awareness spread by staff and members. However, many families live with aphasia for years and don’t know about the resources.

For Debbie, there is nothing more rewarding than getting a phone call from a family member and hearing the relief in their voice when they realize that Voices of Hope is here to help. Seeing the joy and welcoming energy from the group when new members arrive is an unforgettable experience.

Debbie also expresses that finding organizations willing to donate is often challenging because Voices of Hope isn’t a “soft and fuzzy organization,” and many people aren’t familiar with aphasia. “The fact that Pinellas Community Foundation will take the time to understand what we do and the impact [of the funding], to me, is priceless,” explains Debbie.

In the last several years, grant funding from PCF kept Voices of Hope members connected during the pandemic. Grants from PCF demonstrate its trust in Voices of Hope and “trust in the growth and the health of the community,” says Debbie.

Support Those Living With Aphasia in Pinellas County

By donating to the Senior Citizens Services Fund at Pinellas Community Foundation, Voices of Hope for Aphasia and similar organizations can receive grant funds to further their important work in our community.