Improving the quality of life for people with speech and hearing challenges

Clinton Franciscan Sister Marcella Marie Narlock works with a client at Mount St. Clare Speech & Hearing Center in Clinton. She is the director of the center, which seeks to improve the quality of life for people with communication challenges.

By Barb Arland-Fye

Sister Edward Smith, OSF, was teaching speech at Mount St. Clare College in Clinton when families in the area sought her help for loved ones with speech and hearing difficulties. Speech therapy was in its early years, but the Clinton Franciscan responded by opening Mount St. Clare Speech & Hearing Center in 1943.

From the beginning, the center aimed to improve the quality of life for people of all ages who struggled with communication challenges. The center was the first in Iowa to offer outpatient services, notes Sister Marcella Marie Narlock, also a Clinton Franciscan and the center’s director for the past 39 years.

Following Sr. Edward’s death in 1966, the center was closed until Sr. Narlock took over in 1969. Even while it was closed, “we still had people calling, wanting services.”

In 1974, Clinton Franciscan Sister Jeanne d’Arc Untz joined Sr. Narlock at the center. “We were by ourselves until about 1992. It got bigger and bigger and then Cynthia Winter joined us.” Winter, a speech language pathologist, is the center’s assistant director.

The Sisters of St. Francis (Clinton Franciscans) and United Way of Clinton County sponsor the center, whose mission is to provide “habilitative and rehabilitative services to speech, language, hearing and physically disabled persons of all ages. Following the Catholic tradition and in keeping with the Franciscan mission of exercising a preferential option for the poor and marginalized, one is never turned away due to inability to pay.

“The dignity of each person remains uppermost in the minds of the clinicians as they work with their clients to improve the quality of their lives.”

Among the services the center provides: articulation; receptive and expressive language skills; fluency; swallowing, gross and fine motor skills; English as a second language; occupational therapy; and sensory integration. Over the past year, the center opened a sensory room for people with sensory impairment.

The center also lends assistive communication devices from its “Kehl Communication Loan Closet” so that clients with severe communication disabilities can see whether a particular device might be of benefit. A speech-activated communications device allowed one girl with severe disabilities to be able to communicate with her toe. “She can write letters and listen to music; she can tell people what she wants,” Sr. Narlock says.

Mount St. Clare Speech & Hearing clients have ranged in age from 17 months to 101 years old. Each receives services until they reach the maximum point of rehabilitation.

L.J. Townsend, 4, of Savanna, Ill., received services from Sr. Narlock for about a year to help him overcome childhood apraxia. “He was able to benefit from Sr. Marcella’s help,” says L.J.’s mom, Deanna Townsend, who reports that her son is now in preschool and able to socialize with the other children.

Diana Lassen of Clinton said her mother, Marie Smith, who suffered a stroke, has had a wonderful experience working with Sr. Narlock. “I can see a big improvement from last year when she started. I can see that it’s helped considerably.”

It takes a lot of hard work, on the part of the therapist and the client, Lassen noted.

“Speech is not a frill. Speech is a necessity in our life, in our world today. That’s why it’s so important to help people be able to communicate to the best of their ability,” Sr. Narlock says. “The more a person is able to communicate wants and needs and desires, the more human that person is. We’re not looking for normal. We’re looking for the best that each person can be.”

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