Local entrepreneur starts magazine for kids and teens with hearing loss

Melanie Paticoff (at left) founded a new magazine for young people ages 5 to 18 with hearing loss (pictured is her cousin, Julie, on the cover).  

BY ELLEN FUTTERMAN

My friend Wendy and I have dreamed up so many possible business enterprises in the last 30 years, I’ve lost count. Like our “Guide to the Best St. Louis Restaurant Salads,” inspired by meeting for lunch regularly at places like the Sunshine Inn and Lettuce Leaf. The only problem was that by the time we got serious about writing the guide, the Sunshine Inn and Lettuce Leaf had closed.

Another “big” idea was developing plates with a cutout to hold stemmed wine glasses. We spent hours talking about the concept, debating everything from materials (should the plates be paper, plastic or glass?) to whether to include wine glasses with the plates. Then one day, while tooling around Marshalls, I came across boxes of plastic plates with a cutout for wine glasses.  I didn’t know what else to do except buy a box for Wendy.

I mention this as a way of explaining my inability to move potential business enterprises beyond the idea stage. Which, in turn, I believe, explains my impulse to dismiss others who not only conceive of a good idea, but also see it to fruition. Who do they think they are? The gall!

It’s not so much that I’m envious — OK, that’s not completely true — as it is the simple fact that they did it. Even if they fall short or flat on their face, that they took a risk and invested time, brainpower, brawn and often money into something they strongly believe in, is a major accomplishment.  What’s more, it’s the definition of success.

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Setting aside my own petty jealousies and mishegas, I’m devoting this space to two impressive, young Jewish entrepreneurs, one of whom you’ll meet today, the other next week, to give them each the space and attention they deserve. 

Already an award-winning children’s author, Melanie Paticoff, 24, of St. Louis, recently launched what she describes as the first magazine designed for young people, ages 5 to 18, with hearing loss. Hearing Our Way, which will be available in print in June, features stories from teens with hearing loss as well as advice, tips and lessons in self-advocacy. Additionally, Paticoff is hoping teachers and parents will find the classroom reader useful in helping their students or children improve listening, language and self-confidence skills. 

“This is definitely a niche audience, but the need for this (magazine) is strong,” said Paticoff, who grew up in Jericho, N.Y. and received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in deaf education at Fontbonne and Washington universities, respectively. Paticoff became interested in the field when her first cousin, Julie, who was diagnosed with severe hearing loss at the age of 2, came to St. Louis from Long Island to attend school here for three years.

“At first I couldn’t understand why they had to move away,” said Paticoff, referring to Julie and her mother. “Then I came to visit and went to Julie’s school. It was life changing. I realized that what was going on at Moog (Center for Deaf Education) and CID (Central Institute for the Deaf) was groundbreaking.

“They were teaching listening and spoken language skills, rather than sign language. Right then I knew what I wanted to do with my life.”

Paticoff says Julie, now 18, has a “phenomenal ability” to appreciate and to listen to music, thanks in large part to her early education in St. Louis and bilateral cochlear implants. “Julie’s school in St. Louis gave me a relationship with her that I didn’t have before,” said Paticoff. “We bonded through a love of music and dance. Every Passover and Rosh Hashanah, Julie, my younger sister and I have put on performances for our entire family.”

After finishing Wash U, Paticoff decided to make St. Louis her home not only because of the excellent deaf-education facilities and learning opportunities here but also because of the local Jewish community. She’s part of the LENS On entrepreneurial program for twenty- and thirty-somethings run by the Millstone Institute, and a board member of Next Dor STL, a meeting place in the Central West End for Jewish young adults.

Oh, and by the way, the magazine, which already has 600 subscriptions, isn’t Paticoff’s first foray into entrepreneurialism. She is the author of a children’s book series about a dog, named Sophie, with hearing loss. Out of 800 entries, “Sophie’s Tales: Learning to Listen,” won a bronze medal at the 2010 Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards, where teachers, librarians, booksellers and book reviewers serve as judges. Paticoff also has produced a video and maintains a website dedicated to assisting children with hearing loss. 

For more information about all of Paticoff’s projects, go to HearingOurWay.com.

Next week: Move over, Barbie