Katherine Pawlowski came into kindergarten at Timber Lane Elementary with her hair pulled down in front of her ears, self-conscious about her pink hearing aid, recalled Principal Kimberly Cook.
Within a week, Katherine had shed that shyness, and happily answered questions from curious classmates about her hearing loss.
“She became herself and just showed who she really is,” Cook said. “She’s very charismatic and just a superstar in her class.”
Now a second grader, Katherine still puts that vibrant personality to work teaching people about hearing loss. But this year, the 8-year-old will do so on a much larger scale: Katherine is serving this year as the inaugural Walk4Hearing ambassador for the Hearing Loss Association of America.
The national organization holds 5-kilometer walks across the country to raise money for programs and services for people who are deaf and hard of hearing.
Katherine and her family, who live in the Falls Church area of Fairfax County, first participated in the Walk4Hearing in Washington in 2012. There, they met Ronnie Adler, the Walk4Hearing director. When it came time to start planning the 2013 walks, Adler asked Katherine to speak at the fundraising kickoff for the D.C. event this past September. Katherine’s speech, “Why I Walk,” received a standing ovation.
“Katherine spoke with such confidence and passion for the walk and for kids who are, as she described, ‘just like me,’” Adler said. “So we created a role that best fits her talents and charm.”
Adler asked Katherine and her family in January about letting the second grader work as the ambassador, and then tailored the role for her. Katherine will attend eight of the 21 Walk4Hearing events taking place nationwide in the spring and fall, starting with the walk in Rochester, N.Y., on May 4, and ending with the walk in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 25.
At the events, Katherine will reach out to other children with hearing loss. Throughout the year, she will also interview other children with hearing loss for the Hearing Loss Association of America’s magazine.
Despite her initial shyness in front of classmates, Katherine now discusses her hearing loss matter-of-factly.
“My teacher wears a microphone, and I have a receiver that connects to my hearing aid, so the sound goes right into my ear,” Katherine said.
Katherine was born with progressive hearing loss in her right ear. At age 4, she also developed hearing loss in her left ear, though several surgeries have since enabled her to regain hearing in that ear.
In the last two years, Katherine, her family and friends came together as the “Friends of Fairfax County” team in the Washington, D.C. Walk4Hearing, according to her mother, Megan Pawlowski said.
The team raised more than $3,500 in 2012, and more than $5,500 in 2013, each year counting among the top fundraisers.
Katherine and her team partner with the Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons (NVRC), which receives 40 percent of the funds raised. The NVRC plans to put that money toward services and events for children in Fairfax County schools with hearing loss.
The first such event will be held next Friday, April 25, at the NVRC in Fairfax. Katherine will meet with a group of elementary, middle and high school students from Fairfax County schools to discuss programs and outreach for other students who have hearing loss.
The students will also discuss team-building and fundraising for this year’s Walk4Hearing. Katherine’s aim this year is to raise more than $10,000.
“We can do it,” Katherine said. “I know a lot of people.”