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Opening Communication Doors: Doreen Pollack AVT Scholarship Winner Leslie Guzman on the Joys of LSL

Doreen Pollack was a trailblazer and fierce advocate for Listening and Spoken Language. Ahead of her time, she believed that learning to listen was the pathway to speech for children with hearing impairments.

Lea en Español

By Kirsten Ballard

Pollack’s work, advocacy and legacy led to the standard of excellence in Listening and Spoken Language and her work inspired The Listen Foundation.

Her legacy lives on with the Listen Foundation’s Doreen Pollack AVT Scholarship, in association with AG Bell. The scholarship assists one LSLS professional per year in fulfilling the requirements for certification as a Listening and Spoken Language Specialist (LSLS®) in Auditory-Verbal Therapy (LSLS Cert. AVT®).

This year, it went to another fierce advocate for listening and spoken language, Leslie Guzman, SLP.

“It’s an honor to have been selected,” she says. “I met so many qualified professionals and upcoming professionals at [AG Bell’s Symposium] and I know a lot of them applied, so to have been selected out of such an amazing group, it’s just such an honor.”

Doreen’s children, Naomi Cohen and Doug Pollack, serve on the Listen Foundation’s board of directors. They founded the scholarship honoring their mother in 2017. They wanted to provide financial support to listening and spoken language therapists looking to get certified. The field is very narrow, with only 760 certified specialists in the United States as of November 2022.

“We’re looking for someone who fulfills all the requirements [of getting certified] but in Leslie’s case, we also saw someone who seemed to be reaching out to an underserved community, which is a very good thing,” says Doug. “She has fabulous qualifications and strong recommendations from her mentors, it was a really good pool to pick from.”

“We had six really strong candidates this year,” says Naomi. “We’re really looking to the future and we want to make sure everybody is served.”

Leslie works as a speech language pathologist at the University of New Mexico Hospitals. She went to undergrad for communications disorders.

“I always wanted to work within this realm,” she says. After undergrad, Leslie originally worked with patients with cleft lip and palate, many of whom had hearing loss. “I was surrounded by individuals who needed support,” she says.

She went on to work at Presbyterian Ear Institute for a year, drawn to helping children who are deaf or hard of hearing. “Immediately, I was drawn to supporting these children and their families. I saw the need for more services for listening and spoken language.”

She says her greatest joy in her career is seeing parents and their children able to communicate. “It’s seeing that spark that happens, as soon as they’re able to really communicate and engage with each other,” she says.

In 2018, she moved to UNM hospital and began work to form partnerships and grow the listening and spoken language program. “In New Mexico, there really isn’t much [support for these families], so I developed that interest and now have a bigger goal to support more individuals.”

She says winning the scholarship makes her path to certification very real. “First and foremost, it puts a deadline on me,” she says. Leslie aims to finish her certification in June 2024. “This is going to happen for me, and again being in a state where support isn’t always there, it shows me that there are a ton of possibilities and support I can find as long as I keep working hard.”

“And then, there’s also the financial support,” she says. “I’m a mother and a lot of my expenses go to supporting my child and my little family. Now I know I can pay for things on time and get things done within this next year.”

The scholarship provides $1,500, which helps offset the cost of the exam, says Doug.

“My mother was all about education, not only of the individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing but just in general. [This scholarship] really exemplifies something that was very important to her, helping people continue their education. From my sister’s and my standpoint, it’s just amazing to see that our mom’s name lives on in this kind of positive format.”

Leslie is looking forward to completing her certification and continuing to grow and support the LSL community. “I can’t wait to also be that person supporting others so we can all reach our goal to let families know of what possibilities are out there for their children,” she says.


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