As a part of the National Center for Childhood Deafness and Family Communication (NCCDFC), the Mama Lere Hearing School at Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center serves children with hearing loss, their families and the community. Our goal is to maximize the child’s listening potential and communication skills so that he or she can communicate independently and effectively. We have the unique ability to provide all hearing health care services in one facility. We strive to provide best practice and proven service delivery in the areas of listening and spoken language intervention, speech-language pathology, audiology, occupational therapy, educational evaluations and individualized learning plans.
In the early 20th century, Dr. Wesley Wilkerson practiced medicine as an eye, ear, nose and throat doctor in Nashville. He was most concerned for his pediatric patients with hearing loss and was frustrated with the lack of intervention services for deaf and hard-of-hearing children, who were expected to live at home or in an institution and have very little independence as adults.
In the 1940s, Dr. Wilkerson attended several conferences where he heard Mrs. Spencer Tracey speak about her son, a profoundly deaf child who had, with early intensive intervention, learned to speak. He became determined to create a place where any child with hearing loss could come to learn to speak and communicate in order to have a much better chance at education, employment and a normal life. In 1949, Dr. Wilkerson organized a board of directors and chartered the Tennessee Hearing and Speech Foundation.
Two years later, in 1951, the Foundation opened the Bill Wilkerson Center, named in honor of Dr. Wilkerson’s son who was killed in World War II during the Battle of the Bulge when he volunteered for dangerous duty as a forward observer.
In the 1960s, the center expanded the scope of its mission to treat very young children with hearing loss. Working on the newfound belief that children learn language at a more rapid rate as toddlers and preschoolers, the center opened a demonstration project to train parents to provide ongoing language stimulation in the home environment.
In 1966, the Bill Wilkerson Center launched its first official early intervention program for children with hearing loss. This program proved to be so successful, enabling many children to be mainstreamed at age six, that the center began plans for construction of a permanent facility to house the Parent-Infant Training Program. Families came from across the southeast to participate in the program.
The new “parent teaching home” was generously funded by the Justin and Valere Potter Foundation and was dedicated in 1972. It was dubbed “The Mama Lere Home” in honor of Mrs. Potter whose children and grandchildren called her “Mama Lere.”
When the center moved to its new home in 2005, the decision was made to continue using the historic name “Mama Lere” for the hearing school, in honor of the Potter Foundation and its support of the center’s mission to create a place where children with hearing loss could come to learn to listen, speak, read and sing. In 2006 the Mama Lere Hearing School welcomed it’s first class of preschoolers.