ETCETERA - Biggs earns big award for his acting, vocal talent

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Former area resident Brandon K. Biggs received a 2010 Yes I Can! Award in Arts from the Council for Exceptional Children. At 18, he "performs so beautifully onstage, no one would suspect he has a visual impairment," according to a CEC article about his award. CEC annually honors 27 students with disabilities who have excelled, the article reported.

Awards are given in academics, arts, athletics, community service, employment, extracurricular activities, independent living skills, self-advocacy and technology. They "honor students with disabilities who have achieved remarkable things," said CEC President Jacqueline L. Mault. "Brandon exemplifies the spirit of these awards with his hard work and perseverance."

An actor and vocal performer in musical theater, Brandon acted in a local production of "Cinderella." He attended Walla Walla High School during his freshman and sophomore years and will graduate in June with a 4.2 gpa from the Foothill Middle College program in Mountain View Calif., in June, according to his parents, Sonja and Atom Biggs.

As an infant, they noticed that Brandon bumped into objects on the floor when crawling. At dinner, his eyes remained focused straight ahead, even with food in front of him.

He was diagnosed with Leber's congenital amaurosis, a rare inherited eye disease that appears at birth or shortly thereafter. Brandon is able to see shapes, light versus dark and some colors, but not facial expressions, hand or foot movement.

Brandon's teachers noted his refined listening capabilities and inquisitive nature and nurtured those qualities. As he got older, Brandon developed a passion for acting, singing and dancing. He relies on auditory cues, touch and hard work to master the gestures and facial expressions needed to pass his auditions.

An actor and vocal performer in musical theater, he has been in several school productions and numerous community theater shows, such as "Fiddler on the Roof" through the Woodside Community Theater group; and "Camelot" by the Lyric Theater of San Jose, Calif.

He received the international award for his achievements as a blind actor in musical theater on April 23 at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville as part of the CEC 2010 Convention & Expo. He also performed at the Grand Ole Opry Hotel there, Sonja said.

Brandon gave a comedic monologue and sang a song he wrote, "Busy Girl." He is currently in "Hello Dolly" with South Bay Musical Theatre in San Jose, Calif., and has a lead role as the bishop in "Les Miserables" with Starstruck Theatre in Fremont, Calif.

Brandon doesn't consider himself as having a disability. He feels the hardest part of being blind isn't the disability itself; it is the limits placed on him by those with sight.

Peggy James of Dayton, who directed him in the lead role of the prince in "Beauty and the Beast," said "Brandon is an amazing person and an inspiration to all he meets both on stage and off. He is personable, outgoing, hardworking and a glowing example to all young people with or without disabilities."

Sonja said ABC7 News in San Francisco came out and filmed a special feature on Brandon on Wednesday. An air date hasn't yet been announced.

Brandon resides in Mountain View, Calif. His grandparents, His grandparents are Dick and Shirl Phillips, reside in Walla Walla.

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The American Academy of Audiology honored Walla Walla native Dr. Stephen Fausti with a Jerger Career Award for Auditory Research.

Stephen is director of the Portland Veterans Administration Medical Center's National Center for Auditory Rehabilitative Research. He was recognized for a distinguished career in audiology research during AAA's conference in San Diego April 15.

The honor he received is the field's highest award. He founded NCRAR at the Portland VAMC in 1997. Under his leadership, it has grown substantially over the years, a release reported, and is now the country's leading research center in rehabilitative audiology.

As director, he has drawn together a group of investigators and researchers who work to help wounded warriors cope effectively with auditory impairments.

From the onset, his research aimed at improving quality of life for U.S. veterans afflicted with hearing loss, tinnitus, and/or vestibular dysfunction. Much of his career has focused on developing new strategies, protocols and equipment to allow early identification of ototoxicity.

His research and leadership in the development of practical clinical procedures for the behavioral and objective monitoring of high-frequency hearing loss has laid the groundwork for establishing standards of clinical practice in this area, and has led to the use of high frequency audiometry as a valuable clinical tool, the release noted.

He has contributed significantly to research, teaching and clinical practice of audiology. The 1961 Walla Walla High School graduate earned his bachelor's from Washington State University, his master's from the University of California at San Francisco, and his Ph.D. from the UW.

His research with veterans also led to the development of custom instrumentation and innovative techniques for obtaining electrophysiological measures of high frequency auditory function. These developments are especially applicable to patients who are unable to respond reliably to behavioral tests, due to age, injury, illness, or some other limitation.

He has contributed to the evaluation and treatment of tinnitus-pioneering an automated system for tinnitus assessment. He has investigated the auditory effects of a variety of disease processes, including otosclerosis, diabetes and multiple sclerosis and made important contributions in the areas of tympanometry, automated audiological measurement, and ABR and DPOAE sensitivity to high frequency stimuli.

In 2004, Stephen received the Paul B. Magnuson Award for Outstanding Achievement in Rehabilitative Research and Development from the Veterans Administration in recognition of "entrepreneurship, humanitarianism and dedication to veterans."

In addition to his work at NCRAR, he is a professor in the Departments of Otolaryngology and Neurology at Oregon Health & Science University and has taught at various universities throughout Oregon. He has played an active role in developing and participating in programs to mentor student audiologists in the VA health-care system. He serves on many working groups, planning committees, and editorial and review boards.

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Walla Wallans Jocelyn Rose Chandler and David Scott Bosley exchanged wedding vows in a Valentine's Day ceremony at the Little Church of the West in Las Vegas, Nev.

The bride is the daughter of Carolyn Chandler of Walla Walla and Bedford and Stephanie Chandler of Auke Bay, Alaska. The groom's parents are Vernon and Ellen Bosley of Walla Walla.

Jocelyn and David both graduated from Walla Walla High School, she in 1997 and he in 1976. They reside in Walla Walla.

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When Daria Reaven, a second-year Whitman College sociology major, began her investigation of poverty in the Walla Walla Valley, she didn't know her research would wind up at a joint gathering of state legislators and nearly 100 members of Walla Walla's church congregations.

The group met April 27 at St. Patrick Catholic Church and addressed rising poverty in the region - a trend highlighted in Daria's findings.

The Denver student began exploring the topic through Whitman's State of the State of Washington Latinos project. Daria conducted a comprehensive assessment of the main characteristics and causes of poverty in Walla Walla, said Ruth Wardwell, Whitman director of communications. It had a special focus on the Latino population.

Daria interviewed human service providers and individuals in poverty. She examined their experience with health care, unemployment, domestic abuse and transportation.

She wrote an extensive report with recommendations for how policy makers and others might proceed based on her findings.

An important component of the State of the State is to help students take their research off campus and into the real world, Ruth said.

While Daria crafted her paper into an academic presentation for Whitman's annual spring Undergraduate Conference, a group of Walla Walla congregations was planning to have a meeting with state legislators.

They wanted to talk about how churches were seeing more requests for assistance, as area social service agencies were unable to provide sustained levels of support to low-income families due to state budget cuts.

Noah Leavitt, a Coalition member who teaches at Whitman, saw that Daria was presenting at the Undergraduate Conference and read her report online. He told the Coalition about her work. They agreed Daria's research was the perfect starting point for them to think effectively about local poverty.

Dialogue with legislators highlighted her research and the Coalition applauded her for her work. The 100 attendees all received materials to take home that included components of Daria's research.

"I would say that progress is being made, but slowly," she said. "The reaction of many groups and individuals I have spoken to have been very proactive ... people are beginning to understand more and more the true nature and extent of poverty in Walla Walla.

"And with this increased understanding, my hope is that the practices and policies of the community will shift accordingly, based on the needs of the population they are attempting to serve."

Gilbert Mireles, a professor for the State of the State course, said Daria's project is an "empirically driven, theoretically framed poverty assessment of the local community."

Etcetera appears in daily and Sunday editions. Annie Charnley Eveland can be reached at annieeveland@wwub.com or afternoons at 526-8313.

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