In a Wal-Mart near the Hookers’ home, McKenzie Levert is taking Zoe shopping. A long-limbed 28-year-old, Levert stoops to let Zoe squeeze a toothpaste tube and try on some ponytail holders. In the toy department, the little girl climbs into an electric mini-car. With Levert’s help, she presses the foot pedal. The ensuing collision is not serious, and Zoe signs, “More!”
Levert is a graduate of the two-year intervenor program at George Brown College in Toronto, Canada, widely regarded as the best in the world. She moved to the town of Spring to work one-on-one with the neediest of the triplets. At eight each weekday morning, she coaxes Zoe out of bed, then begins instructing her in the basics of daily living — everything from hygiene and food preparation to navigation and communication. After bath time and breakfast, Levert leads her charge upstairs to a room with a child-size table and a cubby full of learning aids.
Levert reinforces spoken words with tactile signs. For each activity — playing, baking, shopping — she hands Zoe a flash card with the word printed in Braille and a symbolic object (a ball, a whisk, a plastic bag) glued on for good measure. There are shape-sorting lessons, vocabulary drills and Play-Doh sessions. By four, when Levert heads home, Zoe has an air of happy exhaustion.
For Liz and George, snagging an intervenor like Levert wasn’t easy. Hiring three seemed impossible. The Hookers had decided they wanted a George Brown grad, but the going rate — $50,000 a year — exceeded the couple’s annual income, and no insurance policy would cover it. Other families, they knew, were in a similar bind.
So the couple started a nonprofit called the DeafBlind Children’s Fund. Their aim was to provide a miracle worker for any kid who required one. The fund’s first beneficiary, however, was to be the triplet whose frustration level seemed highest. Sophie was at last beginning to grasp at language; Emma seemed relatively serene. But when Zoe wanted something and couldn’t say what it was, she would punch herself in the face. “She had so much motivation,” George says, “and nowhere to direct it.”
In late 2006, the organization held its first fund-raiser, a charity golf tournament that netted enough to hire a George Brown alum for one year. Soon afterward, the couple went on the Dr. Phil show, and the celebrity therapist (after offering advice on handling their extraordinary stresses) announced that his personal foundation, in partnership with online lender Lowermybills.com, would put up $50,000 to cover the intervenor’s second year.