SAN ANTONIO, TX—Emma Faye Rudkin, 19, is the first deaf/HoH person to win the title of Miss San Antonio. She is the founder of Aid the Silent, a deaf ministry and advocacy non-profit organization and currently works as the Social and Digital Media Coordinator for Rudkin Productions Full Service Advertising. Rudkin is currently earning her Bachelor’s Degree in Communications/Graphic Arts at UTSA Honors College. In her spare time, she enjoys singing and performing on the piano, guitar and ukulele and posting on her fashion, lifestyle and travel blog. Canyon News obtained an exclusive interview with Rudkin on Saturday, October 3.
CN: Congratulations on winning the title of Miss San Antonio 2015! What does this title mean to you?
EFR: I am the very first Miss San Antonio who has been deaf and that makes my heart incredibly proud. I was one of the first in a very long time with profound hearing loss to place top ten at Miss Texas for a chance to go on to Miss America. It is a platform and it gets me in the door, none of my worth or identity in the title, crown and sash. I get to make people (and children especially) feel loved and sadly that isn’t something people daily get to experience. From sitting on a floor and playing music with a sick child to asking an important businessman how his day was, everyone deserves my undivided attention and to know of their value, that they are invaluable.
My story caused a wave because it is a story of redemption and we all were made for that. Quickly, the reach of my title went beyond San Antonio and beyond Texas. The Miss San Antonio adventure has taken me all the over the United States and has made Aid the Silent internationally known. I have had a total of 13 television appearances and five more are on the schedule. Two of my television appearances have been picked up by national syndication and have been aired all over the country. One was produced by Ivanhoe Broadcasting, which reaches 200 television network affiliates in the United States reaching 82 million television households. It’s been crazy!
CN: As an honors student and communications major at UTSA, hopeful earner of your Masters of Science in Deaf Education and Hearing Science, and hopeful Christian seminary attendee, what is your “dream” career, post-grad?
EFR: The dream within me is to point people to deeper and more abundant living. I do not believe we were made to simply exist or to pass people by. I believe that we were made to engage in life and people’s lives head on. For me success is truly helping people and inviting them into more life. I have found the answer for rich living to be in Jesus, and that is why my calling is to share that story with others and what that encounter has done in my life. I have dreams for the Aid the Silent to be an internationally known organization; to give hundreds of resources to disadvantaged deaf/HoH children and teens; and to partner with the camp organization Young Life to create a new branch called “Deaf Life” so that deaf/HoH teenagers can be introduced to Jesus. By having a Communications degree, a masters in Deaf Education and going on to Christian seminary, it all equips me in working with the deaf and HoH from all different walks.
CN: What does higher education mean to you? Do you think that more deaf/HoH people should pursue higher education?
EFR: I know it is possible; there should never be an “if possible” for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals. If we put the boxes or limitations on ourselves then we always just meet that, we are our own biggest hindrance to following our callings. If someone’s dream requires higher education, a physical barrier of deafness has nothing to do with a person’s brain or heart. If people ever question my education and wonder if I capable, I always come back out of love and grace and say “my ears don’t work but my brain works just fine.”
CN: With your organization, Aid The Silent, what possible plans do you have in the future in terms of community involvement and outreach? Will you offer any possible internships or volunteer opportunities in the future?
EFR: The dream was stirred into a fire and into having a name two years ago when I read heartbreaking statistics that 98 percent of the deaf do not know Jesus and we are the third largest unreached group with the Gospel. I discovered I was among only 2 percent of what changed my life forever. Aid the Silent started January 23 of this year and is a 501(c)(3).
The community has already shown up in amazing ways and continually blows me away. Many have contacted us wanting to give their time and resources away for the organization and we have life now as an organization because of this generosity. I believe it is a contagious movement of love and inviting others to share it is definitely in the future plans. Someday, through creating the program “Deaf Life” we will need volunteer leaders to live life with and build relationships with deaf high schoolers and middle schoolers. For big events like our upcoming 5K, we need many volunteers, runners, vendors and sponsors to make it as successful as it can be.
CN: How has your experience as Social and Digital Media Coordinator for Rudkin Productions affected your future career plans? Have you always been passionate about marketing as well as your plethora of other interests?
EFR: My mother started an ad agency over twenty-three years ago and that meant I grew up among some of the most talented and creative people ever. I learned early on that I was not gifted in the realms of math and science but I could color the heck out of a coloring book. I always sat next to graphic artists and would just watch them for hours; it was exhilarating to watch something beautiful grow out of nothing, a white blank screen becoming full of life and color. Later on I learned that it was exciting to watch that same process happen in people.
At fourteen, I started working and experimenting graphically and I am grateful to the artists who would tell me my work was “crap” but then show me how to improve. The summer after my senior year, my own mother hired me for social media because I was gaining a lot of stride in running social media for some other organizations I worked for. I was learning the ins and outs of social media and the science behind it and really the pure luck behind getting a message out socially. I am incredibly passionate about marketing because it is coming up with the best ways to share a story. A business or non-profit will not extend its reach or grow without good marketing and social media, it has been crucial in Aid the Silent taking off. The #ShowYourAids movement, I created to be proud of deafness and hearing loss, went global because of social media. Only this past month, ATS was reaching at one point over 103,000 people in the insights.
CN: What’s the best piece of advice would you give to a young member of the Deaf/HoH community? What is the best piece of advice you would give to anyone hoping to break into the nonprofit sector or the marketing industry?
EFR: To a young member of the Deaf/HoH community, it is important to know that your hearing equipment, speech and story are beautiful because it speaks loudly to a chaotic and noisy world. It is up to you to change the stigma of hearing loss and how we are treated. In love and grace, you change people’s hearts and by being open, you invite others into the authenticity as well.
In both the non-profit sector and marketing industry, my advice is don’t be afraid to ask for anything within reason (and even if it is throwing reason to wind sometimes). A non-profit is for a common good, so we ought to give people the opportunity to show up and be good. Many have surprised me, sometimes all it takes is stepping out in radical faith and asking if they want to be a part of the work you are doing or even volunteer a service, it would end up thrilling them to be in on the adventure as well. People are always searching for deeper living and weirdly enough, it means serving and giving your life away. There will be instances where you do not know how to do something, but your gut tells you to “say yes and learn the rest later,” that is an important voice to listen to because that is how you grow.
If you have a friend that is a dreamer as well, have those brainstorming sessions and say out loud the outlandish dreams stirring up within. Those friends, who I have those “big dreaming” conversations with, are some of my very favorites… there is nothing better than a good cup of coffee and dreaming.
For more information about the upcoming 5K run that Rudkin’s non-profit organization will be hosting, click here.