News & Events

‘It’s good to go out on top’

June 19, 2017

Sister Maralynn to step away from Mercy Speech Center after 49 years  

By Gary Loncki
NyPaW Communications Director

Sister Maralynn Sciarrino enjoys a game with four-and-a-half
year-old Giani Rizzo 
to help improve his speech at the Mercy 
Speech Center in Buffalo.

Recently, four-and-a-half year-old Giani Rizzo of Williamsville, New York, came scampering into the brightly-decorated classroom of the Mercy Speech Center to be greeted by Sister Maralynn Sciarrino with a smile, hug and welcoming words. “He is so cute,” the director said to the boy’s mother, Lynn Rizzo. Soon,

“He is so cute,” the director said to the boy’s mother, Lynn Rizzo. Soon,

Soon, Maralynn takes the youngster through a variety of fun exercises and games aimed at improving his speech. One can easily see the ease of relationship that develops to foster her student’s learning. At one point, Maralynn, at 82, sits on the floor to play a game with the youngster who delights in the interaction.

“He loves coming here,” said Rizz  o, who is among those parents saddened to hear that Maralynn will retire on June 15 after 49 years of directing the center on the ground floor of Mercy Center, Buffalo. Sister Catherine Hunt, Maralynn’s administrative assistant, also is retiring from her post after 23 years. “Sister Maralyn is so good with him. She makes it all fun and is so positive and affirming.” Rizzo echoed what

“Sister Maralyn is so good with him. She makes it all fun and is so positive and affirming.” Rizzo echoed what

Rizzo echoed what Maralynn has often said, that “speech makes a difference in school and in interacting with other children.”

Maralynn entered the Sisters of Mercy in Buffalo in 1952 at age 18. She taught elementary school for several years and beginning in 1962 spent weekends with a group of sisters working with then-director Sister Juliana Jackson at the Mercy Speech Center, founded by Sister Maureen Kelly in 1956 to help children overcome speech difficulties. Of the group, Maralynn was the only who seemed to be drawn to it.

She spent five summers studying speech therapy at Catholic University of America in Washington plus an additional year, thanks to a grant from the National Institutes of Health. She  earned a master’s degree in speech pathology and audiology in 1968. “I didn’t even know what a speech pathologist was when I started,” she laughed. But now, after what she terms “2,700 success stories,”

“I didn’t even know what a speech pathologist was when I started,” she laughed. But now, after what she terms “2,700 success stories,”

But now, after what she terms “2,700 success stories,” Maralynn has decided it’s time to spend her time as a volunteer rocking newborn babies at nearby Mercy Hospital. According to its mission statement, the Mercy Speech Center ministers primarily to children whose speech and language disorders “necessitate professional evaluation, subsequent speech therapy and/or language therapy,” which:

According to its mission statement, the Mercy Speech Center ministers primarily to children whose speech and language disorders “necessitate professional evaluation, subsequent speech therapy and/or language therapy,” which:

Maralynn conducts a speech therapy session with Giani Rizzo.

  • enables children to express themselves so that they can be understood,
  • corrects speech and language disorders preparing children for education in a school classroom environment,
  • supplements education by training children in Central Auditory Processing skills, and
  • assists a population who may not be reached by other agencies due to family income and/or degree of disability.

The center works with students between the ages of four-and-a-half years through high school. Most are in the second-through-eighth grades and have been diagnosed with central auditory processing disorders or speech production disorders. Some adults also have taken advantage of the center’s services. “Central auditory processing disorder is similar to

“Central auditory processing disorder is similar to an auditory dyslexia, and it necessitates training the child in auditory memory, discrimination and organizational skills. We train their minds and memories so that they can hear, process and produce sounds correctly,” Maralynn said.  

“My role is that of a loving, understanding presence to the child as the skills, necessary to be articulate and successful in education, are learned. As educational success increases so does the child’s self-confidence, and this seems to be the beginning of increased motivation for successful learning,” said Maralynn, surrounded in her classro  om by dolls, metal and framed posters and other collectibles related to the late Lucille Ball, her favorite comedian. All are gifts from students and parents.

Over the years, she said, basic speech therapy has been combined with literacy. At the Mercy Speech Center it’s called the Magic Penny Program.

“It has gone from working with sounds to the literacy part of it. It takes into consideration spelling, the ability to write, to hear something, comprehend it and write it down on paper,” she said.

She noted that the program takes the best from the old and integrates it with the new.

“It’s fantastic to watch students in the program and see their faces when the light goes on for them. There is such a need for this in schools,” she said.  

At its height, the Mercy Speech Center worked with 80 students a year when Maralynn was full-time. In recent years, she helped about 25 students a year working part-time. When the center closes, students currently in the program will go to Buffalo Hearing and Speech Center or to similar programs in local schools.

“I have had the best career going with all of the children!” she said.

Maralynn still maintains friendships with former students and will miss seeing young, excited faces when that spark of learning is recognized. But, she said, it’s time to move on to something new.

“It’s good to go out on top,” she said.

And there are babies waiting to be rocked.

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