Alumnus again honored for his service to Deaf community
Frank Lala’s growing list of successes – a Ph.D., the college’s Trustee Alumni Award, the first book on deaf substance abuse, national recognition as a counselor – offer not a hint of his unspeakably traumatic childhood.
Yet it was there on the streets of Los Angeles that a 10-year-old Lala, deaf since an antibiotic took his hearing at the age of 5, set his resolve. He chose, in the words of Nietzsche, to overcome not surrender to suffering and become a stronger person for it. Lala chose to survive and thrive.
In September, he was honored with the Hamilton Relay 2013 Deaf Community Leader Award in recognition of his accomplishments and contribution to the State of Georgia and a proclamation from Savannah Mayor Edna Jackson for his “selfless dedication, the energy of his commitment and his fully engaged loyalty to the City of Savannah and Chatham County Association of the Deaf.
“We commend Dr. Frank Lala for all that he does and the leadership he provides to the Savannah community,” Mayor Jackson said via email. “We look forward to continuing a working relationship as we continue this journey.”
A rehabilitation counselor for people who are deaf or hard of hearing for Georgia’s Department of Human Services in Savannah, Lala lost much of his family to substance abuse by the time he was 21.
“I refused to become a victim or a statistic from substance abuse,” Lala writes in his autobiography. “The healing began once I learned to forgive my parents for divorcing; my father for dying much too soon; and my beloved mother, Isabel, for drinking her life away because she didn’t know how to cope with life’s substantial obstacles thrust at her.
“I made a choice and fought back.”
Today Lala helps others follow his way to a healthy, normal, self-sustaining life. And his long list of awards and honors gives testimony to how well he does his life’s work.
He was commissioned as a “Kentucky Colonel” by the governor of that state, received his profession’s top award for sustained and meritorious service at the national level, Home Town Hero Award from the McDonald’s Foundation, and numerous other awards from international and national organizations and agencies.
Lala earned a B.S. in Community Health Education at California State Northridge, a certificate and M.F.A. in Performing Arts at U.C.L.A., and an M.Ed. in Deaf Education from Western Maryland College, now McDaniel College. Then, he went on to earn a Ph.D. in Health and Human Services from Columbia Pacific University, approved for professional counseling licensure.
While the most rewarding part of his job is making a difference to his clients, Lala counts at the very top of his long list of accomplishments his book, “Counseling the Deaf Substance Abuser,” the first and still only book on the subject. He traces some of the practices and ideas that empower his work today back to his time in the late 1970s at Western Maryland.
“Dr. McCay Vernon put the seed in me by telling me that I am gifted therefore I should not waste it,” Lala said of the late McKay Vernon, who was professor of Psychology and director of the WMC Institute on Hearing Impairment at the college from 1969 to 1991. “He suggested I should get myself involved in Deaf community services.”
Then, there was Dr. James Lightner, now a McDaniel trustee and professor emeritus of Mathematics.
“At first I did not like his Educational Research course! He was demanding and hard on his graduate students. But I am grateful that I took his course because I learned how to write scholarly journals and my doctoral dissertation.
“This course brought me recognition in the community due to my writings. Some of my writings are published in several scholarly journals.”
Despite all the honors and awards since, Lala still looks back to April 30, 1995, when his alma mater bestowed upon him its highest alumni honor, the Trustee Alumni Award.
“The recognition fuels the fire within my soul,” says Lala.