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ISTAR: Changing lives through communication

By Mike Cameron. On Feb 2, 2014.

Last Friday I had the privilege of being invited to a luncheon for one of the charities that our company supports through our affiliation with REALTORS® Community Foundation.  I have to admit I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but had been encouraged to attend.  I was honestly expecting a fancy luncheon where they sold donors on the merits of the organization and encouraged continued funding, highlighting some of the work they had done to date.  The organization was called ISTAR,  institute for stuttering treatment and research.  While perhaps a worthy cause not one that I really expected to be all that ‘touching’.  I was wrong.

The event was scheduled for a reception from 11:30 – noon with what I expected to be the luncheon at noon to 1pm.  The event was at the U of A and when we arrived at about 11:50 (felt I could miss the reception) we were already being ushered from the reception room (a small classroom type room) and up to another lecture room on another floor.  I quickly grabbed one of the cold sandwiches that were provided and we headed up to the lecture room.  It was explained to me as we made our way up to the room that what we were about to experience was actually the graduation of 5 individuals who had gone through ISTAR’s comprehensive stuttering treatment program.  The Executive Director, Deryk Beal welcomed us and talked a little about the emotional impact that stuttering had on those afflicted and how their program dealt with both the stuttering and the emotional issues that arose as a result.  My eyes were starting to open to the importance of exactly what they were doing here at ISTAR but I could not have believed what we saw next.  This three week program culminated with participants with varying degrees of stutters, giving a final speech.  That is what we were about to witness.

They began by playing video clips of the five individuals who would be presenting that day from there initial assessments.  The stuttering ranged in severity but was very evident in each of them.  One of the ISTAR ‘graduates to be’, was actually called upon to MC the presentations.  The first speaker was a young immigrant who had a very pronounced stutter in his video clip.  I was blown away by his intelligent, articulate and impactful speech about ‘Avoidance’.  He talked about how as a stutterer you often avoided putting yourself in situations where you had to speak.  He talked about the perils of avoidance and how by avoiding putting yourself in circumstances that challenged you you completely limit your growth potential.  He used the analogy of an Olympic gymnast who put themselves repeatedly in situations where they performed extremely difficult feats.  It is only by repeatedly putting themselves in these positions that they can become comfortable enough to perform their routines with precision and confidence on the big day.  He reminded us that it is only with repetition and practice that we become good at anything.  His message was one that I try to remember everyday.  Only by putting yourself in uncomfortable positions, only by stretching yourself will you grow.  He had to stop several times to wipe tears from his eyes as he told his tale.

The other four individuals demonstrated similarly remarkable transformations in their communication skills.  We learned about the emotional impact that stuttering had on each of their lives.  We learned about some of the tools they used to overcome their stutter and the negative emotions that accompanied it.  The final young lady I found particularly moving.  The depth of intellect and wisdom that went into the body of her speech astounded me.  I have asked her for permission to share some of the body of her speech and if I receive that I will post more.

The value of what ISTAR does resonated with me after watching these five individuals completely transform.  I was struck once again by the thought that truly anything is possible with the right amount of discipline and guidance.  I am thankful that ISTAR has been able to help these individuals become comfortable enough that they were able to share there thoughts, ideas and intellect with those of us in the room.  For what a shame it would be if the thoughts, ideas and inspiration we witnessed on Friday was forever locked behind a stutter.

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