Dear speech IRL friends,
As you all know, community is one of the founding values of speech IRL. We believe that access to a supportive, accepting, challenging community is essential for successful communication and personal growth.
As an extension of the values and work that we hold dear at speech IRL, I am deeply excited to share with you about a very special endeavor that I’ve had the honor to work on for the past year. Welcome to Shared Voices Chicago: A Community for People Who Stutter.
Shared Voices is envisioned as a Chicago-based non-profit community center for people who stutter, by people who stutter. We want people who stutter to speak authentically and confidently in their professional and personal lives, without fear of judgment or barriers to success.
This is a first-of-its-kind concept: a brick-and-mortar meeting space, both safe and empowering, that welcomes PWS into a safe community, and simultaneously supports them to go out and create a better world for people with diverse voices. This is not a speech therapy clinic. All activities will be created by the stuttering community, for the stuttering community, to meet the needs of today and change the world for tomorrow.
As a member of the founding Board of Directors, I will be serving in the role of Community Outreach Chair, advising on staffing and program development. We are fundraising in 2018 to launch a series of hosted community events in 2019, followed by opening our main event space and full slate of programming in the second half of 2019 and moving into 2020.
It’s been quite a journey so far, from the standpoint of a founding board member and also for me personally. Those who know me and/or who have been active in the stuttering community for a long time have had a lot of questions! I’ve composed this letter to address some of the most common queries, and also so that you can get to know us a little more...because we are SO excited to grow our community!
Our founding Board is comprised of myself and the Gould family, a husband, wife, and son with deep personal stuttering experiences and longtime ties to Chicago. This adventure first started shortly after I met Larry Gould, a recently retired real estate developer and PWS. He contacted me because he wanted to get involved in philanthropy after retiring, and was passionate about helping young people who stutter, having had a long personal journey himself. Larry attended a few NSA meetings and we spent a lot of time talking about the impact of stuttering and the need for community support. He proposed that we build a stuttering-focused community center to help kids, teens, adults, job seekers, parents, and professionals.
Over the course of the next year, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Hilary and Lucas. Hilary has had the all-too-common experience of a mother, determined to help her child, crossed by a world that doesn’t understand stuttering. She was constantly battling educators and therapists who didn’t understand stuttering and made judgmental assumptions about her son because he stuttered. Most speech therapy missed the point. Through persevering, Hilary and Lucas found a few great professionals who taught him the value of self-advocacy and speaking out. She’s asked me why more therapists don’t “get it”. I don’t have an answer.
Lucas and I have hung out a few times, including at some NSA meetings. We share a favorite mentor, Connie Dugan (his former speech therapist and my current professional yoda). Working on this project with Lucas has been really special, since he has the zeal of a young person with very fresh experiences and still a lot of life questions to answer, as he heads into his junior year at Northwestern. In addition to being our first Junior Board member, he also holds the honor of naming our organization Shared Voices!
As I’ve worked with the Goulds this year, we’ve discovered an amazing network of people in Chicago who are passionate about this center and our community-centered cause. When we first started batting this concept around as an idea, we weren’t sure how much financial and infrastructure support we would find. We’ve found allies and generous donors in the most unexpected places-- friendships that go back decades, colleagues and connections who have been personally impacted by stuttering, but never spoken to anyone about it. When we realized what an enormous untapped community was in Chicago, we decided to turn this into a reality.
What about your other work with the stuttering community?
The practicalities of this project began while I was serving on the Board of the National Stuttering Association (NSA). I first started volunteering with the NSA in 2013, when I founded the City of Chicago chapter, and it has changed my life. When it became clear that Shared Voices had a real shot, I realized it would be neither feasible nor ethical to serve on the Boards of two similar organizations, and reached out to the NSA leadership for guidance. The NSA has been around for decades and has its own robust infrastructure and diverse Board-- in other words, it could go on easily without me. Shared Voices, as a new Chicago non-profit start-up, needed my support as a local community organizer.
After much wholehearted discussion and guidance from NSA leadership, my NSA Board position was consolidated and I resigned from the NSA Board in 2017. I’ve been full-time on the Shared Voices Board since early 2018.
I’m still a member of the NSA, participating in events and volunteering for specific activities on occasion. My strategy, leadership, and fundraising efforts and now committed to Shared Voices.
I wouldn’t be the person I am today, and new organizations like Shared Voices couldn’t even exist, without the support and opportunities that the NSA has provided to myself and so many others. In recognition of the work of the NSA and other great stuttering organizations, Shared Voices is committed to supporting and encouraging any stuttering-positive organization that is hosting activities in Chicago. As a former NSA chapter leader, I’ve experienced first hand how challenging and frustrating it is to find space to conduct community activities, and how much of an impact the right space (or wrong space!) can have on a successful group experience. Our local NSA chapters will always be NSA chapters-- but we look forward to offering a physical space that can truly be “home” for gatherings of people who stutter.
Aren’t there already a lot of stuttering organizations? What’s the point of this one? What are you doing differently?
The short answer: we’re targeting two intersectional communities, one that is cause-based (stuttering) and one that is geographically-based (Chicagoland).
Philosophically, the work of Shared Voices aligns with that of other organizations like the NSA, Friends, and the Stuttering Association for the Young (SAY). We’ll likely have some overlap in programming, just as these current organizations do. However, everything we do will be developed for our home locale of Chicagoland. Chicago currently has a total lack, and therefore extreme need, for non-profit, community-centered stuttering resources and programming. Organizations with a national focus have activities in our city from time to time, but aren’t able to invest heavily in the needs of any single specific metro area.
Chicagoans are a passionate scrappy bunch. We love our city and we love each other. Focusing on our local community enables us to engage with local community partners on a more meaningful level, and serve the intersectional needs of the Chicago stuttering community on issues like education and employment barriers.
OK, so there’s no chance you’ll be coming to my city anytime soon…
Hey, let us do one thing at a time… 🙂
We do see a scenario where some of our partnerships naturally extend to other metro areas (eg working with large employers in Chicago who have offices in other cities).
For now, though, we’re keeping things close to home while we learn what works and what doesn’t. We’ll be sure to keep everyone posted as we grow!
You’re an SLP. But there’s no speech therapy?
Correct. And honestly, this is one of the aspects that excites me the most.
It became pretty obvious to me, very early in my career, that PWS seem to be more effective at helping fellow PWS, compared to SLPs. I had clients and PWS friends and client-friends who told me about various programs they attended, where they knew more about stuttering and had more experience in therapy than the actual SLPs. I even spent a year having earnest conversation with non-SLP PWS friends about creating some kind of alternative speech therapy service that was all PWS coaching PWS, who seemed to be better qualified experts. Insurance would never pay for that though, so we gave up…
Years later, this feels like a possible incarnation of that idea. An infrastructure and resource support system, just like in a speech therapy clinic, but with community members as the experts.
Of course, we do recognize that speech therapy is important, and that many people who walk through the doors of Shared Voices may benefit greatly from speech therapy. As a private practice owner and stuttering specialist, I’ve always struggled with how to create access to good speech therapy, since it is often prohibitively expensive.
One of my current projects is establishing partnerships with local stuttering specialists. These partnerships will enable families and individuals in the Shared Voices community to access high-quality professional services by removing financial barriers to private therapy. We’ve received fantastic and enthusiastic responses from local professionals, and I’m very excited to see how Shared Voices will provide more options for PWS as they chart their individual stuttering journeys.
The mission of Shared Voices is to provide community-centered support, not speech therapy. However, we recognize that speech therapy is a very important piece of the puzzle for many people who stutter, and it's important to us to assist with access to supportive services to the best of our ability.
What’s your 12-month plan?
2018 is focused on fundraising and early infrastructure development. Our marquee golf fundraiser is on October 1st at the Bryn Mawr Country Club, where our goal is to raise funds for 2019 and 2020.
In 2019, we plan to host a series of mostly social events to grow community connection and engagement. These events will be for both kids and adults. We’ll also activate our speech therapy partnership program. We’ll be heavily soliciting community feedback and requests throughout the year, which will inform what robust programs we invest in heavily in the latter part of the year.
By the end of 2019, we plan to open our official space and consistent community programming. Administrative and program staff will run daily operations and activities (including after-school programs), with topical workshops and meetups based on community interest.
OK, I guess that’s longer than 12 months. Given that most of our Board has extensive entrepreneurial experience, we’re expecting that MUCH will change and evolve between now and next year! We’ve established our values and vision, and have already laid the groundwork for our early programming and community support work. Paired with the shared vision of our local communities, we’re confident that impactful, mission-driven activities will be in full swing by this time next year.
Can I be a part of this?
We’re still building our slate of program offerings and kick-off priorities. This is a community center, so we need community feedback! If you’re excited by this idea, and have ideas or hopes of your own, please share with us by filling out our community survey.
To stay up-to-date, drop me an e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll add you to our mailing list for events, workshops, hangouts, and more!
To become a sponsor or financial supporter, visit our website or contact our Development Chair, Hilary Gould, at email@example.com.
To become involved in a more substantial way, whether you live in Chicago or not, shoot me an e-mail and we’ll talk. If you have an idea, or a desire, we’re honored to hear it. I’m a firm believer that even if the logistics look tricky on the surface, if hearts and minds are passionately aligned, there’s always a way to do something meaningful and impactful. So let’s chat.
Join us for lunch!
As a community kick-off, we’re hosting an open welcome luncheon for anyone who wants to learn about Shared Voices. This luncheon will be on Sunday, July 8th, the day after the NSA conference finishes. Everyone is welcome (including non-Chicagoans who are still hanging around)! This will be a relaxed, casual event where we will answer any and all questions, and also gather input, ideas, and allies for those who want to stay more involved as we move forward.