When you mention Thursday night to most people, it means different things for different people. At one time, Thursday night meant Must-See TV for NBC. Others, it's a signal the work week is so very close to ending. For Pittsburghians, this past Thursday night was another chance for the Steel City to remind the NFL their defense means zero tolerance. But for me, once a month, the third Thursday is a special evening. It's my time....for the National Stuttering Association Long Island chapter.
I have been a chapter leader of the Long Island region for the NSA for a little over a year now. And while I admit I was so nervous about, it is the biggest source of joy and pride I have in my life. It's such an amazing feeling to give back and help others who stutter in their journey to self-acceptance. I like to say I don't have friends at the NSA....I have TEAMMATES.
The Long Island chapter was started by a local speech pathologist who lives in my hometown. Eventually, she asked me to come on board as co-leader, and later on, take over the chapter. Of course, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared, probably even more so than I was flying to the conference at Long Beach, Calif. But I also began to feel a deep passion and commitment already brewing, and one that to me, is never going to be extinguished.
The chapters of the NSA range not only in location, but number of members. From big city to suburbs, large numbers and small, we are as each unique as we are similar. My chapter is composed of people from different backgrounds, some young professionals, others are older with a wealth of experience that continue to teach us. This past meeting, for example, we talked about how Thanksgiving was coming up and what we have to be thankful for as people who stutter. I realize that it is not often easy for a person who stutters to express their thoughts, but these groups are so much more than support. It's camaraderie. I know I say that word so often one might think it's a cliche, but it's true. No one has to feel ashamed or embarassed in our environment, we are all in good company. And when we leave, we do so knowing that we've taken one more step on that journey. Our chapter has about seven members, and they are very insprational people.
A couple of conferences ago, we had a keynote speaker who spoke about a woman who stuttered who attended a support group meeting one time, but never ever returned, despite being encouraged to do so. The speaker surmised that the thought of possibly being fluent was enough to frighten her away. I am sure many chapter leaders have had that experience, with a person who comes once and never returns again. I genuinely look forward to the third Thursday of every month, where I can greet my chapter members and talk with them, listen to their thoughts, and offer suggestions and a place for them to call home. These chapter meetings are my home, and so is the NSA conference. In 2009, you will find me in Maricopa County, Ariz., (Scottsdale, to be precise) learning, laughing, crying, and relating to all people who stutter.
Last week, I was reading The Sporting News, and an article caught my attention because it was written about Matt Ryan, the rookie quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons. I'm not a fan of the Falcons, but I do follow them a little more closely because our keynote speaker at the conference was Arthur Blank, the team's owner. The article mentioned an anecdote about the players commenting on how Matt Ryan has "It." You really don't know how to describe "It," but you know when someone has "it." I mean, I used to think "It" referred to a killer clown in a Stephen King book. Thank you for laughing.....LOL. The truth be told, at our conference in Parsippany, N.J., we had over 650 people who stutter who had "It." "It" can be anything you want....but I can only hope any person who stutters attends the 2009 conference...because they will leave having "It."
My name is Steven Kaufman, and I am a person who stutters.
Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.