Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I'm thankful for a special kind of freedom!

Good evening everyone,

Tonight is Thanksgiving Eve, and all across the country there is a plethora of things to be done: the traveling to family and loved ones, the manic last-minute preparations for the feast to be unveiled tomorrow, or, the start of the party night of the year. (Well, at least according to the countless advertisements for bars I've heard on the radio). We all know the roots of Thanksgiving, with the Pilgrims, and we have many things to be thankful for: our family, our health, our freedoms. Yet above all else, there's one freedom I have never taken for granted, and it wasn't until it was taken from me that I realized how important it truly is. They say you don't know what you have until it's gone, and isn't that the truth. I am talking about the freedom to stutter openly and do so without shame and embarrassment-the freedom to be myself.

Growing up on Long Island, I lived in a close-knit community-and there really wasn't much "wiggle room" in the popularity race. You either were somebody, or you weren't. Each person had an identity that went far beyond the name, and I knew what mine was: "Steven the Stutterer." I can still re-live those cruel days when I would ask to sit down for lunch and the vocal chords locked, just like the car wheels in the snow. "Sorry, this seat is taken," or "Come on, Stuttering Steve! Spit out the words." I had accepted that was my fate, to be known as "Stuttering Steve." It got so bad that I would actually eat lunch by myself in the nurse's office. I didn't have to make up any excuses, I would just walk into the office, give a nod which was acknowledged, and go into the bed to eat. That would become my refuge, and my safe place. Of course, I never dared tell my parents about what I experienced.

And yet, the pain grew so long and hard. Every Thanksgiving holiday that passed, just felt like a Groundhog Day episode: the angst, the alienation, and being secluded from the rest of the modern world. I felt like an uninvited guest to the dinner table, and when I would sit down and ask for something to be passed to me, I could never get the words out. "Cranberry" would come out like "c-c-crrrrrrranberry" and as I was fumbling with the words, my mom would sit there exasperated and my dad would be rolling his eyes wondering why I could not say what I wanted. After that, I decided to spend my Thanksgiving holidays at a diner by myself, just me and the trimmings. And as I'd be eating, I would look over and see the happy families laughing, just enjoying being together, and seeing my heart ripped out and the blood squeezing very slowly in front of me.

These are certainly unprecedented times we live in: jobs are being cut, sacrifices made and unpopular choices around us. But this Thanksgiving, I look back on the memories of Scottsdale for the 2009 NSA annual conference, and those memories keep me going. I think about how above all else, I am grateful for the freedom I have: the freedom to stutter. The freedom to educate and empower my teammates, and learn from all of them. The freedom to share my head-over-heels love of the National Stuttering Association ( with SLP students who will make their mark on the speech pathology field. I learn just as much from them and hopefully they learn from me. We all live through each other, celebrating our triumphs and learning about our challenges. The freedom to stutter and be who you are is truly the biggest reason to celebrate Thanksgiving.

It's always human nature to want more than what we have. Yet at the same time, I realize now that I am a special teammate with a gift. This is a precious gift that all NSA teammates have. The gift to love, the gift to learn, and the gift to make this world better than it is. Many times these gifts will not go recognized, but to those who are touched by them, just knowing that their world is brighter is enough thanks. But if you really want to see this gift in action, come to the NSA Conference in 2010 but just watch the last day when teammates leave to say goodbye. For those special teammates we call "first-timers," watch the tears down their face, and the families' faces as well. Some things really are priceless.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my teammates!

My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I made a memory of positive hope in the District of Columbia!!!

Good evening all my teammates,

I have to start off this blog entry by letting everyone know that even in the most trying of days and times, like the ones we face today, it is a given that if you keep focusing on the task at hand and never waving the white flag of surrender, eventually you will hit milestones. Many times these milestones are not often marked by the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, or anything tangible. But they are marked the belief that anything is possible, even when we don't think it is.

On Thursday, Nov. 12, I began my travels from Long Island down to Washington, DC. Now most hear that and they are like, "Oh wow, nothing special. What's the big deal about the Turnpike and the Beltway?" Well, most times, there isn't, after all, those roads have been traveled many times before. But I was en route to the nation's capital for a very special and unique event. For the past two years, I have worked part-time while I seek full-time employment. These are perilous times we live in regarding today's economy, after all, safety nets (if they still exist) are hanging on by a thread. I found out about a special job fair being sponsored by a Long Island-based company called Equal Opportunity Publications, and they were hosting a job fair designed for candidates with disabilities. It was held at the Reagan Trade Building in downtown Washington, with many federal agencies and private employers looking to hire. I knew it was something I had to go to.

As I was driving down there and passing the Philadelphia skyline on I-95, I began to wonder a few things. Would I be the only who stutters there? How will I be perceived by other candidates as well as employers? Am I acknowledging I have a disability or not? So many questions and different ways to answer, so I want to share my thoughts on each perspective. Waiting on line to enter the job fair, I saw many different candidates facing challenges and being proud to represent themselves to the fullest: whether it was blindness, deafness, or paralysis. Stuttering is gaining so much momentum in the eyes of the world and I am proud to be a teammate who can show others the impact it has, but more importantly, what it can do for you if you have a positive attitude. As soon as I open my mouth, someone will know I stutter. And so what if they do? I was honored to be in the company of those candidates looking for work.

As to whether I feel I have a disability, I would say no, but there is a caveat. I suppose in the eyes of the law, I might be perceived as having one. I have worked with (and still am) working with vocational counselors and there are special considerations I can be given for employment with state and federal government. I want to be judged on my character and what I can do, even though most times it seems like we are judged based on our past and track record. I am taking advantage of an opportunity that was furnished to me, and I'd be foolish not to accept it. Sometimes it does frustrate me to deal with employers because HR people may seem disinterested or not care, especially if the job requires some level of oral proficiency. All jobs do. But do you know how I respond? I think this one sentence says it all: You may think I have a disability, but in reality, it's my greatest asset." How true it is!!!!

With every employer I met, I showcased the National Stuttering Association proudly. Many employers were impressed by my intense desire and loyalty to this incredible organization. In fact, one recruiter I met with had a cousin who stutters, and I told him all about the NSA Nation and how tremendous they are, and provided him with the contact information to get in touch. I also met a recruiter from NASA who was interested in possibly discussing a media a ride on the shuttle will not be offered LOL. Great contacts were made, and resumes/business cards exchanged.

We as teammates but more importantly human beings know when we've experienced something great and how it feels. As a teammate who stutters, we tend to focus on more the negatives than the positive. I have faced and will continue to face many challenges with my speech, but I also know with the NSA Nation, I will remain focused on what needs to be done and know that I will never surrender to stuttering. When you experience those highs, they last much longer and taste ever so sweeter.

Here's to more of those moments taking place...and as always, here's to doing what is necessary to ensure the NSA Nation keeps going.

My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Meaning Of Life, and Why You Don't Want To Live In The World Of Me!

Good evening all my teammates,

Although I am 31, in some ways I feel like my life has already started over and I am unlearning everything that I learned in college. They say college prepares you for the real, is that an understatement of the highest kind. Our lives are shaped by experience and the teammates who leave their impressions on us by how they are, how they live, and how they give of themselves. When I was studying at Nassau Community College, I happened to take an introductory philosophy course, which to me wasn't anything more than some requisite that had to be filled. Of course, the professor didn't really make the class entertaining, but rather it was one student who asked the question about the meaning of life. This might sound strange, but it took me almost a decade and a little longer to find out just what the meaning of life is...and of all things, it came out of the pages of The Sporting News. It was taken from an interview with Larry Fitzgerald, the superstar wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals, as he was speaking about his mother, who had taken great pride in being a teacher who still receives letter from her students who have grown up to be productive members of society. Here's the simple lesson: "Life is really about making changes and helping people better themselves."

As much as it bothers me to acknowledge this, sometimes I fear that we live in the world of "ME." The world of me has no place for others, or no place for giving unless something is rewarded. The world of me has permeated our society, and it can be seen on the news by hearing stories about those who have spent lavishly at the expense of others. The world of me enters one's world when you begin to develop a "I never cared about anyone attitude, so it's me against the world." That attitude may work in high school, and maybe your first years of college. But once you enter the real world, I guarantee you if you keep on doing that, the world of me will force you to succumb to everything you don't want in life, and before you realize it, you won't recognize who you are.

I face a unique set of challenges as a teammate who stutters. Before I found the National Stuttering Association, to whom I owe everything, I had often questioned why it had been me who stuttered, and why not someone else. I had longed, for example, to wish I was deaf in addition to having a stutter so that I would not have to hear what was said about me. The world today is a lot more cruel than it's ever been. I've met some of the most amazing teammates at my NSA conference who are in high school and they stand firm in their convictions. They are the first ones who will challenge others when teasing about their stuttering is involved. They are truly wise beyond their years....and it's our job as teammates to continue to mentor them.

But in the end, the choice is ours. What do you think is the meaning of life? I know what mine is: To use my power to break the stranglehold of stuttering and give support and guidance to others. I can promise you this: Wherever stuttering is and it presence threatens my teammates, I will be there.

My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.