Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hi, I'm a person that cares!

Hello everyone,

These days it seems like getting a compliment is a foreign concept. For so many people saying "I appreciate you" or "You are a great asset to this organization" is an experience they will never receive. I have been on the opposite ends of this spectrum at various times in my life. I have won awards from the National Stuttering Association, I've had articles published in academia and other forms of media. I have also been seen as a nobody...but hey, who hasn't been? But recently, I was discussing some interviewing tips with a friend, and he gave me a very interesting response to the question "What is your greatest weakness?" Well, the logical response in this situation is to turn it into a strength. I responded by saying "I care too much. And I am glad I do, because that allows me to make a difference in this world."

If I were to ask this question of ten different people on the street, it's only logical I'd get ten different responses. There are those who believe that "caring too much" will get you taken advantage of. I don't see it that way. Especially in the times we live in, the ability to care about something (or someone) and show empathy is something never to take for granted. Sure, I often say I am a very passionate supporter of the NSA and stuttering awareness. And yes, perhaps I can be a little obsessive from time to time. Still, being obsessive and focusing on details is a key element to trying to sustain any level of success.

If you have followed the business sections of the local papers (or nationally), you may have heard of a very successful man named Ted Leonsis. He happens to own the Washington Capitals hockey team as well as being the majority owner of the Washington Wizards. In a recent article in "The Hockey News," he was asked why he wanted to own a hockey team. I've noticed that as I am turning 33 in April, I seem to discover a lot of things about life that I am finding out there really is no road map for-like how to embrace a challenge. Some people always run away, and yet others go toward them-even when the risks are too high. Leonsis stated that owning the Capitals was an opportunity you could not get anywhere else: In the National Hockey League, there are 30 teams. But only one will win the Stanley Cup. Not everyone has the ability to want to participate in that kind of challenge.

At the end of the article, though, he made a compelling point which was the inspiration to write this latest rendition of my blog. "As an owner, your job is to set the strategy, articulate the vision, provide the resources, and be very, very, passionate and an advocate for your product. If you're obsessive about all the things that are in your control, you are creating a culture that will allow excellence and success to flourish. I can't play, but I can make the players' locker room is really clean and the water in their showers is hot."

I often ask myself what I am in control of. Am I in control of my stuttering? Yes. I can control the ability to go to speech therapy and commit myself to practicing the techniques I have learned. Am I control of the economy? No, but that doesn't mean I can't take advantage of every chance I have to refine my interviewing abilities. I am in control of what I want out of life. We all make resolutions, and by the first hour, 99.9 percent of them are already broken. Well, maybe it's time to control that from happening again. I have lots of things I want to control. Some of them will pop up at a random moment. Regardless, I've never been so happy to say I care too much. I will always be like that. There is a knight, who is often inexperienced, but pure of heart. The thirties really is the start of my life. And no matter what happens, I'll never stop caring about any person-whether they stutter or not.

I would like to wish a very Merry Christmas to those readers of my blog, and a Happy Hanukkah & Kwanzaa. May you celebrate safely and with the ones you love.

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

Thursday, December 16, 2010

If you really don't have anything nice to say......

Hello everyone,

As I was picking up my car today from the mechanic, I had to stop for a few moment and reflect on an interesting topic for this blog. The holidays are upon us, and although we associate them with the usual symbols: the lights, giving of gifts, the mad rush of shoppers at the local mall, sometimes we also neglect to include the need to not say things that eat away at people's very existence of being. I am a strong advocate of being outspoken, especially about things that I am passionate about, such as the National Stuttering Association. But no matter how old you are, sometimes the simple lesson of not saying anything nice if you don't have anything good to say seems to elude the most intelligent of people.

Over breakfast, I was reading the sports section of Newsday, which is our daily publication here and the main source of news for all things Long Island. There was an article about the New York Islanders, which on most days I would have moved past, yet this was different. The Islanders are Long Island's NHL team, and are in serious danger of moving. Despite being a dynasty at one time and being the only U.S.-based team to win four straight championships, the team has continually struggled-failed rebuilds, poor management, an owner who wanted a new arena and complex and was denied it by the local governing board, and on a good night, may be lucky to draw 10,000 fans. Still, they have a loyal following, but these times are mightily testing the fans' patience.

As the story goes, three of the Islanders players (James Wisniewski, Doug Weight, and Andrew MacDonald) were at a local hospital giving out gifts to children who were struggling with chronic illnesses, and trying to offer a temporary if not delightful respite from what they were having to face on a daily basis. One of the nurses, who was not identified in the story, happened to be a season ticket holder and decided to let the players know she felt, as the team had at one time lost 17 out of 18 games. According to Wisniewski, "She was saying nobody wants to go to your games, you've been giving tickets away for free. It was kind of like with that first comment, 'Whoa.' And then the second and third, it's to the point where we had to walk away. I'm a newlywed and I don't want to take my work home with me."

We have all good days and bad days with our speech. Part of the challenge of being a person who stutters is not knowing when or where it may happen. I understand I get frustrated. I accept that 100 percent fluency is asking the impossible. But to have someone criticize me for something I can't control does sting, and I have to do what's right and walk away. There are many people out there who love to put down others because it makes them feel better about who they are. When I attended the job fair for people with disabilities in Washington DC last month, sure, I was the only one who stuttered. It is evident to anyone I meet once I open my mouth, they'll know I stutter. But I also met people who were blind, and deaf, and in wheelchairs. That certainly does not give me the right to ask about their issues. I am approachable and am happy to answer questions about stuttering. However, I respect the fact that some people do not want to talk about what they face. And that's fine too.

Just reading that, I could not help but feel disgusted. And I would bet that now this story has run, her co-workers are going to be also embarrassed too. I always think about the famous line from "The Godfather" which goes, "Never embarrass the family." The National Stuttering Association means everything to me, it is my life. I do not want to do something that would embarrass them or myself.

So if you ever feel angry and frustrated about your stuttering and want to lash out, before you do, take a look around and ask yourself: Can I deal with this in a better way? Of course. NSA chapters are thriving all across the USA, I would strongly encourage you to join one. It could be the greatest move you ever make. And you won't have to lecture any hockey players to do it either.

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, December 7, 2010

The biggest gifts need not be wrapped......

Hello everyone,

The mercury has finally dropped, and now I look forward to this time, although fleeting as it may be. I know the holiday season is in full effect, and everyone is ready to lose their mind, running around like a chicken with their head cut off. The crowds at Black Friday, the nerves getting ready to be frazzled. But I am not a holiday person, for the most part. I actually relish the cold weather because when I was growing up, I felt the cold winds acted as a protector from the negative feelings that would envelop me from my parents and classmates. The snow flurries would be grabbed by me, if only for a few seconds, then to turn to tears, as if to say "I understand what you are going through, and I will cry with you."

Saturday night, Dec. 4, the National Stuttering Association chapters of Manhattan (New York County) and Long Island got together to host a holiday party. I know as the adage says there is always places to go, people to see, and we all run on different schedules. Some of us are struggling with a job search, others facing challenges raising children or having difficulty in relationships. But I always relish the times I can spend with my NSA colleagues. I emphatically believe we will always know each other better than anyone else can even begin to understand. After deciding against having a party at a restaurant, we chose to have a catered meal at a private party room on West 43rd between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, within striking distance of Times Square. Although I live 45 minutes from Pennsylvania Station, to me New York City might as well be a different world. Every time I go there I am awed, and yet I still feel like I don't belong.

I caught the 6:16 train from Hicksville, and it was standing room only into the city. There was a cacaphony of conversations that going on, bombarding me from all sides: "Hey, did the Rangers play tonight?" "No, Megan, I don't have the kids, doesn't Uncle Joey have them?" And of course, there were just those trying to catch a nap or text their friends. But you couldn't help but notice that there were smiles, even if the times we are living in test us all times.

I entered the private apartment building, and took the elevator up to the club level. After walking through the door, I was greeted by the chapter leader of the Manhattan chapter, and I was elated to see one of my chapter members join us. I also had the chance to exchange greetings with some other NSA members, one of which is a social worker and his lovely wife, who runs a fashion blog. And of course, more people filtered in, one of them being a first-time attendee to the National Stuttering Association conference this past July. We all sat down to a delicious dinner from Ben's Deli, a platter full of roast beef, turkey, corned beef, and pastrami, rye bread, pickles, cole slaw, potato salad, pizza, beer, wine. And although it probably went to my butt a few days later, that didn't matter to me at all. Neither did the fact that the beautiful buildings of NYC provided the backdrop.

There's been so many sentiments echoed that the holidays are now all commercialized, and all that matters is how much you sell or buy. But I am also starting to unlearn many things that I learned growing up, and as I am 32, I'm beginning to see the world in many different ways. Those four hours I spent with my new friends and current ones meant more to me than any gift I could possibly get.

Sometimes the best gifts aren't the ones that are wrapped. I know I can be my own worst enemy, and no one sees my flaws like I do. 2010 has been a year shaped by a lot of setbacks, and a lot of exciting things: the mission of the NSA is taking on a bigger meaning, stuttering awareness is becoming a major issue for a lot of people that needs to be shared. But the last few weeks are reminding me that New Year's Day is another chance to raise the bar even higher. I will do something great with my life. I am going to let the world know that no matter what happens, Steven Kaufman is not going anywhere.

Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, and Happy Kwanzaa to all those who celebrate. May you be blessed and remember that you are somebody. I know I am.

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

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Excuse me, Mr. Officer.......

Good evening everyone,

I have to admit that I am becoming really addicted to Facebook. For the longest time, me and technology might as well have been the equivalent of oil and water. Yet these days, social media has not only become a godsend to many of us, but an essential. When I was in high school, to have access to American Online made you stand out in a good way. To have a beeper was considered more of a fashion statement than anything else, but imagine going out today and not having a cell phone or a Bluetooth. Or even an Ipod, for that matter. Yes, I know I still need to get one. For the longest time I drove a 2000 Ford Focus that still had a tape deck, for crying out loud. But there were some good perks-I got some pretty good mileage out of my "Footloose" soundtrack. And hey, I did make a killing at used record stores buying a great deal of cassettes for $4 each.

But more than anything, Facebook has given us a chance to connect with each other. I won't say it is a substitute for a phone call or a handwritten letter, but for members of the National Stuttering Association like myself, it's invaluable for us to share information and keep in touch throughout the year instead of sending 400+ emails in a month. I also look forward to seeing what people are up to. But sometimes you log on to Facebook and there is something that just catches your eye, and forces you to do a double-take. That happened a few days ago involving one of my good friends. This story is about a young woman named "Jasmime." Please note Jasmine is not her real name, it is used to protect her identity. Jasmine hails from West Virginia.

I met Jasmine at an NSA conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., in 2009, and she is a person who stutters. Jasmine is very outgoing and enjoys a good time. She posted a conversation that took place with a police officer, and it really made me think about how the police officer conducted himself. Jasmine was apparently stopped by this officer very late on a Saturday morning. As most people would be, she began get a little apprehensive as the policeman approached. Jasmine started to stutter moderately and the officer assertively asked "Have you been drinking?" As she was getting flustered, and trying to explain that she had not been drinking, but she was stuttering, she turned to show the officer her "Stutter Like A Rock Star" bracelet, which was sold at the Cleveland conference. These pieces of apparel are the brainchild of a fellow NSA member who also has a well-followed blog, and who does a great deal of public speaking and advocates for people with disabilities. As Jasmine kept explaining, the officer had a look of suspicion, questioning whether she was being truthful or just trying to avoid a potentially embarrassing situation. After a long while, the police officer let her go.

There are a couple of interesting angles to look at this situation from a person who stutters. Jasmine had every right to be angry, and most would be in that situation. The officer probably felt he was justified in doing this, because here is a young woman driving alone late at night. To have a sworn representative of the community, someone who is asked to uphold the laws act like this really could raise a few eyebrows. After all, isn't a police officer supposed to be respectful and tolerant of other people's disabilities?Many police departments when new recruits are getting ready to start their jobs, require "sensitivity training" to be aware of potential problems that might come across. Dealing with people of different faiths, or those who have life-threatening medical conditions, can be demanding at the very least. Which brings the question, why isn't stuttering in there? After all, stuttering is a very unique thing for many people. It isn't something that is dealt with on an everyday basis, unless you are one of the many who do.

Now for the record, I need to say that I am not anti-law enforcement in any way. Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, we need to always remember when others ran away, police ran toward. I wear my New York Yankees hat not because I am a fan, but also because the "interlocking NY" represents the police and other agencies who answered the call when the Twin Towers fell that day. It only takes one negative experience to be remembered.In retrospect, the officer may have very well come across rude and insensitive. I believe he did. If anything, those who protect our community should be held to a higher standard in terms of their behavior. As a chapter leader for the National Stuttering Association, I always am visible and I have to hold myself accountable for what I say and do. If I don't, then maybe no one else will. There is nothing I enjoy most in the world, and I don't want to be some elected official who is caught doing something he or she shouldn't have, and then have to be red-faced and apologize.

Regardless of what happens, I am sure Jasmine learned a valuable lesson that I remember every day: There are no off days when it comes to advocating for yourself, and educating others. There is more work to be done. My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thank you for the memories........

Hello everyone,

"There's a lot of things I understand. And there's a lot of things I don't want to know."-from "I Think God Can Explain" by Splender.

As I write this latest edition of my blog entry, I have to say that my mind has been experiencing the rollercoaster of emotions that come with the month of November. I find myself alternating between the excitement of the fall, the anticipation of the raw, piercing winds, the energies that surround me and allow me to feel so alive with the snow coming down, and yet the sadness that the holidays can bring. But sometimes we have to feel tragedy impact our lives and the actions of how we deal with these. They can bring us closer together, or envelop us in its self-destruction.

Those who have read my blog know how aggressively I am involved with the National Stuttering Association. It is the greatest love of my life, and I give all praise and glory to them for allowing me to do what I do to help enrich the world of people who stutter. We are a family, and we look out for one another. I take my responsibilities seriously and hold myself accountable to everyone who stutters around the world. However, that family has been decreased by the loss of one of our members.

I first met Chris Norman at the National Stuttering Association in Long Beach, Calif., in 2006, which was my inaugural conference. Chris was pursuing his speech language pathology degree and was a person who stutters. We have many members of our organization who stutter, yet are fiercely determined to be SLPs and help to give back to those who have to face this complex communicative disorder every day. At the time, he lived in Seattle and was a chapter leader for the Pacific Northwest region. We got along very well, and one of the many things that I treasure is that no matter where you live, there's a firm bond between people who stutter, and age doesn't matter at all. The NSA is one organization where age and gender mean absolutely nothing. We stayed in touch periodically through Facebook, and he eventually went on to the University of Nebraska at Lincoln for his doctorate. It seemed that he had decided his own path, and was doing very well in all his endeavors.

Chris passed away early this month. I went on Facebook one day early this month and saw messages with "Rest In Peace" written on his page, which had been memorialized in his honor. Confused, I went on and began to read further. And it was like time had stood still. I just felt hypnotized by all these messages and didn't know what to do, or what to say. I went to work like I usually do, but yet that was all I could keep thinking about.

When someone dies at an early age, it's normal to experience a multitude of emotions-shock, for one. Sadness. Anger. I spent many nights crying, feeling helpless and when you hear "Well, things happen for a reason," or "It was God's will," it doesn't make you feel any better and sounds truly condescending.

When I was on America Online a while ago and each member had the option to set up a profile (man, I am that old to remember those days LOL), each user could include a personal quote. Now of course, some people decided to take liberties and make theirs perverted with double meanings. I chose to make mine simple, and I used a quote from the movie "Tomb Raider 2: Cradle of Life," which states "Everything that is lost is meant to be found."

Yet the more I thought about that quote and how it related to Chris's death, I began to wonder if that is true. There will be many people looking for answers, myself included. His parents, his friends, his colleagues. In this case, we may never know what happened. I am a very easy person to read, and I am very outspoken-I wear my heart on my sleeve, and always will. Some are more reserved, maybe he was one of them. Perhaps the answers will be revealed in time, or not. Regardless, I was very lucky to know him. He was one of the very first people who stuttered I met at the NSA conference.

There are times when I wonder what prevented me from taking my own life. The only thing I can think of is that someone up there believes in me very much. I am not religious at all, never have been. The only thing I believe in is the NSA. I have met so many remarkable people who stutter who have achieved tremendous success. As I am 32 now, maybe I am starting to see that I do have a very special gift-I can help others change their life. It won't happen overnight. But I can start to show others there is hope out there. I will be someone they can rely on and if someone hates stuttering, I will be the first one to talk with them and offer help in any way I can.

Thank you for the memories, Chris. The pleasure of meeting you was all mine.

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

Friday, November 19, 2010

And now, live from the city of red, white, and blue, it's stuttering advocacy!!!

Hello everyone,

There's an old saying that states "You'll have plenty of time to sleep when you're dead." We have all had times in our life when we feel tired, so beaten down that we are ready to raise the white flag and throw away everything that we have worked so hard for. Friday for many people marks the start of the weekend, when your brain slowly begins to shut down in anticipation of happy hour and a chance to relax. Maybe this is me, but Friday doesn't mark the start of a weekend-it's a chance to start laying the foundation for another quest, one to find employment and represent myself proudly as a person who stutters.

Yesterday, I left Long Island for Baltimore-Washington International Airport, via Southwest Airlines. My final destination? The city of Washington, DC. For those who have read my blog, I have spoken greatly of this jewel of a city that I have come to embrace as my own. For the longest time, Washington has been known as home to The White House, and for having a very high homicide rate. But if you look beyond that, you will find something so much more. I firmly believe that people come down to our capital to work for a goal bigger than themselves. Some come to create new laws, others come to join forces with nonprofits and make their mark on this world. Whenever I walk out of Union Station onto the streets, there's just a pulsating energy that I can't explain in words. It's an indescribable feeling when I was riding the Metro from Pentagon City (just outside Washington in the Commonwealth of Virginia) and as I was en route to L'Enfant Plaza, passing the skyline and seeing the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, the Washington Monument, and the Capitol.

Washington is a city where something is always going on. And Friday, there was a very unique events. There's a Long Island-based company called Equal Opportunity Publications that hosts a special job fair for people with disabilities. 80 percent of the employers are federal, but there are a few private sector ones represented. I'd be incredibly naive if I said that my stuttering didn't create and challenges in my search for employment. It does, but at the same time, I have also seen different sides of humanity in the process. When I was waiting for the hotel shuttle, I recognized a man from the same fair I was at, who walked with a very visible limp. A person waiting for the bus couldn't stop staring at him. Yet on the other side of the coin, I met seekers who refuse to have their employment dictated by their disability, as I spoke with a very nice young woman seeking a librarian job, while her guide dog patiently sat at her side. I have attended this fair for a few years. And when they announced that candidates could go in, I could hardly wait for the challenge that lie ahead of me.

In this day and age, we often have a "Well, what have you done for me mentality." But whenever I meet with an employer, I always stress the biggest positive I have: and that is my work with the National Stuttering Association. When people ask me what I do, I say I advocate, educate, and inspire. But I say it with such firm conviction and passion so that people believe it. The world is full of people who love to say whatever you want to hear, even if it's not true-just because you will approve of it. Sure, I had some strikeouts. Yet when you think about so much you gained, either way, it was an overwhelming success. And maybe the opportunities will materialize. They always do, one way or another.

Another positive that came out of this fair was the chance to once again meet up with some local members of the NSA. You cannot estimate how much your life can change when you identify with others who experience the same things you do. A group of us had dinner and drinks at Fado's Irish Pub, right in the Chinatown section of DC. Sure, geographically, I was the outsider. But who knows......the Washington area may have a new resident soon.

Natasha Bedingfield once said that the future is still unwritten. I think she's right, but the decisions we make will not just impact ourselves, but others. But one decision that will always guide me is the decision to use my stuttering for good-to help others, to bring them to the world of the NSA, and to continue remembering just why I do what I do. And if you should come visit Washington DC, you might just see me. But that's up to me to write. If it leads to a new chapter in my life, great. If not, I am going forward. It's the only way I know how to be.

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

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Yes Mr. Valli, it was quite a night!!!!

Good evening everyone,

I have to start this off by saying that this will go down in history as one of the best nights ever experienced as a person who stutters. There are moments I can count one hand that clearly qualify as unforgettable: The first time I ever did public speaking, the first conference I ever attended, the first motivational seminar I presented, the awards I have been recognized with for my achievements. But there comes a time when something so powerful, so prominent, so full of hope and inspiration, just makes you know that the world is ready to see what great things can come from those who stutter everywhere.

The National Stuttering Association was very lucky to get opening night passes to the premiere of "The King's Speech" on Monday, Nov. 8, at the famed Ziegfeld Theatre, located at West 54th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues in New York City. Although I live 45 minutes away from Penn Station via the Long Island Railroad, very rarely will I go into the city-unless I am checking out a karaoke bar or visiting a museum. Most of my life takes place on Long Island, although I do have a goal that I want to explore New York City and all it has to offer. Within an hour, there were about 70 of those passes all gone. I was one of the recipients of those passes, and was very excited to go into the city. Movie premieres are not the glam-fest that you are led to believe they are on the E! Channel. A great deal of work goes into them, every move needing to be carefully synchronized in its rhythm. Thankfully, there was one thing left to do, and that was to show up. I decided to leave my tuxedo at home, though. I wore my "power suit" if you want to call it that (gray pinstripe) and felt like a million dollars.

It's always a thrill for me to catch up with my fellow members of the NSA. The New York City area has a thriving presence, with chapters on Long Island and in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan. But of course, we are all running on different schedules and some have families to provide for, so we relish the opportunities to see everyone where we can. I ran into the chairman of the Board of Directors at the premiere, as well as a prominent SLP who runs the "Stuttertalk" podcast dedicated to all things stuttering, from therapy to new pharmaceutical breakthroughs.

"The King's Speech," which was released by The Weinstein Company, focuses on King George VI and the stammering issue he must face. When the film is viewed, it's important to keep in mind the time that the film takes place in. Some of the techniques used really made me raise my eyebrow, but back then speech therapy was not as sophisticated and current like today. One practitioner actually encourages the use of smoking as a relaxing agent (If only I had a dollar for every time I heard "Relax" by a friend or passerby, another one suggested the use of stuffing marbles into one's mouth and trying to speak. The film was introduced by Harvey Weinstein himself, followed by Tom Hooper (the director) and two of the stars, Colin Firth, and Helena Bonham Carter. (Geoffrey Rush could not attend).

What particularly stood out to me as how the film is not just realistic, but goes to such great pains to pay special attention to the emphasis on the relationship between King George VI (Firth) and his speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Rush). There are many SLPs who really do not care to explore the relationship more than they are the therapist, and they are getting paid by the patient. It may have taken me several years to find a good speech therapist, but the one I have is not just my therapist. He is a friend, a mentor, and someone who challenges me. He knows I can be anything I want to be, and more. Isn't that what the true measure of a man is-someone who knows that you are a person with a special gift that when fully developed, can lead to big things? You could be an athlete. You could be an attorney. Or, you could even be KING and lead your country through times of turmoil.

I cannot stress how important this movie is. They say there are no guarantees in life other than death and taxes. Well, maybe there's the HBO guarantee of a new movie every Saturday night...yes, I know I am way off base here. I can guarantee that you will hear about the film come Oscar time. At the end, there was a prolonged round of applause, and loud cheers when Firth's and Rush's names were seen at the credits.

As I was riding home on the Long Island Railroad that night, I couldn't help but think about this analogy for my speech. The Hicksville line takes you through Queens County, and you can actually see the Queensboro Bridge as you ride past. Of course, it was all lit up. And I felt like I had crossed the bridge into another world-where stuttering doesn't have to define you. In this age, it seems like there is a "vortex of negativity" where everyone is trying to put each other down. I know there will be many days like that, but just once in a while, you have days (and nights) like this when you realize just maybe, you have a place in this world. It's up to us to determine how big it is.

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

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Dear Mr. President.....

Hello everyone,

I decided to do something a little bit different for this posting of my blog, and attempt something I have never done before. As a person who stutters and one who considers it a disability, I wanted to send a very special letter to the current President of the United States, who launched a directive to have federal agencies increase hiring of people with disabilities. This is perhaps the greatest piece of writing I will ever do in my life.

Thanks for letting me share.


Re: Disability rights initiative

Dear President Obama:

My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a 32-year old man writing to you from the suburbs of Long Island, New York. It is with great respect and honor that I have the opportunity to contact you as one of the many fellow Americans who turn to you for leadership and guidance. I have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of letters you receive are related to health care and the economy. But my letter is something unique because it is not about those concerns at all. In fact, my letter is something I am very passionate about: disability rights.

While I do struggle with characteristics of Asperger's, that is not the biggest challenge I have faced in my life. Ever since age three, I have stuttered. My stuttering has been classified as mild-to moderate. On some days I can maintain a rate of being 80 percent fluent, yet on others, I will struggle mightily. It often ebbs and flows, and I accept the fact that I will always have good days and bad days. Growing up as a young man through high school and college was perhaps some of the most trying times in life, facing consistent teasing and bullying, almost driving me to the point of suicide. When you try to walk up to someone and start a conversation, it can be the most daunting task of all. You don't feel bad because you stutter, you feel bad for the person who has to hear it. All of a sudden, you feel like the petri dish under the microscope, and all the scrutiny focuses directly at you.

There are many misconceptions about stuttering out there, and unfortunately, those are what the world chooses to see. The worst kinds of examples you can see are Michael Palin's character in "A Fish Called Wanda," or Porky Pig doing his infamous "Th-th-th-that's all ffffolks" routine. In the past thirty years, we have risen above that and have seen many people use their stuttering to bring about sweeping changes today. Your colleague, Vice-President Joe Biden, has spoken about his stuttering publically in various interviews. Congressman Frank Wolf of West Virginia was also a person who stutters. James Earl Jones, one of the greatest actors in America, had a severe stutter, as did Marilyn Monroe, whose image as a sex symbol still stands with her many years after her death. Winston Churchill, the former prime minister of England stuttered and is known as one of the greatest orators of his day.

Many presidents (former as well) have stressed throughout their time in office that the greatest act of courage an American citizen can do is to volunteer and support local services that benefit others. For the longest time I was angry and hurting, and gave those feelings a voice by getting involved with an organization that changed my life: the National Stuttering Association. Headquartered in New York City, we are a strictly volunteer-driven, and our goal to reach out and help educate and empower children, teens, and adults who stutter. Our annual conferences are very close to breaking the 700-800 mark, and for four days we come together to celebrate everything that stuttering is, and what it can be. It is truly a very special and poignant time in everyone's life where we can all say that in this crazy world we live in, that we are strong. We are powerful, and most importantly, we can make a difference. We have members who stutter who are doctors, lawyers, and most proudly, speech pathologists. Once again, when he was a state senator from Delaware, Mr. Biden addressed our attendees at our conference held in Baltimore. I am the Long Island chapter leader, and have been so for three years now. It is the greatest honor I will ever have in my life, and I am humbled at being given the chance to lead and help others in my position.

There is no denying that stuttering does play a significant role in job-searching. For many people who stutter, they sacrifice chances to obtain meaningful employment to work at a menial position because of their guilt and shame. There are many people who would love to study higher education and start pursuing professional employment, but are truly frightened by what their speech might do to them. For the longest time, I was like that. I am very proud that I stutter and my work with the NSA is features prominently on my resume. Many employers are reluctant to hire a person who stutters because they are fearful of their abilities to have good communication skills. But I can say emphatically that there is a major difference. Do not the confuse to speak with the ability to communicate. There is absolutely no problem with being a person who stutters and one who communicates effectively.

As per an executive order issued directly by you, you had ordered all federal agencies to increase their hiring for people with disabilities. You have leveled the playing field to give people with disabilities a good chance to find work in the federal government. I have applied for numerous jobs under the Schedule A Hiring Authority, and will continue to do so. I am going to work for the federal government someday.

Sometimes you may wonder at the end of the work day if your policies will have a significant impact. Well, I can say this one resonated with me and others who have disabilities. I know stuttering is just one-there are others who have far worse disabilities than I have-paralysis, deafness, and so on. But together we are all equal. We all have the right to work and be productive. Most importantly, we have the right to be understood and to be treated as a person without labels or stereotypes. I am not a stutterer. I am, and always will be, a person who stutters.

Thank you for taking the time to read my letter, President Obama. I understand you get more than 20,000 letters and can only respond to a select few. But I am a firm believer that a revolution of change can start with one person. I'm doing my part, and you are doing yours too to help make this world a better place for people with disabilities.

Good luck with your presidency and continued success to you always.

Sincerely yours,

Steven Kaufman

Sunday, October 24, 2010

These, make that these halls are made for walking

Hello everyone,

I wanted to start off this latest entry of the blog by asking a familar question: Have you ever had to go back to the scene of the crime? You probably know what I am talking about-you may have done something wrong and had to go back and apologize to the person(s) offended, you could have had a bad experience and never wanted to go back, but there were circumstances that made this choice unavoidable? Well, that was me just about three weeks ago. I, too, returned to the "scene of the crime," and no, it did not have tape or any law enforcement personnel. It was a brick building which I spent four years in from 1992-1996. Yes, you figured it out, high school.

I had decided to sign up for a local adult education class which was sponsored by my school district. It was to be an Excel for beginners class. Now I do have experience with the program, but you can never go wrong with taking a brushup class and keeping your skills sharp. When I found out where it was, I was startled and began to sweat. The class was being taught on the second floor of my high school in the business wing. At first, I didn't think anything of it. Then when I turned into the parking lot, right off Kennedy Drive, I could feel the intense fear, which had been repressed for so long, starting to ooze to the surface, like a shark smelling blood in the water. On the outside, things hadn't changed all that much. Well, there was a digital mesage board welcoming you, and it was evident that there had been a fresh coat of paint (or two) on the marquee and in the lunchroom, which I could see from the outside.

As I walked through the doors, I began to feel that my heart was beginning to squeeze in my chest a little tighter. It's OK, I told myself, I am feeling anxious and this is normal. While in the lobby, I couldn't help but decide to walk to the right, and see if the nurse's office was where I remembered it. As I walked closer, I could hear the screams from the two volleyball teams that were playing each other yet it might as well have been the cruel teasing and alienation I felt. The janitor had not locked the door at that time, so I decided to go in. For those of you who have read my blog, you have understood how for so many periods, these 42 minutes I had to myself were 42 minutes of solitude and a place where I could escape everything. I never dared tell my parents where I was or why I chose to spend time there. I sat on the bed, closed my eyes, and just fell into a deep reflection. I could feel a shift coming on in my thinking. But I knew I had to remain steadfast. You are not the same person, I said to myself. You have achieved so much and come so far in a few years. The words you say no longer hurt, they empower and inspire.

When I left the office, I could not help but feel like I had undergone a spiritual cleansing, a rebirth if you will. Our scars never do go away, but every year they grow a little smaller. Whenever we take a step forward in accepting our speech, they also shrink. I noticed that the world of high school never really has changed all that much. Well, there were a few aesthetic changes. The high school radio station, WPOB/88.5, was moved up from downstairs to the main level of the building.

I already feel like a young veteran in the eyes of the National Stuttering Association, since I have attended five conferences and next year in Fort Worth will be my sixth. I always used to grow up thinking and with good reason that high school sets the tone for the rest of your life. After all, there are many people who still haven't changed, who act like every day is another day at the gym, fooling around, trying to be ultra-cool to impress everyone. Yet I have met so many teens who clearly can prove otherwise. They are confident, they know who they are, and they are ready to make their mark on the world. And they do stutter, some are mild, others are moderate-but they know that at all times the National Stuttering Association is with them. I may have found out about them too late, but I have also learned one thing that is paramount above all-it's never too late to inspire. It's never too late to help someone grow up into a new person. And it's never too late to confront your past and let it know who is in control.

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

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Life of Riley.........

Hello everyone,

Throughout my life, and because of my work with the National Stuttering Association, I have met some of the most inspirational and driven people in the world, from here and abroad. But as I prepare to write this blog, I now emphatically can say that sometimes the people who have the greatest impact on you are the ones you never meet-and very sadly, they are also the ones who are taken from this earth way too early. What I am about to say, I have never told anyone. But the lesson learned from this experience is so important that I feel it is very important to have this told.

When I was struggling with my stuttering in my college years, I would often rely on the chat rooms of America Online to meet others. I've always been attracted to the Internet because it levels the playing field-on there, I can be an equal and have the same access to social interaction that I never could have in real life. I could be who I was, and never to have hide because of my speech. Oh sure, you better believe I ran into some people who really needed clues about be around people-you know, the perverts, the ones who just wanted to talk about themselves. But after many rough days, there were many times where it acted as a solace for me to feel like I belonged in this world, and that I meant something.

During my undergraduate years, one day in a "Twenties Love" chat room, I struck up a conversation with a young woman named "Riley" who was from the Carolinas. We got along really well and quickly, things progressed where we would talk about our daily lives. She worked in a restaurant owned by her parents, she was very big into alternative music, such as Stabbing Westward and Smashing Pumpkins. Ironically, she knew the area where I lived, and had relatives a few towns over from my community. Just like when you came home and settled in to watch your favorite TV show, we could almost set our clocks knowing that one of us (or both of us) would be on at the same time.

Six months into the online friendship, Riley asked if I could meet her online at a time that was highly unusual. I didn't think anything of it, so I said sure. When I signed on, she asked if we could go to a private room. I had this eerie feeling something bad was about to take place. So we found ourselves in the chat room, and she mentioned something I will never, ever, forget. Something so cold that it just made time stop. "I have to be honest with you, " she said. "I haven't told you this from the beginning, and I should have. I have AIDS."

At that moment in time, I didn't know what to do. I stared at the computer screen in utter shock, but deep down I had a strong feeling she was telling the truth. People don't joke about something like that. She began to type "I'll understand if you never want to speak to me again," she said. I wrote back: "If I wanted to leave, I would have left a long time ago."

People who stutter often have different approaches when discussing their stuttering. Some people prefer not to discuss it at all, while others are "covert" and try to hide it as much as possible. I am very open and am happy to discuss my stuttering with others. But for something on a whole other level, it's just something you don't ask about. She explained that she found out she had it when she received a blood transfusion, and at the time, the blood wasn't as well screened as it is now.

Riley and I never again brought it up. We talked about normal things-music, movies, sports, celebrities, and we grew really close. Riley also shared with me a goal she wanted to make happen: she actually wanted to attend college classes, so for once, she could feel normal. That struck a chord with me-that's what we all want. People who stutter always hear the putdowns: "Freak!" "Speak up, man!" and others to boot. She confessed that she had actually signed up to attend classes at my alma mater. I began to wonder if I'd have the chance to meet her. And despite this, I heard all the naysaying: "This girl is playing you." "Are you really that naive?" "Oh well, there's a sucker born every minute."

Eventually, Riley gave me the address where she was going to be for orientation. Hell, I didn't know even her last name. But on that day, I went up to assistant who carried the notepad and asked if she was on the roster. "Yes, she is," she said. My heart skipped a beat. She confirmed my suspicions. She was telling the truth after all.

I waited three hours for her, and she never showed up. I drove back home, and waited for her to come online. She never did. I began to tear up and forgot about everything. Three days later, she came back online and I asked her what happened. She refused to answer. I begged. I pleased. I cajoled her to tell me something. But she wouldn't crack.

Then a few hours later, she came back online. She told me everything. Riley said that her condition was worsening, and she probably wouldn't make it to the campus again. I asked her what was going on, and she said that she had hospice workers at her house. I felt helpless. I wanted to say something, do anything that would change how she felt. But I knew it wouldn't work.

The very next day, I received an email from her, which would turn out to be one of the last I'd ever receive from her. This is what it said:

"It takes someone very brave to walk toward another when everyone else is running away. You are that person. You would have been the first person I said 'I love you' to." She passed away shortly thereafter. I never even knew where her funeral was, or if she even had one.

We all know life is short, and tomorrow is not promised to anyone. But at every chance you get, say "I love you and thank you for allowing me to stutter" to those you are close to. Say it to your friends, your family (if you are close to them, unlike me), your clergy, a neighbor, even to the clerk at the local store. You never know when you'll have the chance to. I wish I thanked Riley for allowing me to stutter. I'll never have the chance to, and for that, I have to live with that the rest of my life. Don't make the same mistake I made.

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

Monday, October 4, 2010

Deal...or No Deal?

Hello everyone,

One of the greatest things about being a person who stutters, in my eyes, is to be able to break down any situation and somehow, there will always be incomparable comparisons with stuttering. No matter if you're out for a walk, or just sitting home and spending some good old quality time with the clicker, we can always come across a lesson learned from stuttering.

Something that I have recently gotten into is watching reruns of "Deal or No Deal" on the Game Show Network. I know the show ended a while ago, but whenever I watch it, I can't help but think about the approach of contestants and how that can be analyzed in terms of my speech. The show, which aired on NBC, really does not require any advanced knowledge, but one can make an argument that weighing the odds and taking a risk is definitely an asset if you know how to use it. The show, which has aired internationally in other countries, is hosted by Howie Mandel. He takes a contestant and places them in front of 26 supermodels looking all elegant in evening wear (or appropriate costume as the theme dictates), and the hopeful winner is asked to pick a briefcase numbered from 1-26, while standing in front of a board with 26 amounts, ranging from one penny to one million dollars. The challenge of course, is to win the million dollars or one of the high amounts without knocking them out early. Of course, the higher the amounts left in play, the better offer the banker (who is never seen) will try to negotiate to get you to leave the show. There have been million dollar winners, and those who had the best case, but gave up early so that they left with something. Six cases are opened first, then five, then four...and so on.

As people who stutter, one of the things we have learned (and continue to pursue) is the need to take risks and step out of the boundaries we have become so comfortable with. Yet there is one challenge that stands above all else-it is not speaking in a restaurant and trying to say what you want, although that is a very big one. It boils down to this: "How will I be today?"

I think more than anything, it's the fear of the unknown that provides with us great nervousness. So, if you will indulge me, let's try for a "Deal Or No Dealization" of stuttering. You stand in front of ten briefcases, each of them has a percentage amount which determines how fluent you will be today. One case has ten percent, all the way up to 100 percent. Do you want to pick one and accept that will determine your rate of fluency for the day? Or would you rather not play the game, wake up, and accept whatever will be will be?

I used to see myself as someone who wanted to play the game. But the more I thought about it, I realized that do I want to give my stuttering any more control of my life than it already has? Absolutely not. Those days are long gone, and I have no desire to bring them back ever again. These days when I walk out the door for work, I look at the mirror in my care before I drive off, smile confidently, and drive away. Because I know with the power of NSA Nation, all things are possible. Tomorrow, the sun will rise, and it will be another chance to speak and express myself the way I know how to: openly, and from my heart with raw, pure emotion.

Deal Or No Deal? I think I've made my choice. To let stuttering tell me how I am going to live my life, I say emphatically and slam the buzzer down: NO DEAL!

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

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Give Everything But Up! And some thoughts on forgiveness....

Hello everyone,

Many times in our life we will know tragedy and heartbreak. We will struggle with it and why this happened to us, and when we can overcome it. The greatest tragedy that can happen to a family is to lose a loved one, especially when it was to suicide. Today as the end of Yom Kippur approached, I focused on a story written in today's Newsday (the local daily where I live) and reflected on the story of Alexis Pilkington. Alexis was a very gifted athlete especially in the game of soccer. Not unlike many high school seniors, she was well-liked, attractive, had a bright future. Her catch phrase "Give everything, but up" was a rallying cry for her team to achieve the goals they sought out for. Yet in spite of all this, she was struggling mightily with depression. Her parents insisted that cyberbullying has nothing to do with the fact that their daughter took their own life, but rumors still persist to this day. Still, the Pilkington family can take solace in the fact that in light of this tragedy, her family established a foundation to promote suicide awareness and numerous resources that can help people in trouble.

I think it's appropriate that I open this today because I was thinking about it while I was in synagogue today. Today is the most holiest day on the Jewish calendar, known as the "Day of Atonement." On this day we ask for our sins and transgressions to be forgiven, and to strive to make this year even better than last. It is a time for fasting and great reflection. I also realized that I never ever considered forgiving those people in my life who had teased me and felt I was an object to be humiliated. Until today.

The Dixie Chicks start off their song "Not Ready To Make Nice" with this line: "Forgive sounds good, forget...I'm not sure I could." For me, I never was able to forgive those bullies in high school and college because I couldn't understand the concept of what it means to forgive. It's about looking down into yourself and seeing that you have the capability to be a human being. As a person who stutters, we're often our own worst enemies. We see our flaws more harshly than others. I could remember the times I kept quiet in class, because I didn't want to embarrass myself at all. I knew at that point in life, I wasn't ready to forgive.

I went to services on Rosh Hashanah and saw many of the same classmates I graduated with. Some were single, some were married and had kids of their own. I wonder if they ever started teaching them about what it means to act respectful. But when the time came to blow the Shofar, I felt my heart began to tremble. Not because I was scared, but because I knew was about to take a giant step and forgive. I forgave those in my past for the Porky Pig jokes. I forgave them for calling me the world champion pen-flipper because they had no idea why I was doing it. And most importantly, I forgave them for the laughing and mimicking, which I struggled to get over.

As the sun went down today, I struggled with my emotions because I was at one time feeling the way Alexis was. I give all the glory in my life to the National Stuttering Association, for they have been very instrumental in so many things I have going for me. But I challenge you to do something: Forgive. I know it can hurt, and it can be excruciating to do so, especially if you have been tormented and bullied. But when you forgive, you will grow stronger than you know. And to the Pilkington family, "Give everything but up" is a statement that gives you great power in innumerable ways!!!

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

Monday, September 6, 2010

It's about pride and the little things.....

Good evening everyone,

The word "pride" can, and often does have many meanings. When one thinks of pride, we may associate it as being one of the seven deadly sins. Or it can be used in a complimentary manner. Yet if you really want to see it in a different way, having pride can often be the catalyst one needs to get their life started.

Last week, as I was enjoying another quiet dinner at the local Friendly's before my speech therapy, I was reading the New York Post and came across an article written by Lenn Robbins, who covers college football. The story was about Doug Marrone, the coach of the football program at Syracuse University. Syracuse is about five hours north of me, and a well-known college town. There's a damn good diner in the suburbs in Baldwinsville, but once again I am going off on a tangent. There was one section of the article that I read and then did a double-take. The paragraph spoke about how there was a piece of paper littering the locker room, and how one of the players was asked to pick it up. One of the players, Doug Hogue, stated it was about the "little things." "If you let the little things go, then you will begin to let the big things go," he said. "Great teams don't let the little things go."

Like many people who stutter, I never had a great deal of pride in myself. I suppose it's easy to understand why. When you open your mouth and the words don't come out, it is a vocal spasm, but more appropriately, it's a "speech freeze." The snickers and laughs emerge from the other people listening, and you walk away. The sunshine fades into darkness, and you become the person walking around with the raincloud over your head for the rest of your life.

It wasn't until I attended a National Stuttering Association conference that I really began to embrace the concept of what having pride means. Having pride means waking up and knowing you are OK, and your day will be OK. It means doing the little things. And what might you ask, are these "little things?". Well, first of all, it means starting your day with some positive self-talk. Yes, we all have those days where we wake up and feel life sucks. Or we can wake up feeling like P. Diddy, for example. Tell yourself that you are a fun person who enjoys being around others. But when you brush your teeth and look in the mirror, instead of focusing on your watch and seeing if you are running late, why don't you take a few moments to have pride in who you are and what you stand for. Be your own best advocate. I can guarantee you this much-if you don't, no one else will.

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

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Friendly's, and a blind woman who inspires......

Good evening everyone,

During the course of the work week, there's often a time and place that we like to go to relax and capture a few precious moments to ourselves. Every Wednesday I go to speech therapy with a private SLP who works out of his home. While the trip is an hour by car because he is all the way south of where I live, I relish the chance to make the drive and inhale the ocean air, walk by the marina, and get a bite to eat before I go see him. We all have a favorite restaurant, a special server who knows us by name, greets us heartily with a smile, and knows exactly what we want. That's why before speech therapy, I'll always stop by the local Friendly's, see Vanna, and bring a copy of the New York Post with me to unwind. Although the New York Post is nowhere on the same wavelength as, say, The Washington Post, I enjoy their sports section very much and catching up on what's going on is a nice midweek break for me. (Although this is the biggest different between the newspapers: On page three of the Washington Post, there'll be an in-depth article about Pres. Obama's new initiative, and on page three of the New York Post will be a story about how Snooki from "Jersey Shore" got arrested.

But this past Wednesday (Aug. 18), there happened to be a rare article that definitely got my attention. I always am on the lookout for stories about people with disabilities who make the world a better place because of hoe they adapt to it, and there happened to be one that I couldn't stop reading. This past week was designated "HOPE Week" by the New York Yankees. The acronym HOPE refers to Helping Others Persevere and Excel, and each day, will profile five individuals (or organizations) that make a difference in the community. Last year, for example, there was a special open-air carnival held after a night game for children suffering from Xeroderma Pigmentosum, a very rare skin disorder that prevents people who have it from going out in the daylight...if they were to do so, they can receive severe UV burns or eye/skin cancer. The families were invited to participate, as well as Yankees players who helped the children with some of the games.

This story I read was about Jane Lang, a 67-year old woman from Morris Plains, N.J. (western suburbs of New York, on the North Jersey side). She is blind and manages daily with the help of her guide dog, Clipper. She was shocked to find on her doorstep one day, was manager Joe Girardi, Joba Chamberlain, Chad Gaudin, ex-great Tino Martinez, and David Robertson, who wanted to escort her to the game. And as I was reading the feature, one quote stopped me. "I don't think I miss much. I have an advantage. Because everyone looks the same to me, I don't prejudge." According to the New York Daily News, who did a similar feature, they mentioned how when riding the subway to the game, she would have eight candies with her, and move one from one pocket to the other, to help her know when to exit.

As a person who stutters, it's undeniable that we will all go through the rollercoaster of emotions. Sometimes it doesn't hit us until later in life, when we go through the trials and tribulations of adolescence and college, or when we want to find a spouse. We often ask "Why me? Why did I have to stutter?" "Why couldn't I have something else to deal with?" In high school and college, which were some of the most trying times in my life, I often asked myself these questions. I would often wish to trade my disabilities for someone else's.
We've all heard the put-downs and the mimicking. It was at times like that I wished I was deaf, or blind so I wouldn't have to see what others said or thought about me. But little did I know how resilient I could be. And I realized having a speech impediment isn't the worst thing in the world. Does it create challenges for me? Of course, and there will always be more to face. That's why my involvement in the National Stuttering Association ( is so critically important to me. I want to give back, but most importantly, I need to. It gives me tremendous power and joy to know I can make a difference and help others.

Regardless of whether your stutter is mild or severe, it can be so scary to think about the future and not imagine yourself in it. But you are someone to this world. You have gifts to share with this world, and make sure you do so. Don't let yourself miss out on making this planet just a little brighter.

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

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Getting ready to switch modes...but don't allow your fears to stop you, ever!

Good afternoon everyone! It's almost the middle of August, and despite the fact that depending on where you live it can be sweltering, there's no denying that some people have already accepted the fact that summer is rapidly coming to an end, and the mode has shifted from beach fun to classroom academics. School will be starting in a few weeks, and soon students everywhere will be floating amidst papers, Facebook friend requests, and getting adjusted to new teachers and their instructing styles. I work with many kids right now who are in high school and college, and some are getting ready to go on to their higher education. A few already started, and their pursuits have taken them to numerous parts of New York State. Some of them travel far (to Potsdam, about an hour or less from the Canada border), and closer to home, but still a good few hours away (like Albany). And there are some who will attend classes at the local community college, and work while they set their sights high with regard to choosing a good transfer school. I stayed home and attended classes at Nassau Community College. Although I wasn't a big fan of it, I had to admit that my time there was very instrumental in learning what it is like to tap into a gift and give back to this world. I always felt a twinge of resentment at times when I saw my older brother go away to college. He went to York, Pennsylvania, and had a great time there. I felt so sad walking around his dorm room and the residence hall and wondering why he could enjoy that, and I couldn't. And my parents' response was the same: "Because he's not you, and you're not him." In many ways, that response was a catalyst for me to adjust my thinking about how I saw myself and my stuttering. We all know that stuttering isn't easy for anyone to talk about, and many parents often feel shame and embarrassment when talking about touchy topics. My brother has reluctantly accepted that the NSA is "my thing," but doesn't want to go into anything beyond that. I've accepted that I am my own person, and I can make a great impact on helping others. Recently I had the chance to read an article on where I was interviewed about my stuttering by a graduate student working at NYU who stutters as well. I wholeheartedly encouraged him to get involved with the NSA and allow him to see that stuttering is nothing to be ashamed of. But after the article, I realized that he is still feeling a great deal of negativity. I relate to him all too well, because I was there. As a chapter leader for the NSA and an advocate for those who stutter, I want everyone to know I have no agenda but my own personal feelings and goals for what I want to accomplish. I have lived my life with the shame and isolation that stuttering can bring. I don't want anyone else to ever feel that way again, and that is why I am pledging to continue promoting the National Stuttering Association annual conference as a necessity for everyone who stutters. Just go to one, and experience it. Do not let the fear of stuttering allow you to miss out on the best rewards in life! My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.

Friday, July 30, 2010

It's not about you....It's about the NSA Nation!

Hello everyone,

There will always be times in your life when you remember exactly where you were when something really special happened. You may remember the location and the name of the person with whom you shared your first kiss. (Alexandria, Va., and it was Meredith). Maybe it's the date when you realized that anything was possible. Or perhaps it was the very first words when you spoke when you entered this world. And sometimes, you find yourself at a unique place and time when the environment around you completely changes...and not for the better.

Unbeknownst to the many members who attended the National Stuttering Association conference in Cleveland, little did we know that on Thursday, July 7. we were all going to be seeing history of our own. This was to be the day that LeBron James, the greatest basketball player now in the National Basketball Association, was going to announce his plans on live television. An entire city was holding its breath....and the police had set up potential riot units by the Quicken Loans Arena just in case dire circumstances were to take place. And at 9 p.m. that evening, 300+ people stormed the hotel bar just itching to get a good spot to see everything. "Hey, turn it up!" "He's going to New York!" were but a few of the comments being uttered. Yet ten minutes later, the resignation became rampant. "Miami," was the only statement being tossed around. The very next day, as I was having breakfast at Karl's Inn of the Barristers by the Cuyahoga County Courthouse, I was intently focused on the cover of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, and one word just said it all: "Gone."

But as I was reading the scathing editorials and fan reaction, I couldn't help but think about one angle that had been critically explored. The legacy of what LeBron was leaving behind, and the very important lesson to be shared from this. It took me almost 25 years of my life to learn this, as I am 32 now, but it means more to me now than when I first understood the concept. Plain and simple, IT IS NOT ABOUT YOU.

When you're in your teen years, it seems like every little negative experience is magnified. Lord knows I had too many of them as it was. The denial of being able to volunteer in class, the feeling that my stuttering had made me feel so worthless that I didn't even deserve to go to the prom or participate in activities. You begin to feel hatred and anger taking over, and eventually it gets to the point where you say "It's all about me. I'm in it for me, and no one else." It does feel good to say that at first....but then before you know it, you alienate everyone else and you find those are the same people who root for you to fail, because you can't respect them.

I enjoy giving so much of my heart and soul to the National Stuttering Association. It is the greatest love of my life and it always will be. But above all else, whenever I speak to SLP classes, whenever I meet new people who don't know anything about stuttering and I share with them my thoughts, I make it paramount that the NSA is not about me. It never has been, and never will be. It's about a movement of freedom and tolerance. It's about a group of people coming together to share how they can make each other's lives a little better. It can be so easy to turn on the news today and see negative stories about elected officials and other things that bother us. But one thing can be said: Never doubt that a group of people can change the world.......I'm just one part of an NSA Nation that is doing so.

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

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cleveland Rocks!!! Cleveland Rocks! Cleveland Rocks!

Good evening everyone,

I want to begin this latest entry in my blog with an apology. For those around the world who enjoy reading my thoughts and observations about life as a person who stutters, you may have been wondering what has happened to me. These last few weeks have been among the most amazing in my life. I have just returned from the latest National Stuttering Association conference in Cleveland, Ohio, and now I am back into the "real world," although in reality, I never left.

You have all heard me talk about how these conferences are the four days out of the year that I live for. You can't deny that the night before the conference, I had such a feeling of distinct electricity running through my body-it's that same high you get when you want to sleep, but you just can't. The adrenaline is pulsating through your veins and you don't want to drift off to dreamland because you're worried about losing all those pleasant thoughts. Yet my alarm clock went off at 5:30 a.m., and an hour later, I was riding with my dad on the Long Island Expressway toward MacArthur Airport, ready to board a 737 via Southwest Airlines to Hopkins International Airport. Although I live in the suburbs of the city that never sleeps, at the time I was on the road, I was just taking in the scenery-the sunrise coming over the Great South Bay, and the massive parking lot on the interstate beginning to fill up with commuters heading off to work.

The conference has been described by people as a lot of things. I'm often asked how you can explain it and there are some who say it's something you just have to experience for yourself. But I am creative, as are fellow members of the NSA Nation, and some of their feelings are definitely good conversation starters. One of my good friends from Ohio calls it "The world's largest block party." (Touche LOL). I even coined a new phrase: "Four days of sleep deprivation, with some education and kick-ass empowerment thrown in." I like that....I really do.

Although the "National" part of our name implies we are based in America, one of the greatest feelings of pride I have is that we've seen people who live internationally come to visit, and share their wisdom. I live in the suburbs of New York, and one of the things that frustrates me is that you can be a person who lives all your life here and not ever want to see, or meet, other people. New York City is an amazing place...and there's everything you could ever want here. Yet you also don't want to develop a view that the world begins and ends at the George Washington Bridge. Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Japan (!) were just a few of the international countries represented. I'll never forget going out to dinner with some attendees who were from South Jersey, and a gentleman from Australia joined us. We all hung on every word he said, as he was regaling us with the experiences of the stuttering community overseas.

Of course, the social scene is a big part of the NSA conference. But the workshops play an integral role because they challenge us to do what we once so afraid to-taking a chance on living life and being open to whatever challenges there are. One workshop in particular was hosted by four members of the NSA East Bay chapter in San Francisco, and reading about it just made me think. It was dedicated to the questioning of gender roles and stuttering. Stuttering affects five times more men than women, yet for me, I read that and just stopped. In today's world, old standards are still around. The men are expected to be strong, yet some of us are perceived as being "weak" and "nervous" because we stutter. The truth is, we are all stronger than we know. Sometimes it takes looking deep into yourself to realize that.

I also received the shock of my life at this conference. If you met me in my pre-NSA days I was not a nice person to be around. I was feeling so hateful and upset at the world, and at myself. I couldn't even stand to look at myself anymore because every time I spoke to someone, I would look down for fear that I felt like I was a burden to them having to listen to me. My life has come full circle in so many ways, in other ways it could be better-but we are all works in progress. At the opening ceremony, I was recognized for my contributions by winning the Member of the Year Award. That makes two awards in three years, and that one is very prestigious to me. I was honored to be presented with it by someone who is very special and sits on the Board of Directors.

I know that the journey of self-acceptance is painful, and frightening to take. But after the conference, I visited my grandfather's grave, which I do once a month-I talk to him and let him know how I am doing, even though he may be physically gone, the lessons he taught me are still as vibrant as ever. I swear to you reading that I am going to do everything in my power to help others in their journey. When someone is angry because they can't find a job and they think it is due to their speech, I will listen. When a person feels life isn't worth living because they stutter and they think it's a death sentence, I will share my story with them. I have never been so prouder, or more honored, to be part of this SPECTACULAR community known as the NSA Nation. If you don't want to join, when will you? Be part of something that will change your life forever. I personally guarantee 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.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Et tu, Brute? The most unkindest cut of all....

Good afternoon everyone,

I thought I'd start this entry of the blog with one of the famous lines from William Shakespeare. The phrase "Et tu, Brute," is literally translated as "You too, Brutus!" and refers to the moment when Julius Caesar is stabbed by his best friend and compatriot, Brutus. I have to admit I had one of those moments yesterday. And even though it came from the mouth of my parents, it doesn't make it any easier. In fact, it just adds more concrete evidence that they don't understand stuttering, and probably never will.

As those who read my blog know, I am aggressively looking for full-time work. I keep myself focused on my job search while I work part-time. Recently, I was discussing the latest developments with my mom and dad, and I informed them that I had decided to apply for an opening as a screener with the Transportation Security Administration, at LaGuardia Airport in Queens County, which is about 45 minutes west from where I live. Their response was shocking, and quite possibly the worst thing any parent can say: "That's a good job for you! You wouldn't have to talk a lot." I was absolutely infuriated by this comment.

I want to say for the record that in no way I have ever let my stuttering stand in the way of applying for a job. At the National Stuttering Association conferences, there are many workshops that are dedicated to networking and helping attendees establish themselves in a career. One of the most frequently asked questions is something like this: "How can I apply for a job when one of the requirements is good communication skills?" Well, early on in my life, I worked in journalism. There may be some people who might have thought I was a glutton for punishment-since there was talking every day. I even had to ring doorbells of perfect strangers and go up to people on the street and talk to them. I felt like I was waiting for the inevitable shoe to drop: the snickers, the comments, the blank stares as I was fumbling for the right words.

One of the hardest lessons I have had to learn is that parents often feel the best way to talk about something is to avoid it. You see this all the time with touchy issues: drugs, sex, and so on. I just had a chance to see this year's conference program for the NSA, and there are a few seminars presented by a parent and their child who stutters. How truly awesome that is! Not just for the fact that it brings the adult and child together, but it shows there is hope that you can talk about stuttering with your family. One part of me does wish that my parents could attend a conference and see what a truly special event this is. Then again, I see myself playing the devil's advocate. If they really don't even care about your speech, then why would you want them there in the first place?

In today's world, we shake our head when we see the way things are headed. We can't choose who our parents are. We can't try to change someone who is set in their ways. But we can make peace with the fact that we are special, and together with our gifts we can improve our lives, day by day. After my parents made that comment to me, I went into my room and read my conference programs back-to-back, looking at my Volunteer of the Year award from 2008. And I'm reminded that I am somebody who has a lot to offer. You have something to share with this world. I want you to promise me you will.

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

Monday, June 14, 2010

And then what are you prepared to do?

Good evening everyone,

In the1960s, the phrase "The times, they are a-changing" was aptly used to describe a truly unique time in the growth of our country. The decade became associated with among other things, sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, the sexual revolution, and a time to question everything we were taught and what we believed. I think it's safe to say that our times are changing, and not for the better. Yet despite all that's going on in the world, the one thing that hasn't changed is the commitment to prepare yourself to do what you need to do to make a goal materialize. Very rarely does it ever happen overnight. But many times I've questioned myself if I really am ready to do the things that need to be done.

I was recently watching the 1987 movie "The Untouchables" on cable, which remains one of my favorite movies because of one special scene. For those who are unfamiliar, the film deals with the struggles of Eliot Ness, an agent with the Bureau of Prohibition (which falls under the U.S. Department of the Treasury), who is struggling with the process of bringing Al Capone and his gang to justice. Kevin Costner, who plays Ness, is pondering this dilemma in a church as he is talking to Sean Connery (who won the Oscar for playing Jimmy Malone, an Irish police officer). "I am prepared to do everything within the means of the law," Ness states matter of factly. "And then what are you prepared to do?" retorts Malone back, questioning his commitment to fulfilling his goal. "If you open the ball on these people, you must be prepared to go all the way. If you really want to get Capone, here's what you do. He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way. That's how you get Capone." No doubt dramatic, but the point is made clearly.

I bring this scene up because we're rapidly approaching the end of June, and there will be commencements for all high schools, a few of which have taken place already. I never did attend my moving up exercises, for my feelings of guilt and loneliness overwhelmed me. Yet I see so much hope in the eyes of today's graduates. Every generation has its challenges to face, and this one more than many. Yet if you are prepared to do what you need to do, there's no limit to what you can achieve.

I can still recall vividly the early days of my junior college years. Many students in my graduating class attended college at one of the State University of New York Schools. Albany and Buffalo were pretty popular choices-mainly because it was not too far from home, but just enough to get away from the parental influences. Of course, that doesn't go for Buffalo, which is an eight hour drive if you go nonstop from Long Island. I wanted to go away to school, but I didn't do what had to be done to earn that right. Instead of taking my classes seriously, I often fooled around, and barely graduated with a C+ average. I started off at Nassau Community College, and learned a great deal about myself and the commitment it takes to making things happen. I had to learn to get up at 6 a.m. for 8 a.m. classes, manage my time, fight the frustrations of parking. I also learned most importantly to answer the question posed by most of my teachers: "Why are you here?" And no, it's not enough to say you want to get an education. There has to be more. There needs to be a undying commitment to show you want it. More than anyone else does.

I had my days when I absolutely wanted to be elsewhere. In fact, wouldn't you know I actually ran into one of my classmates at NCC (as it is known) a couple of months after graduation. I asked him what happened, and he said he was asked to leave-his GPA fell below the minimum and he had to return home to build his grades back up. He wasn't someone I was close to, but I asked him if he could offer any advice. "Be focused," was all he told me. Nothing else needed to be said.

So I ask you what are you prepared to do about your stuttering? Sure, there is speech therapy. Some people go, others choose not to, and that is their right. Are you prepared to represent yourself as someone who refuses to let their speech define them? Are you able to motivate yourself, and lead others as well? These questions, and many more, are able to be answered by one person. You can find it within yourself. And if you need some more inspiration, get involved with the NSA Nation, at!

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

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Emotions, Michigan, and a story about those feelings......

Good evening everyone,

It was a Wednesday night like any other night in Anytown, USA. Even though my remote control was waging a dueling battle between watching the state of Illinois and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania battle for Lord Stanley's Cup, I had to see what was happening in a certain baseball game between the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers. One man, Armando Galarraga, was on the precipice of history. As Andy Warhol put it, we are all promised fifteen minutes of fame. And then, came one of those defining moments that show you just what kind of a person you really are when the world is watching. It was one groundout, just a routine play like which occurs several times in a baseball game. It only took two seconds for one umpire to incorrectly identify the call. And just like that, heartbreak was instantaneous.

Yet for all the criticism, the finger-pointing that was about to take place, there was just as much focus on the pitcher who smiled and said nothing. He could have screamed. He might have gotten right in the person's face and verbally berated them, and practically everyone in the universe would have echoed his sentiments. And even though the umpire apologized repeatedly and admitted he was wrong, there was absolutely nothing that could be done to ameliorate the situation. But above all else, it was the way he handled it.

As a person who stutters, I can say emphatically that for the longest time one of my greatest challenges was the ability to refrain from saying anything. I always had the need to get the last word in, to say what I wanted to. When you stutter, there is always going to be someone who refuses to hear you out. Maybe because they don't have time, or they just don't care. I have never let someone do that to me at all....but when it does happen, you only have a split second to decide what your next response will be. And that, above all else, says a great deal about who you are.

Stuttering for me has really made me examine my emotions in different ways. Being a chapter leader in the National Stuttering Association has shown me that even when you aren't in the public eye, you need to represent yourself the best way possible when it comes to your speech. I have never ever advocated using my stuttering as an excuse for anything, even when it comes to getting angry. I vividly remember in my days in junior high school, high school, and college, all it would take was just one remark about my speech to set me off. I was the grenade, someone who teased me pulled the pin, and now sit back and watch the explosion take place. How I wished back then that I had the self-control not to respond with anger.

Emotions are a big part of my life, and others who stutter because it brings out the best-and at times, the worst in us. We do not know what kind of a speech day we'll have. On the days when we need to be fluent, we may not be, and vice versa. It can drive you mad if you let it. But one of the themes that I stress when I lecture at schools is to make your emotions work for you, and not against you. Easier said than done, I'm sure.

As it turns out, the pitcher accepted the expressions of emotions from the umpire. Not because he had to do, but because it was the right thing to do. There will be some who'll say, "Well the fact that he got a Corvette made up for it." If you want to think that way, then you are certainly entitled to it.

The next time you're out, whether it is just with your friends or flying solo, think about your emotions and what they say about you. I lived too many years of my life being consumed by negativity, and I have made it my personal mission to help others work with controlling their feelings when it comes to stuttering. I promise that if you can do that, you will feel more spiritually alive than you ever thought possible.

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

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A special rite of passage, indeed!

Good evening everyone,

We're about to come upon Memorial Day Weekend 2010. No matter what you think of this as, whether it's the official kick-off to summer, or another reason to introduce yourself to the sun's rays and the local beach near you, it's an undeniable feeling that yes, something special is in the air...and this feeling never gets old.

Last night, as I was watching the 10 O'Clock News on New York's FOX affiliate (WNYW/5), the first topic of discussion on the news was the fact that the brand new Meadowlands Stadium located in the suburban swamplands of New Jersey (more specifically, East Rutherford approximately seven miles west of New York City) was being christened by the local band that has established themselves as real pride for local residents everywhere, Bon Jovi. 90,000 fans came out for the celebration, and I couldn't help but listen intently to fans being interviewed. "I grew up with Bon Jovi to get me through law school, and now he's helping me close it," said one woman. Another man who brought his whole family said how his love of "Living On A Prayer" had been passed down to his sons and daughter.

As I was thinking about this, I couldn't help but focus my sights on another feeling that no matter how hard one can describe it, it's unforgettable. That, of course, is the National Stuttering Association's annual conference. In a little less than one month, myself and 700 people who stutter will meet for four days to share wisdom about stuttering...that goes without saying, but when you really get down to it, it's about life. It's about celebrating our great spirit and knowing we are capable of anything we want to do.

Like a rite of passage, the NSA conference has also become for me a tradition and something that demands required attendance. I don't take a lot of vacations, but for me, this trumps everything else. I don't attend family events because in my eyes, I will always be persona non gratis because of my speech-and the fact that my parents will continue to feel ashamed of it. When I see a family I know, we spend several minutes sharing our memories of previous conferences, and the triumphs and tragedies we all share.

Yet it's the little moments that carry the most impact. I can vividly recall people just standing up and saying "My name is ___________" and even if that's all they can, those four words carry such great weight because it is the start of the rest of their lives. We use the term "first-timers" to describe those who have just found out about the conference, and by the closing banquet, they know they are coming back for the next year. We'll all be together to stand with those who have been teased and alienated. And they'll start the transformation process into a special human being.

My countdown started as soon as I got off the plane from Arizona at MacArthur Airport. In a few weeks, I'll be boarding another one to Ohio. Maybe I'll see you there. Or better yet, at a future conference someday.

Number five (Long Beach, Calif., Atlanta, Parsippany, N.J., Scottsdale, Ariz., and now Cleveland) will be just as special for me. May it be for you too.

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, May 18, 2010

There is no day but make it happen!

Good afternoon everyone,

One of the greatest pleasures I have had the chance to experience is special times when I can get together with my NSA colleagues outside of our annual conferences. I used to think of my fellow NSA members as "teammates," but in many ways, we are more than that. We're teachers, advocates, and friends with unbreakable bonds that no one else can even begin to understand.

This past Saturday, I had a chance to get together with one of my friends from the conference. In all honesty, I didn't even know he was going to be in my "neck of the woods," as the proverbial expression goes. I firmly believe that when the opportunity presents itself, you need to make an effort to reach out and offer to get together-even if it's for dinner or just having drinks at the local bar. My friend was in town for a month to attend an intensive speech therapy program, and it was only via his Facebook page that I found out. I emailed him, and we decided to hang out in New York City. Any time I go into the city, it's a special thing for me. I am a typical suburbanite-whenever someone asks me where I am from, I always say "Long Island" rather than New York. Although sometimes I take it for granted that I can easily have access to the amenities that this city offers me, I'm not usually much for being there. I love the beaches and the much slower pace of life, although when I am in the city, it's usually a good bet you'll find me behind the microphone at a karaoke bar.

I met my friend and our first stop was riding the D line up to the Yankee Stadium/161st Street/River Avenue stop, so we could walk around the stadium. And as we were doing so on what was a glorious day, the topic of conversation turned to one of the themes that usually rears its head throughout our lives, and especially at the conference. And that's the one about taking chances. Matt was telling me how he just completed his Associate's Degree and was deciding on whether or not to go for his Bachelor's degree, or take the entrance exam to be a New York City Police Officer. We happened to be walking past Mullally Park right by the Stadium, approaching the George Washington Bridge exit, and I encouraged him to go for it-especially since the city is always recruiting for police officers. But Matt spoke about how he was worried how his speech might come into play-because it's one thing to be comfortable around another person who stutters, and it's totally different when you need to be in the public eye.

It is no secret that I take so much pride in knowing so many members of the NSA Nation, who have pursued (and are pursuing) their goals in spite of their concerns they may have. Whether it's a teacher or a speech pathologist. One of the articles in our "Letting GO" newsletter was written by a mother of our members who expressed her concerns when her daughter wanted to become a speech pathologist and she had to say her name to other graduate students.

After we hit the Stadium, we did some subway-hopping and walked over the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan to the DUMBO (Down Underneath the Manhattan Bridge) with a truly priceless view of the skyline and Statue of Liberty. But another attribute of the National Stuttering Association is that no one cares what your background is or what personal beliefs you have-we all come from various regions-the Northeast, the Florida beaches (like Matt), the Pacific Northwest, and so on. On the bridge, there was a great collection of residents and visitors just being. Just talking, and no one cared about their personal issues.

As we were walking back to the Manhattan side, I couldn't help but pause to see where the Twin Towers once stood. The only thing that was going through my mind was the song "No Day But Today," from the musical "Rent." We all have so much to accomplish, so much to dream, and time to make it happen. Matt pledged to me he will strongly consider taking the exam. No matter what he decides, just the fact that two members of the NSA Nation were able to get together made it a pretty good weekend....don't you think?

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, May 8, 2010

Hello everyone,

Throughout my life, I have often questioned many times why life takes the twists and turns it does. We all have struggled at times with many challenges that life has thrown at us: a new chapter starts and we are unsure what to do about it. A death in our family shatters our normalcy and things never stay the same again. Yet, as the saying goes, "The more things change, the more things stay the same." And what stays the same to me, as a member of the National Stuttering Association, is the unbreakable spirit that a group of collective individuals can agree to unite for something bigger than themselves, and learn about this unique world we live in.

For many travelers around the world, the shattering took place at our local airports. With a volcanic eruption spreading ash over Europe, there was a standstill of shock and then the craziness started. There was nowhere to go, very few people to talk to-or to care about their problems. I was reading the New York Post a few days ago at a diner counter and was shaking my head at some of the responses from those stranded when a reporter asked them how they were managing. One person said (paraphrasing) "We don't deserve to be treated like animals." Another one was angry that in search of a temporary room and shower, some hotels raised the prices every day in hopes one's will would be broken and they'd give in. Yet there are some who despite the most trying of circumstances, make it through the day with a smile and their courage. One family, who seemed amused by the fact that some passengers were photographing them like a paparazzi would celebrities, decided turnabout was fair play and thus photographed those who were photographing them. Some passengers, according to the Post, decided to engage a take-off of "Twenty Questions" in a parlor game supposedly called "I'm Not Beethoven." And one young girl was making some good friends with a French compatriot, even though she didn't know a lick about the language. It brought a smile to my face, knowing that just maybe the human spirit isn't dead as it seems like sometimes it can be.

But as a person who stutters (or even if you support others who do), we have more of those moments, and although we want to give up and declare our lives over, it is unfathomable. When I speak at colleges about the NSA Nation and the transforming effects it has, the one thing I stress is that we all live through each other. We laugh together, and we celebrate all that our speech is and can be. We also cry and empathize when someone's ordeal threatens to bring down all they worked for.One of my colleagues at the NSA who has contributed her blood, sweat, and tears as we all have, was recently given some devastating news. She is a very proud mom of two daughters, one who is an SLP and the other who will be a psychologist and serves in a leadership capacity in my organization. She is a big proponent of education, and found out that after twenty-something years, she was being let go because of budgetary issues in California. My heart dropped after I read that, and as someone who strongly believes that the NSA Nation takes care of its own, I asked her to call me, and we spoke for an hour. Despite this crippling news, she maintained her sunny outlook. Many of us wear their hearts on their sleeve (I do), and when we receive bad news, we tend to immediately feel those clenches of negativity permeate our mind. We begin to ask "Why me? Why couldn't this happen to someone else?" "I don't deserve this." We stew, we complain, we feel the color in our world dying. Yet she, not one time, did any of that. She is truly someone I admire, and the NSA Nation is full of members who feel the same way she does. It really is about attitude!

Maybe I will never find out why life is the way it is. But you know what I have found out? That life is meant to be lived with a smile on your face, and being comfortable with who you are is vital. Adversity really does build character-and I've got a great deal of it. Why don't you start building yours today?My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.