Back in the summer of 2008, my family and I were visiting a camp for some very special young people. I met a young boy that day who I will never forget. He seemed a little apprehensive to make eye contact with me but when I said “hello”’ he sheepishly smiled, and then he ran off to join his friends.
Over the next hour or so, I sat amongst a group of strangers and we were all taken on a magical, emotional, motivational, creative joy ride that would change my life from that day forward. I had no idea that I could be moved by a group of children that I had never met, yet felt so close to. Everyone in attendance, at some point, was either laughing, crying, clapping or staring at the stage with a look of peace and pride in their eyes. What a wonderful place to be on such a beautiful summer afternoon.
As the show drew to a close, I stood along with the audience and applauded those fearless, talented young people until my hands hurt! With tears streaming down my face, I scanned the group of kids, trying to find that young boy that I had seen earlier. I wanted to let him know what a wonderful job he did. I spotted his shirt (it was white with ‘Camp Our Time’ written in orange) and I waved at him to come over. As he walked closer, smiling sheepishly at me, I saw a familiar face. Wait, it couldn’t be….that young boy, singing, dancing, acting on stage….but yes, it was, it was my son! I had never seen this child before. I had never met this confident, expressive, artistic young man.
He was awesome, and I could see in his eyes that he knew that he was awesome. This place was an answered prayer, a dream builder and life changer for my family and for all the families there that day.
Since the time that my son was able to put 3-4 words together to form a sentence (which by the way was at age 7, due to his being a child on the Autism spectrum), we noticed that he stuttered. The thing about it was that he didn’t notice it for a few more years. Once he realized that his speech was different, he became withdrawn and frustrated with himself. Whenever he would begin to stutter, he would berate himself, sigh and walk away saying, ‘Just forget it!’, and not finish his thought. It was heartbreaking to see him be so hard on himself and give up on expressing his thoughts and feelings. I had waited so long for him to be able to communicate and now he didn’t want to talk.
As patient as we were with him, it didn’t change the way he felt about himself. It would be two long years of seeing my son slowly lose the glimmer in his eyes while our attempts to encourage him fell on hopeless ears.
All of this changed when my son met Taro and attended camp with other kids who were people who stutter like him.
For any parent of a child who stutters, for any young person that stutters, and for all the family members and loved ones of someone that stutters, you must make time in your life to experience SAY: The Stuttering Association for the Young (formerly Our Time). I promise you, you will learn the true meaning of hope, perseverance, patience and community support. The kids are so wonderful with and supportive of one another and they share a bond that is unbreakable.As a parent, you want nothing less than that for your child. The staff and volunteers are some of the most understanding and caring people I have ever met. And Taro, the founder of SAY, is the kindest, most humble, genuine, approachable, loving human being you will ever have the honor of knowing in the stuttering community….and I’m not just saying that. If you ever have the pleasure of seeing him in action, with the kids of SAY, you may begin to understand my feelings about this incredible man. He has been giving of himself unconditionally since 2001, when he first began SAY. He understands what our children deal with mentally and emotionally and he has created a safe haven for them to just BE!
Because of Taro and SAY, I have the great pleasure of knowing my son in a way that I would have never dreamed of.
Something awoke in him that summer of 2008. He has transformed from a frustrated kid that stutters into a college student majoring in Communication, with the dream of being a broadcast journalist. He also continues to express himself through acting by participating in college plays. Words cannot convey how grateful I am to Taro for the organization which he created for kids like my son. The SAY family will always be our family, whether old or new members, we are all family.
People that stutter have so much to offer the world if just given the chance to be heard. In the fast paced world in which we live, we all need to recognize that in every home, in every family structure, there is someone who is different. Different does not mean less than. Different does not mean unworthy. Different does not mean broken. Different just means “not the same as”, period. Our differences make us unique and the world is a better place because of my unique son, and he is on the path of realizing just how unique and special he is.