Speak Easy International Foundation, Inc.: A Supportive Self-Help Mutual Aid Group For People Who Stutter (Since 1977)

Contact: Bob Gathman: Founder & President Antoinette Gathman: Executive Director 233 Concord Drive, Paramus, NJ 07652, (Phone/Fax) 201-262-0895

Speak Easy was founded in Paramus, N.J., in 1977, and incorporated in 1981, as The Speak Easy International Foundation, Inc., a self-help/mutual aid group dedicated to assisting people who stutter. The organization provides a network of friendship and understanding to stutterers, and offers encouragement, motivation, and support in dealing with their disfluency. Chapter meetings are held bi-weekly, and are chaired by individual members on a voluntary rotating basis. Through newsletters, presentations, ongoing contacts with schools, volunteer organizations, and other outreach efforts in their local communities, Speak Easy Chapters seek to overcome social, psychological, and economic barriers that impede stutterers from achieving their fullest potential.

A major component of Speak Easy's education and advocacy effort is its annual Symposium, a weekend event for stutterers, their families and friends, professionals in the field, and others concerned with stuttering. Symposium sites included Bergen Community College, New Jersey State colleges and universities, and conference centers in Connect- cut. The 2 1/2-day conference attracts participants from local and outlying areas of New Jersey as well as from other parts of the country. More than 100 people attended the first symposium 18 years ago. Since then average attendance has been approximately 125.

During the symposium volunteers representing a broad spectrum of social, educational, and professional backgrounds deliver keynote addresses, lead small-group workshops, and serve as members of discussion panels. Topics covering a wide area of issues associated with stuttering (the overriding aim is to help stutterers gain communication skills and a sense of confidence that will carry over into the workplace). Thus, active participation by volunteers enables them to develop public speaking and leadership abilities while sharing varied perspectives and insights that can help others in overcoming their difficulties. The majority of symposium volunteers are drawn from Speak Easy chapter members and members-at-large.

Because Speak Easy itself is an all-volunteer, grass-roots organization, operating with no paid professional staff for 20 years, it depends on volunteers for virtually all aspects of planning, promoting, and implementing the symposium.

Among major challenges facing stutterers is their sense of isolation and lack of awareness and acceptance from society. Speak Easy's goal is to promote understanding and remove the stigma surrounding stuttering so that more people will take advantage of the self-help mutual aid strategy. The symposium is a key element in the effort as it builds strength and self-esteem among stutterers, and informs and educates those who do not.

added February 8, 2000