Make Room For The Stuttering

Why Friends Is Deep Down Powerful

Posted on: July 27, 2010

I was in Chicago for the Friends Convention this past weekend. For the third year in a row, I came home feeling inspired, empowered, and emotionally drained. It is hard to describe what happens at a conference with 150 kids who stutter and their parents and other people who care about stuttering. It is the most accepting, caring environment that you can imagine. New comers feel loved, welcomed and supported within minutes of walking through the door. Really. Someone scoops the kids up and parents greet parents.

The Friends convention has such a special feel. You feel it right away. Everything about Friends is low-key and family friendly. From the homemade “program-in-a-binder” to the buffet style chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese meals, you know this is about the kids.

As an adult who stutters coming to a Friends event, motivation is very different. Adults are not there for themselves, or our needs or some type of therapeutic transference. Nope, we go to help, and talk to kids and parents and facilitate workshops and reassure new-comers that stuttering is not a bad thing. How can it be with all these kids stuttering freely, with absolutely no fear or shame or time constraints? And surrounded by their parents.

That is the key. Families and parents talk together about stuttering, and what works. And that it is OK to accept stuttering and still strive to be the best communicator possible, at the same time. They are not mutually exclusive goals.

All the kids go to the same workshops at the same time. And adults and parents go to one at the same time. Everything is done with a sense of cohesiveness, and the purpose of getting to know one another. We all eat together, there is only one tour on Friday night,and there are even hospitality rooms, one for teens, one for adults, encouraging everyone to hang out and socialize together, instead of going off in separate groups.

At the dinner dance on the last night, shorts, bare legs, flip-flops or even bare feet were the norm. Kids packed the dance floor and hogged the karaoke machine, as it should be. We all got in a great big circle, with arms around each other, and sang, “That’s What Friends are For”, and “Wind Beneath My Wings” to each other.

You can’t help but feel powerfully connected when engaging like this with each other. Little kids, teens, siblings, parents, grad students, SLP’s – all just become people in one big circle touching and swaying to the music, and letting tears drip a little because we had no free hand to swat them away.

I was busy most of the weekend. I ran a workshop for adults, attended several, and did videos of parents. They are wonderful. Can’t wait to get them posted.  I also did some videos with kids on “inspiration”. These will be featured as part of a video montage of people who stutter from around the world for the International Stuttering Association in October. How inspiring is that? Some of the Friends kids will be featured telling their stories around the world.

I still found time to connect emotionally with my own feelings. I was fine the first two days. Friday evening, I chatted with very good friend Heather G and found myself getting emotional as we chatted about some recent stuff I have been working on. Then on Saturday, my emotional dam burst and I just could not stop the spill.

It started with hearing the very inspiring Dr Alan Rabinowitz share his story of connecting with and saving Big Cats because they couldn’t speak for themselves, just as he felt as a kid growing up stuttering. I was choked up and teary for most of his talk. I remained so when I went to talk to him personally for a few minutes afterward. His disclosure of not feeling whole at one point in his life really struck a chord with me.

Shortly after, I listened to a panel of young people, parents and adults tell of “living successfully with stuttering”. When Bob Murphy, a tough, “wears-his-heart-on-his-sleeve” firefighter, told his story of seeking therapy himself as an adult(he has a kid who stutters) so he could have a chance at becoming a lieutenant with the Fire Department, I got a huge lump in my throat. When he shared that it paid off and he became a lieutenant just last month, I didn’t try to hold back the tears and just let them flow. I was so moved. My heart leaked.

Then I listened to a powerful closing speech by a therapist who had been a covert stutterer. She spoke with such passion, deep from her heart. The tears rolled down my cheeks. I was so happy to be in this place of acceptance and support, but at the same time I felt mournful and sad that  I had never had any of this as a child.

For the third year in a row, my insides were touched in that deep down place that so wishes I had this kind of peace as a young person. I went to talk to Kristen Chemela after her speech,  thanked her and let her know how her words had so moved me. And then I started crying and she stayed present with me for a few powerful moments.

Friends has a way of doing this. Of connecting all the dots – even the ones we thought we had pushed deep down. I am so happy to be part of the Friends organization and happy to give a little part of myself to these daring, courageous beautiful children and their parents.

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18 Responses to "Why Friends Is Deep Down Powerful"

You have such a way with words, Pam. I feel honored to know you. You do so much for so many. You probably have no idea how many lives you touch! I often say, “I would have loved coming to a convention when I was a kid!” I have a feeling all the kids that get to attend know how lucky they are and know they are loved.

Thank you Pam for interviewing my son last weekend. I can see the change in him and feel the change in my own heart and attitude. You are an angel. Lisa

Thank you for bringing him and both of you opening your heart to stuttering. He is so brave.
I wish I had 30 hours in each day so I could get to these videos. His was GREAT, I promise you.
You will be so proud. I have transferred them from my camcorder to my computer, thats about it so far. I hope to get them done before the week is out.
I still feel all choked up from the weekend and I am not a kid or parent or first-timer.
Let him know what a rock-star he is!

This was beautifully written. I have heard Alan Rabinowitz speak and cry everytime. I find Kristin Chmela and Bill Murphy so inspirational. Sounds wonderful and you are an amazing person who has enhanced my life with your words and emotions. Lori

Thanks Lori! It was Bob Murphy I spoke of. He is the dad of a young man who started with Friends when he was 11, and who now is 24 and an aspiring elementary teacher.
His father only just now sought therapy, and for him to share that story just totally clobbered me. And I had already just been clobbered by Alan’s poignant share.
Then I heard Kristen for the first time ever. I got so much out of being there – even just as a listener and observer.
Its like everything seeped into me like osmosis!
Thanks for your very kind words.

Pam, not only are you a great person, but you are an awesome writer, too. I loved your piece. Dennis shared some of the same thoughts you had as well.

Pam

I am so very grateful that you have found such inspiration from attending Friends conventions. We are very lucky to have you. You have done an unbelievably beautiful job of capturing the essence of what happens during those three wonderful and powerful days.
Your description of the experience helps me understand why after all these years my tears continue to stream down my face as we all say goodbye. The energy felt on the dance floor keeps my going for quite some time. Thanks you for capturing our soul and sharing it so beautifully. Lee

Your account of the convention is beautiful.
Yes, this past convention was particularly inspiring, amazing, sensational.. It was, as always, so great to hang and talk with you, Pam, and educational to me as a therapist as well. I thank you sincerely for sharing so openly.
You stutter like a rockstar. -Heather

Hi Heather!

I was your grad student YEARS ago at Hofstra University. I’ve been working in the Uniondale Schools for the last 10 years since graduation and I haven’t had many kids on my caseload that are stutterers so I’m way out of practice and looking for new treatment techniques to use. It’s so great to see that your still here for the kids who stutter.

I hope to hear from you.
Lorna Simpson

Great story Pam! Thanks for sharing!
I’ve been wanting to go to FRIENDS and your story just sold me! Thanks for all you do!

What a great post, Pam. I loved reading it…we didn’t get much time to talk in Chicago, but we’ll be back next year in DC and I hope to connect more with you then!

Me uno a las felicitaciones, la verdad que me parece que el contenido es bastante …. Es muy interesante tu blog.
http://www.videoinformatica.net

** Using google translator: I join the congratulations, the truth that I think the content is pretty …. Your blog is very interesting.

Wow Pam. I feel emotional just reading this and I wasn’t even there. I would love to go maybe next year? I don’t know what I would have to offer though.

What would you have to offer? Yourself!

Great post Pam. In the last few weeks you’ve experienced two different, but kind of the same conferences. Doesn’t really matter where the kids get the confidence to face their stuttering, the NSA or Friends. Hopefully, the kids, teens, and the parents at Friends know that as their kids grow and become young adults, the NSA will be there to continue their journey.

Reading that brought back all the emotions I felt this past weekend…i can’t imagine my life without FRIENDS in it.

Pam – I am so PROUD and HONORED to be a part of FRIENDS – thank you for an moving, emotional and heartfelt post.

I would like to exchange links with your site stutterrockstar.wordpress.com
Is this possible?

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