The Stuttering Association for the Young is an organization that provides arts and mentorship programs and anti-bullying resources to empower children who stutter. We talked with Travis Robertson, Vice President of SAY’s Programming and Camp Director.
“Ultimately our responsibility is to people. Not just the stuttering community but all communities and all people. Our service and care for people knows no bounds of race, religion, sexual orientation, politics or any other identity or background. We're in a time where community and compassion are being tested.”
Travis Robertson, Vice President of SAY’s Programming and Camp Director.
How did you get involved with SAY?
I am a person who stutters and had the great fortune of meeting with Taro Alexander, the founder of SAY, many years ago through a mutual friend. My conversation with him was the first time that I was able to talk about stuttering with someone who understood exactly what I was going through. That was the beginning of my volunteer and Teaching Artist work with SAY, and the wonderful friendship that Taro and I have. I made the decision to come on full time with SAY 6 years ago and it’s been an inspiring adventure ever since.
What were some of SAY's goals for this year and how are you repurposing these goals during the current health crisis?
SAY’s mission is to build community and confidence among young people who stutter. An essential part of that call is being able to connect with our community. Even though COVID-19 has presented its challenges, we’ve discovered wonderful opportunities to connect and offer programming to a much wider audience than we usually do. The love and support we have to offer transcends any physical space, so it’s been really great to connect with our friends all over the world.
What kinds of activities is SAY doing right now?
Currently we are offering our programming online via Zoom. Every Spring we host our Mentor Project through our Confident Voices program. That has been able to carry on in a beautiful way thanks to the hard work and imagination of our staff, in particular our Confident Voices directors, Kate Detrick and Aidan Sank. After much thought and analysis, we’ve also made the very difficult decision to change our two-week overnight summer camp from in-person, to a virtual camp experience for 2020. This is to help ensure the health and safety of our whole community. Our Virtual Camp SAY will be two weeks in August, filled with fun and exciting camp activities led by our all-star camp staff and open to our whole community. Registration has begun and you can find our more information HERE.
How are members of SAY's community, families and children, confronting the pandemic? What are their feelings? Their obstacles?
As a whole I think our families are coping well. I think we are all doing the best we can in what are uncertain and challenging times. The added challenge of being online as a person who stutters is something that we as a community have been talking about, and supporting one another through. I am constantly reminded about how resilient and loving and kind SAY kids and families are to one another.
As someone that represents a nonprofit organization in New York City, what is your responsibility in the messages that you give to the community?
Ultimately our responsibility is to people. Not just the stuttering community but all communities and all people. Our service and care for people knows no bounds of race, religion, sexual orientation, politics or any other identity or background. We're in a time where community and compassion are being tested. We stand by and stand up for those who have not had a voice in this world, whether they stutter or not. I'm proud to say the work we've been doing for nearly 20 years is what the world really needs right now.
In terms of information and resources, is there anything about stuttering that you wish more people knew?
I think the biggest thing that is helpful for people to know is that people who stutter just need a little more time to say what they have to say. Stuttering is not a reflection of intelligence or capability. It is simply the way we talk. The best thing you can do is give us time and space to say what’s on our mind.
Is there any guidance or tips that you could share for parents working and taking care of their children and their education at home?
I think the best thing parents can do for their children is to continue to be advocates for their specific needs. Check-in with kids about how things are going and when necessary talk with educators about other options and alternatives to their child's education plan. Speaking as a parent myself, I've found that we are all figuring out life online and there is no one size fits all way to make it work. Have the dialogue with kids and teachers whenever you can.
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