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VOL. 133 | NO. 152 | Thursday, August 2, 2018

Camp Aims to Build Confidence in Those Who Stutter

Melinda Lejman

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The Orpheum Theatre is partnering with a New York-based nonprofit to bring a two-day camp to Memphis this fall for kids and teens who stutter. “Camp SAY Across the USA: Memphis” is part of a pilot program to extend the programming of the Stuttering Association for the Young (SAY), and will be held at the Halloran Centre for Performing Arts and Education in November.

Jennifer McGrath, Orpheum vice president of education and SAY supporter, has been key to bringing the program to Memphis.

“It’s been a long-time dream of SAY to expand beyond the location in New York,” she said.

Jennifer McGrath, vice president of education at the Orpheum Theatre, is responsible for bringing Camp SAY to the Halloran Centre. The free two-day camp offers team-building and confidence-building exercise for young people who stutter. The camp will be held at the Halloran Centre Nov. 17-18, 2018. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

McGrath moved to Memphis from New York eight months ago to take on her role at the Orpheum and felt it was the perfect opportunity to assist in SAY’s expansion. “It was just the perfect groundwork to set up a pilot to see if we can get this thing going in Memphis,” she said.

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, 5 to 10 percent of all children will stutter for some period of their life.

“Stuttering is something that is often not spoken about, and a lot of people, especially young people who stutter, suffer in silence,” McGrath said. “When engaging with the stuttering community, it really comes down to being a great listener.”

She adds that each camper will have as much time as they need to communicate without interruption.

“The hope is that not only are we able to help students in the immediate Shelby County and surrounding areas, but like so many of our programs at the Orpheum, we serve Mississippi, Arkansas and other parts of Tennessee,” says McGrath, who is targeting communities as far as Nashville. “The hope is that it continues to grow and becomes a regular part of our programming here.”

Travis Robertson, SAY’s director of programming, will lead the camp along with SAY founder and president, Taro Alexander, and a team of teaching artists. Robertson first met Alexander during SAY’s initial year of operation and has been involved ever since, working as a teaching artist before his current role.

“That was probably the first time in my life that I had had that kind of conversation where I could talk about stuttering with someone who not only gets it, but has lived that experience,” says Robertson, who has worked as a professional actor and appeared in shows such as “Mamma Mia,” “Hairspray,” “South Pacific” and “The Book of Mormon.”

Camp will offer team-building and confidence-building exercises, as well as a broad range of games and group activities. Campers can also participate in small groups to create original artwork, such as plays, poems, songs, and dance or visual art pieces. The camp will culminate in a camper-led presentation where they will share their work with a supportive audience.

Campers will also meet adult role models who stutter and will engage in activities at whatever level they feel comfortable.

“Every single young person who comes to this program is met where they are,” McGrath said. “Some people have been trying to hide their stutter for years, some people are loud and proud and they don’t care about it, some people are unsure, and some people want so badly to get rid of their stutter.”

She emphasizes, however, that the camp is not designed to treat the disorder.

“SAY is not about getting rid of your stutter. SAY is about giving you a place to effectively communicate and be the best communicator you can be,” she said. “It’s about building and boosting your confidence, it’s about building a community.

“For some kids who walk in the door, the sheer fact that they’re going to be in the room with another person who stutters, that alone can be life-changing.”

The Orpheum is securing funding for the camp from a variety of sources, including grants and individual donations.

“In the pilot stage, the most important thing is getting the word out,” says McGrath, who is spreading the word among speech pathologists and schools. The Stuttering Foundation, which is headquartered in Memphis, will be providing campers with a copy of its book, “Sometimes I Just Stutter.” Camp is available at no charge.

“At the end of the day, we believe stuttering should not hold a young person back from doing anything,” McGrath said. “They should be able to dream big and know that they can achieve big.”

Registration for the camp is open, and camp will be held on Saturday, Nov. 17, and Sunday, Nov. 18. Registration is available through the Orpheum’s website at www.orpheum-memphis.com.

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