SAY helps teens who stutter speak up and build confidence

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In this week’s Stories from the Heart we meet a few kids who are thankful for one special program that inspired them to be themselves despite their differences.

It's the satisfying sound of support.

But for Julianna, Joe and Jonathan, it's the sweet sound of self assurance.

“I think I’m more optimistic about everything,” Joe said.

“A lot more confident," Jonathan said. "I’m able to speak and say what I want to say”

“I feel like it controlled my life," Julianna said.  “The view of myself was really bad.”

All three suffer from stuttering disorder.

“It was a set back because I didn’t really have the confidence to do certain things,” Jonathan said.

“It would just be embarrassing I guess,” Joe said.

“In school, I didn’t like even talking at all, I would never raise my hand,” Julianna explained.

An uncontrollable difference they battled throughout childhood.

“I did get laughed at a little for my stuttering,” Jonathan remembered.

“I had issues like asking questions in class,” Joe said.

“When I was about seven yeas old I didn’t really think I would ever have a purpose,” Julianna remembered.

They tried all types of speech therapy.

“Something they told was to breathe before I spoke,” Jonathan said. "[Also to] tap for every word that you say,”

“They were not fun, I didn’t like it,” Joe said.

“I didn’t find happiness in it," Julianna added. "I didn’t like it at all.”

Bu then they found SAY: The Stuttering Association for the Young.

“It was at the end of 8th grade and I thought it was the coolest thing and I was so pumped,” Joe smiled.

“When I first went, it changed my life, it sounds cliche but it’s true,” Julianna said.

“[It] really brought me to a new world of kids who stutter,” Jonathan remembered. “We’re always laughing, there’s never a dull moment.”

“All of our programs that we do are about building friendships and increasing confidence so these kids know that they’re great,” Taro Alexander explained.

Taro Alexander started the nonprofit in 2001.

“I’ve stuttered since I was five years old,” he said.  “And as a kid I just wished there was a place where I could’ve gone to be around other kids who were going through the same things.”

The goal is not to get them to stop stuttering but to feel confident speaking through it.

“The whole thing about SAY is we’re a family and nobody makes fun of you,” Jonathan said.

“Now I feel like it’s still a problem but I can still work through it,” Joe said. “SAY pushed me there and I’m so happy!”

SAY offers year-round social events, summer camps and theater classes like this one called "Confident Voices" at the Cherry Lane Theatre.

Related: Backstage on Broadway: Cherry Lane Theatre celebrates 90 years of innovation, creativity and history

“The kids write and direct their own shows that are performed by professional actors,” Alexander explained.

“It was such a cool thing to like see everything on paper come to life,” Julianna said with a smile.

All three recently graduated from high school and are looking forward to the next step in their lives, thankful for getting their voice back.

“Changed my confidence, and I’m able to go out to the real world and just talk,” Jonathan said.

“I’m hoping to stay with SAY and help put every time I can," Joe said. "[I want] kids to feel as I feel now and that you can do everything.”

“I have a completely different outlook," Julianna smiled. "SAY gave me the confidence to do all of this so I owe everything to SAY.”

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Produced by: Kim Pestalozzi