FRIENDS, the National Association of Young People Who Stutter, is an organization that provides a network of support and education for children and teenagers who stutter, their families and the professionals who work with them.
FRIENDS is a nonprofit, volunteer organization directed by Lee Caggiano, a mother with a son who stutters and a speech-language pathologist specializing in stuttering.
FRIENDS was founded in 1997 by John Ahlbach, an adult who stutters, and Ms. Caggiano to address the lack of services and support available to young people who stutter and their families.
The organization holds an annual three-day convention and several regional one-day conferences throughout the year that provide experiences that can change negative feelings about stuttering into positive ones.
The FRIENDS Stepping Up Mentoring Program allows teens who stutter to mentor children who stutter. Participants talk to each other about issues surrounding their stuttering and about other life experiences.
The 20th Annual FRIENDS Convention was held in Orlando, Florida from July 20 through July 22. Kids, teens and adults who stutter, parents and siblings of children who stutter, significant others and speech-language pathologists gathered to participate in educational workshops and social events. Approximately 300 people attended.
The sessions this year included icebreakers to welcome new participants, workshops for new and experienced parents, a discussion of acceptance as a different kind of “cure,” and an examination of the best ways to empower young people who stutter.
Kids learned ways to deal with teasing, and frequent open mic opportunities allowed any participant to speak to the entire group.
To commemorate the 20th anniversary of FRIENDS, special recognition was given to the founders of the organization and members who attended the very first convention.
All participants reflected on what they have gained from their FRIENDS experiences over the years. A group outing to Disney Springs on Friday night added to the celebration.
Most of the attendees come back year after year. The convention empowers kids and teens who stutter. They become more confident speakers, and they have fun. Next summer, the convention will be in Omaha, Nebraska from July 19 through July 21.
For more information and to see the list of upcoming nationwide one-day conferences, visit the FRIENDS website at www.friendswhostutter.org.