Community Involvement and Stuttering

It all began with a problem. The problem was that, fifty years ago, I stuttered so badly there were times I could not get out any words at all. Fortunately, I found a way to address this problem – by attending the ISTAR (Institute for Stuttering Treatment and Research) clinic in Edmonton in 1987. After that, I was able to speak more or less fluently even to large audiences.

I practised my newly-acquired fluency skills every day for several years, and regularly analyzed two-minute recorded segments of my everyday conversations, to make sure I was applying my skills correctly. What has worked for me will work for many but not all people who stutter; what I describe is what has worked for me. Close to three decades later, I've done well in maintaining my fluency skills. I have spoken about my encounters with stuttering in articles at the CSA website and in an online video that has to date been seen by more than 700 people.

 Reaching out

After attending ISTAR, I found I needed to compare notes with other people who stutter who had gone through similar experiences. I formed a self-help group in Toronto, the Toronto Stuttering Association (SAT) in 1988. Working with others – starting with a core group of people who were members of SAT – I helped organize the first-ever national conference for people who stutter, which took place in Banff, Alberta in 1991. Members of a self-help group in Alberta were also key players in the organizing of the event. The conference led to the founding of the Canadian Stuttering Association.

Getting active in the community

I am now involved in community self-organizing projects at the local level in the Long Branch neighbourhood, in the southwest corner of the City of Toronto, where I have lived with my family for the past twenty years. These local projects involve the application of skills that I learned in the course of twenty-five years of volunteer work on behalf of CSA and other organizations, relating to community self-organizing, communications, decision-making, networking, and media relations. Had I not had the prior opportunity to learn and practise such skills, year after year, I would not have been able to help out, with the same degree of success, in a wide range of local projects.

My Preserved Stories website highlights the community projects I've been involved in to address development issues affecting the character of neighbourhoods such as Long Branch. In 2010 I worked with other residents to ensure that a local school remained in public hands, rather than being sold to a developer who would have built condos or townhouses on the archaeological remains of the historic Colonel Samuel Smith homestead. The project involved the release of $5.2-million, by the Ontario government, just prior to the 2011 provincial election. I've been involved in extensive volunteer work on behalf of the Liberal Part of Ontario ever since. Gratitude is a strong motivating force in my work as a volunteer. Gratitude always has been a strong source of motivation, in whatever volunteer work that I do.

Facing fears, solving problems

It started with a problem. Then I solved the problem. I've been solving problems ever since. What a delight it is to have a problem in front of me. Within that problem is the solution to it. Finding the problem is a lot of fun and releases a tremendous amount of energy and enables all things to work out beautifully in the end. Things work out beautifully until the next problem arises, at which you start the whole enormous process all over again, working together with as many other people as you can find, in order to achieve success in solving the problem, whatever the problem may be, that confronts you, in the present moment, of your life.

Jaan Pill is a retired schoolteacher and a co-founder of the Canadian Stuttering Association. More about him and his community work is available at his website, Preserved Stories.