June 6, 2016 - Our 10th anniversary gala was held at the Lighthouse at the Chelsea Piers. The evening began with a cocktail reception where honorees Aaron Graff and Bruce Willis mingled with the crowd and took pictures on the red carpet.
The evening’s program began with a welcome message from AIS Board member Michael Sheehan. He was joined on-stage by Young Leadership Board members Gavin Krieger and Spring Kwok who thanked our corporate sponsors.
The Master of Ceremonies for the evening, Clarence Page, shared some of his own experiences as a person who stutters. He then introduced a video retrospective featuring highlights from the last 10 years of AIS gala celebrations.
Page then introduced AIS therapist Carl Herder who paid tribute to AIS founder, the late Catherine Montgomery. He discussed Catherine’s gift of helping people who stutter come to see their stuttering as only a small part of who they are, and her ability to become both a friend, mentor, and guiding spirit to her clients.
AIS Board member Sander Flaum then presented his good friend Aaron Graff of Ferring Pharmaceuticals with the Catherine Montgomery Advocacy Award for his dedication and personal contributions to the lives of people who stutter. Graff spoke of Catherine Montgomery’s wonderful ability to help families of kids who stutter, as she did for his son and family, and his dedication to supporting the AIS staff as they continue in her mission.
Some of our clients even turn their stutter into their personal strength. They learn that stuttering doesn't define them. AIS gives them tools to be free. - Aaron Graff
Emma Heming-Willis next shared her personal pride and admiration for her husband Bruce Willis, to whom she presented this year’s Freeing Voices, Changing Lives award. Young AIS clients Sammy and Oliver handed the award to their new friend Mr. Willis.
Willis explained that his dedication to AIS began when he attended a past gala and heard the power of the AIS young speakers’ speeches. He spoke of his own experiences as a child stuttering and advised that no one should ever feel that they are an outcast, because “you are not an outcast.”
Never let anyone make you feel like an outcast, because you will never be an outcast. - Bruce Willis
As dinner was nearing completion, Clarence Page introduced a very special surprise guest, Vice President Joe Biden, prior AIS 2008 honoree. He took the stage and shared a heartfelt speech about his own experiences as a child who stuttered.
Biden repeated emphatically to the audience, many of whom stutter, that stuttering does not define the core of a person, and that tackling stuttering builds skills that help with countless other life challenges.
Biden asked Willis to return to the stage and joked with him that he was interested in auditioning now that his term of office was coming to an end! AIS Board Chairman Nolan Russo took the stage next to thank the speakers, audience, staff, AIS Board of Directors, event planner Chris Madden, and Riki and Michael Sheehan for their unending dedication and contributions to the organization.
Your stutter does not define who you are, it has nothing to do with your intellectual competence, decency or character. Everything that matters, it has nothing, nothing, nothing to do with… When you persevere in the face of struggle, you discover strength you didn’t know you had and, I guarantee, you will need someday. - Vice President Joe Biden
AIS Director Heather Grossman discussed the importance of helping people who stutter to overcome fear. She next introduced two clients who were examples of individuals facing fears.
The first speaker, Yael shared her touching story, first as an AIS client working on her own stuttering, and then as the mother of two children who stutter.
The next speaker, 7-year old Sammy told the audience that AIS helped him learn to make talking easier and to make stuttering less scary. He repeated loudly, “stuttering is not a problem!”
AIS Board member Barry Blaustein ran the scholarship auction, which raises money to directly cover costs for clients who cannot afford the full cost of treatment. Thanks to the generosity of our attendees, the auction raised over $205,000!
To wrap up the evening, a video message from Emily Blunt was played. She expressed her continued dedication to AIS and her plans to return as our wonderful Mistress of Ceremonies at next year's gala.
The audience members each received an AIS umbrella, but they were not needed on this beautiful, clear night!