5th Annual Benefit Gala
June 1, 2011
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The 5th Annual Benefit Gala was another spectacular celebration of people who stutter. Featuring speeches by our clients and two distinguished honorees, the evening buzzed with hope, courage, and humor.

Emily Blunt, an AIS Board member, reprised her role as Mistress of Ceremonies. She opened the program following a greeting by Sander Flaum, Chairman of the AIS Board of Directors. The audience was welcomed also by a video address from Vice President Joe Biden, an honoree from the 2008 gala.

Gala Co-Chairs Michael and Riki Sheehan presented the evening’s first honoree, Arthur M. Blank, cofounder of Home Depot and owner of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. Before his keynote, Arthur was introduced to Matt Austin, a Home Depot employee and a person who stutters.

In a message to AIS, Matt explained that after being hired, he worried that his stutter would cost him the job. His life turned around when a store manager encouraged him: “Arthur, co-founder of our great company, stuttered, too. Take your time.” Matt was deeply inspired by Arthur’s journey of overcoming his stutter, and he is now a store manager.

Arthur delivered a moving keynote about growing up with a stutter. He recalled that in college, he volunteered to answer questions in class even if he hadn’t been called upon. “It was a little self-punishment,” he explained. “Maybe it was defiance, maybe it was refusing to be throttled by a disorder.”

Our clients then took the stage to share their experiences with stuttering and receiving therapy at AIS.

Violet advised the audience on how to live with a stutter: “If you accept it – not give up, just accept it – you can fit it into your daily life, learn strategies to manage it, and eventually live your life exactly as you would without it.”

Lily expressed the change inside of her that was brought about by therapy at AIS: “I’m so proud of myself. Now, I feel confident to speak in front of anyone.”

Shawn Fleischmann revealed just how far he had come over the past two years: “The first time I called a restaurant to ask how late they were open, I nearly passed out.”

Jeffrey Cepler declared that he feels more equipped to face stuttering than ever before: “I now have the tools to express my ideas, clearly introduce myself – hopefully on the first try – tell my wife she is right, read to my son, and have the confidence to come here and talk to you this evening.”

In a repeat performance from last year, AIS Board member Barry Blaustein led the auction for treatment scholarships. He certainly outdid himself; this year’s scholarship auction raised more money than any of our previous galas!

AIS Board member Sir Harold Evans introduced our second honoree, Academy Award-winning actor Colin Firth, who was unable to attend. Via video, Colin shared how portraying King George VI of England in The King’s Speech opened his eyes to the lives of those who stutter. “I stopped focusing on it as a problem, and I found myself overwhelmed by the dignity and the sheer heroism of those who are engaged in this struggle,” he said.

We would like to thank a multitude of friends for making the event a smashing success! Enjoy the following articles, video, and photos from our memorable 5th Annual Benefit Gala.