The eighth annual Freeing Voices Changing Lives Benefit Gala was held at the beautiful Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers. With more than 300 guests in attendance, it was our most successful gala yet! We celebrated our mission to help people who stutter “speak freely and live fearlessly.”
Michael Sheehan started the evening off by thanking our corporate sponsors and introducing Becky Quick (Squawk Box Co-Host, CNBC), the mistress of ceremonies. He was joined on stage by past AIS clients Dhruv and Nicole.
Our guests were treated to a surprise video address provided by U.S. Vice President and 2008 AIS honoree, Joe Biden.
John Farmer, Former Attorney General of NJ and Dean at Rutgers School of Law – Newark, introduced his best friend and our first 2014 honoree, Jes Staley, Former CEO of J.P. Morgan and current partner at BlueMountain Capital. In his acceptance speech, Jes Staley recollected his childhood fears of certain sounds and situations and a speech and debate teacher helped him develop confidence as a public speaker. See Jes Staley’s speech here.
Our second honoree of the evening was Jack Welch, former CEO of G.E. Arthur Blank, who served as Gala Co-Chair, introduced author and business journalist, Suzy Welch, who accepted the award on behalf of her husband. She shared her conviction that Jack Welch succeeded not in spite of his stuttering, but because of it. See the award presentation here and see Jack Welch’s message here.
One of the most exciting parts of our annual gala is the opportunity to hear a few of our clients share about their experiences receiving therapy at AIS. Our Clinical Director, Dr. Heather Grossman introduced the three clients and shared that in addition to their stuttering, they share a common belief – that they stutter, and it does not define them.
The first client speaker, Dr. Clarence Ojo, shared that he spent many of his younger years hurt or angry, and often said to himself, “whatever you do Clarence, don’t stutter,” and even posed a question to the audience, “how do you stand up to a bully when the bully is you?” He talked about some of his personal revelations in his intensive therapy at AIS and went on to talk about how he addressed bullying with his son who also stutters. See Clarence’s speech here.
Next, 15 year old Joel shared that stuttering should promote bravery and perseverance. Further, he has come to accept himself as a person who stutters, and to him, acceptance is more important than being focused on trying to prevent blocks or stutters. See Joel’s speech here.
Our final speaker was Oliver, age 8. Oliver talked about how, before coming to AIS, he was afraid to raise his hand in school and another student even told him to “stop talking like that.” He went on to say that his speech therapy at AIS is fun and that he likes playing sports with his speech therapist, Sara. She has taught him easy bounces and stretches and he feels better about his speech now. See Oliver’s speech here.