17th Annual Benefit Gala
June 12, 2023
6:30 pm - 10:30 pm
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Our 17th annual gala was celebrated on June 12, 2023. A fabulous group of stars, clients and donors came together to support the AIS mission: providing universally affordable, state-of-the-art speech therapy to people who stutter, and improving professional and public understanding of stuttering.

Emily Blunt, an AIS board member as well as an award-winning actor and producer, emceed the program. She welcomed guests by introducing the theme for the evening: hearing personal stories of people whose lives have been impacted by stuttering.

The first speaker, 11-year-old AIS client, Ailyn, described her worries about making friends before she began speech therapy. She spoke eloquently about the changes she had made with her AIS therapist, and shared the message that: “Although stuttering has a big effect on your life, you’re unique and special, and don’t let anyone else take that away from you.”

Chairman of the Board Eric Dinallo brought one of the few bittersweet moments of the gala as he remembered gala founder Sander Flaum, who passed away this year. He also shared his family’s personal story of bringing their son to AIS, including his prayers for his son and his wife’s memorable statement, “I’m glad you found God today. I went online and found AIS.”

Dr. Heather Grossman, AIS Director, presented a fascinating overview of the changing culture of stuttering therapy. Where we once used to treat only the tip of the iceberg - the physical behaviors of stuttering - we now treat what’s “under the surface” as well, addressing the cognitive and emotional elements that form the bulk of the ice. She also encouraged attendees to “warm up the water” for those who stutter by creating allies, educating others, fostering a safe and inclusive environment, and spreading understanding in our communities.

Just as stuttering impacts the lives of children, it can also affect their parents. We heard important words from a parent’s perspective thanks to Katy Esseks, an AIS parent who has watched her two children thrive on two very different stuttering journeys.

This year, our Freeing Voices Changing Lives award went to Dr. Philip O. Ozuah, MD, PhD. Dr. Ozuah is the President and CEO of Montefiore Medicine, the umbrella organization for the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System’s 13 member hospitals, 300 ambulatory sites, and 7.5 million patient encounters per year. As a person who stutters, Dr. Ozuah blew us away with his personal story of defying the odds to become one of the nation’s leading physicians and educators.

Actor and influencer Marc Winski delivered moving remarks about becoming an actor as a person who stutters. Once struggling to hide stuttering at auditions, he now stutters openly and is an activist for increasing representation of people who stutter in the performing arts.

The evening closed with the beautiful music of Amanda Mammana, who rose to fame by singing - and stuttering - on America’s Got Talent. As she sang “it’s all worth fighting for,” she left us all with renewed excitement to continue our fight for a better world for all people who stutter, and gratitude to the donors and supporters who make that mission possible.

Donate to the 2023 gala here. To contribute to future AIS fundraisers, call us at (212) 633-6400, or email our events team at