By Kerensa Hardesty
As of now, I am the president of FCSN Toastmasters, which is a club that aims to enhance the communication and public speaking abilities of our special needs adults. Meetings are usually on Saturdays from 5:30 to 6:30 PM, and Uncle Dan, Iris and I offer coaching sessions throughout the week. And that–really–is the extent of our work, because it is amazing how autonomous the students are during the meeting.
FCSN Toastmasters is especially important to me because it has left an indelible impact on my childhood and on who I want to be. From the very beginning, FCSN became important to the entire family. My whole family participated in FCSN WEP (work empowerment program). My brother would take classes there, my mother would help students with money management, my dad would teach students how to use the computers, whereas I would help students with office management. They would learn how to organize items and follow directions. I did this through middle and high school.
During the rise of the pandemic, requests were sent out for possible speech coaches to help students prepare their speeches for FCSN Toastmasters every Saturday. Once I was selected, it occurred to me that the club was still in its nascent stage, and that lent me the opportunity to synthesize materials from my past experiences and use those to really benefit the students.
I gathered practice exercises for learning emphasis and enunciation so students can improve their speaking delivery, made workshops so that students can learn how to compose excellent questions and even be able to answer questions that may be difficult to answer, and also gathered fun videos of speeches for them to evaluate, as well as learning videos so they can glean the importance of conversation and how that leads to the spread of ideas. On top of that, I’ve made lesson plans for each Toastmasters role that each student is assigned to present on the day of the meeting.
Most importantly, though, is the ability to meld oneself into whatever the student needs. I’ll have students who need me to pause after each sentence and give more hands-on material, so that I make sure that they understand what to do during the meeting, whereas with others, I can go on and on and they can follow directions well.
But it’s not just a one-way street either. I have a student who had a very monotone voice. But he is also an excellent listener. I took his speech script, bolded several words, and told him these were the words where I wanted him to speak louder, slower, and with more energy. And he was able to do this. Then I told him to review his speech himself, and to bold the words he thought were most important in a sentence. In this way, he was able to use vocal variation when he wasn’t able to before, which I think is wonderful. Undergirding their strengths and curbing their difficulties, is something I aspire to do as a future developmental pediatrician.
These are the little things that I will remember for a lifetime. And I am infinitely grateful for FCSN, for providing a community that unconditionally cares about children who are deserving of a voice, of friends and of family. Truly, there is no place like FCSN.