Each year, we honor the inspiring accomplishments of people who stutter at our Freeing Voices, Changing Lives benefit gala. This lavish event is attended by famous people who are prominent in entertainment, sports, politics and business, many of whom stutter themselves. It is our primary fundraiser, allowing us to continue in our life-changing work and mission to provide universally affordable stuttering therapy.
June 8, 2015 – Our 9th annual Freeing Voices, Changing Lives Benefit Gala was held at the Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers. It was wonderful evening of entertainment and inspiration, and even a few surprises.
AIS ambassadors, Danny and Lauren, joined Michael Sheehan in starting off the evening by thanking our corporate sponsors. They introduced Emily Blunt as the mistress of ceremonies.
Gala co-chair Arthur Blank (founder of Home Depot and owner of the Atlanta Falcons) took the stage and talked about how AIS feels like family, and he has personally witnessed the impact AIS has for people who stutter. Jack Welch, former CEO of G.E. was also a co-chair for this year’s gala.
A video message from Vice President Joe Biden was then played for the audience. Mr. Biden reiterated his continued support for AIS, and shared his belief that stuttering does not need to define a person, and encouraged people who stutter to pursue their dreams.
your 2015 Gala honoree was world-renowned singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran. His award was introduced by Emily Blunt and presented by AIS teens, Julia and Olivia. In his speech, Ed Sheeran encouraged the crowd to embrace their quirks, and emphasized to the children in the audience that stuttering is nothing to worry about and no one in the world can be a better you than you.
The AIS client segment of the evening is often the most touching and memorable part of the gala. This year, three people who have attended therapy at AIS took the stage to share about the help they received here. Our director, Heather Grossman, introduced these speakers and shared a few words about the inspiration that comes from seeing people who stutter turn “I can’t” into “I can” and “I will.” See the video of Heather’s AIS Gala speech.
Jack, age 11, talked about how he loves basketball and baseball, “and oh yeah, I’m also a kid who stutters.” He pointed out that he’s one of the most talkative kids in his class and is very open with his friends about stuttering, and he doesn’t ever let stuttering hold him back. He thanked his AIS speech therapist, Sara, and shared that he thinks its cool that she stutters too. See the video of Jack’s AIS Gala speech.
Our second client speaker, Rahima Dosani, shared that she used to avoid her stuttering whenever possible and was too ashamed to discuss it with her family or friends. She talked about how AIS helped her embrace herself exactly how she is, and chip away at the feelings of shame and worthlessness associated with her stuttering. She added that the experience enabled her to compete in, and win, a slam poetry competition. Rahima then shared her winning poem titled, “Did you forget your name?” See the video of Rahima Dosani’s AIS Gala speech.
Our last client to speak was Molly, age 10. She shared that she used to be scared to talk in front of her class, but since starting at AIS, it has been much easier. She even gave a speech and handed out flyers on national stuttering awareness day, and “that took guts!” See the video of Molly’s AIS Gala speech.
At our auction, a surprise item was offered up this year: a C. F. Martin & Co. Ed Sheeran X Signature Edition guitar, signed by Ed Sheeran.
Nolan Russo, chairman of the AIS Board of Directors, followed up the auction with a brief speech. He congratulated Ed Sheeran on receiving AIS’s award, and offered a message of gratitude to the tremendous ongoing support of Michael and Ricky Sheehan, and continuous efforts of Heather Grossman and the AIS Staff. See the video of Nolan Russo introducing Ed Sheeran.
To end the evening, Ed Sheeran brought down the house with his hit song, “Thinking Out Loud” (video). Shortly after leaving the stage, chants of, “one more song!” brought him back for more. He finished the night off with his mash up, “Don’t/No Diggity” and a traditional Irish pub song, “The Parting Glass” (video).
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 Grossmanintroduced 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.
It was our seventh annual Freeing Voices, Changing Lives Benefit Gala. Emily Blunt returned as Mistress of Ceremonies. She led the evening with humor and grace and spoke of her own challenges with stuttering as a child.
Gala Co-Chair and 2011 Honoree Arthur Blank gave the welcome message and talked about his previous association with Samuel L. Jackson. In 2010, Blank, owner and chairman of the Atlanta Falcons, and Jackson, lifelong fan of the Falcons, collaborated on a campaign for the National Football League organization. Arthur took a moment to play the Atlanta Falcons commercial entitled “Rise Up” featuring Samuel L. Jackson, and then encouraged those in attendance to “rise up” for people who stutter.
The first Feeing Voices, Changing Lives Award of the evening was given to Sander Flaum. Before presenting the award to Mr. Flaum, Gala Co-Chair and 2008 Honoree Tony Hooper spoke of his friendship with Sander that dates back several decades. Tony added that it was Sander who first convinced him to support the American Institute for Stuttering in 2008.
In his acceptance speech, Sander Flaum spoke of the values his mother instilled in him as a child. Because he was a stutterer, Rose Flaum always reinforced his need to work a little harder and be a little smarter in order to succeed.
Bruce Willis, who made a surprise appearance, acknowledged his own difficulty with stuttering. He noted, “I do stutter. I’ve stuttered today, I stuttered yesterday, and I’ll probably stutter tomorrow.”
Willis presented the second of the evening’s Freeing Voices Changing Lives Award to his friend and colleague Samuel L. Jackson. In his acceptance speech, Jackson shared some of the challenges with his own stuttering, including how different sounds are difficult on different days.
AIS Clinic Director Dr. Heather Grossman highlighted the courage that people who stutter must summon everyday as they face the fear that frequently accompanies everyday speaking challenges. She then introduced three clients of the Institute.
The first, Dr. Rudy Benhia shared about choosing to become a scientist in order to stay out of the spotlight, and later realizing that she had to overcome her fear of stuttering in order to collaborate with other professionals and present her research. Next, 17 year old Serigne emphasized the need for pushing one’s comfort zone, practicing consistently, and working to overcome speaking fears.Juan, age 11, shared that when he first came to AIS, it was the first time he met someone who really understood what stuttering was like. He also mentioned the everyday challenge of remembering to use his speech skills, and the benefit of attending a weekly kids therapy group.
Board member Barry Blaustein and comedian JD Lawrence led this year’s scholarship auction. Together they rallied the crowd to contribute funds that are used in their entirety to provide direct treatment to children and adults who stutter.
Cocktail Party 2013
Spreading the word about the wonderful work we do, AIS held a successful cocktail party for board members and friends.
The 6th Annual Benefit Gala was an exciting evening, celebrating the hope, perseverance, and courage of people who stutter.
Sam Waterson, a friend of the Institute since its founding days, served as Master of Ceremonies. John Glenn and Annie Glenn were this year’s Honorary Chairs along with AIS Board member Emily Blunt, who sent a heart-felt video recording expressing her good wishes and intention to return as MC in 2013.
Board Chairman Nolan Russo and Gala Co-Chair Michael Sheehan kicked the evening off with a warm welcome and expression of appreciation to the crowd. This year’s Freeing Voices Changing Lives Leadership awards were presented to two individuals who have excelled in their careers despite stuttering and have positively affected the lives of others through their personal contributions. The first award of the evening was presented by news anchor Josh Elliott to baseball legend Tommy John. AIS Board member and journalist Clarence Page presented to the second 2012 honoree, Governor Thomas Kean.
Tonight marked the first presentation of the Catherine Montgomery Advocacy award, given to Sir Harold Evans and Tina Brown for their years of unwavering support of the AIS mission. The award was presented poignantly by their personal friend and AIS supporter Barbara Walters.
AIS Clinic Director Dr. Heather L. Grossman discussed some of the challenges that people who stutter experience everyday and introduced four young people who were each clients of the Institute.
In what proved to be the highlight of the evening, the speeches by Tim McCarren, age 22, Julia, 16, Emanuel, 12 and 8 year-old Miki outlined the personal satisfaction and freedom that comes from gaining the attitudes, skills, and strategies needed to manage stuttering.
AIS Board member Barry Blaustein reprised his role as auctioneer, inspiring the continued generosity of supporters who help us make quality stuttering therapy available to those who would not otherwise be able to afford
Gala Co-Chairs Michael and Riki Sheehan, Honoree Arthur M. Blank, special guest Matt Austin, Mistress of Ceremonies Emily Blunt
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.
Honoree Arthur M. Blank
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.
AIS clients Violet and Lily
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.”
AIS clients Shawn Fleischmann and Jeffrey Cepler
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!
Honoree Colin Firth
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.
Our annual benefit galas are always special nights. However, the 4th Annual Freeing Voices, Changing Lives gala, held June 7, 2010 at Tribeca Rooftop, was truly unforgettable.
Less than two weeks earlier, AIS Founder and Executive Director Catherine Montgomery passed away after an extended fight against cancer. The gala would recognize not only our distinguished honorees and client speakers, but the heart of AIS, Catherine. The evening opened with a touching slideshow tribute to her.
The night’s emcee, beloved British actress Emily Blunt, welcomed the audience for the evening and set the stage for the honorees. She herself was an honoree at the 2009 gala.
Honorees Clarence Page and Michael Sheehan
Award-winning journalist and columnist Clarence Page was the first of the night to be honored with the Freeing Voices, Changing Lives award for great achievements as a person who stutters. He was warmly introduced by author and publisher Sir Harold Evans. About the award, Clarence said, “This is not an award for me, but it’s really a symbol for so many of us for just being able to overcome.”
The next honoree was leading communications strategist and trainer Michael Sheehan. Michael is also a member of the AIS Board of Directors. He was introduced by two of his good friends, George Stephanopoulos and, via video, former President Bill Clinton. On the successes of people who stutter, Michael shared, “We all didn’t get where we are now in spite of our stuttering. I think we got here in part because of it.”
Our clients, the highlight of every gala, followed our first two honorees.
AIS client Isa and her mother Clora Kelly
Isa shared about her experiences at AIS and working with Chamonix Sikora (née Olsen). “Now that she has helped me, I could be an actress if I wanted to be. She is amazing!” exuded Isa. Isa’s mother spoke briefly Clora Kelly to provide a parent’s perspective.
AIS clients Joel and Dr. Zhanna Livshits
Joel talked about his outlook on life after attending AIS. He shared, “I think of me going through high school and college just fine, without any problems.”
Dr. Zhanna Livshits told of how AIS helped her to speak freely. “I hear my voice and I like the way it sounds for the first time since I was a child,” she said.
Gala Co-Chair Tina Brown, Emcee Emily Blunt, and Honoree Harvey Keitel
Journalist and editor Tina Brown welcomed the final honoree, veteran actor Harvey Keitel. On stuttering in his childhood, Harvey told the audience, “I could only imagine what life could have been like had there been a place like AIS when I was a boy.”
We would like to thank Tina Brown and Sir Harold Evans for serving as Co-Chairs for the gala, the honorees and clients for sharing their hearts, all in attendance for celebrating with us, and all who supported the gala through their generous contributions.
Finally, we are forever grateful to Catherine for her vision and spirit, which were so alive during the night and will continue to shine through AIS.
June 8, 2009 was another landmark night as our 3rd Annual Benefit Gala was a smashing success. Returning to Tribeca Rooftop, we honored Joe Moglia, Chairman of TD Ameritrade, and beloved British actress Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada, Sunshine Cleaning, The Young Victoria) with the Freeing Voices, Changing Lives Award. The evening was hosted by our good friend Sam Waterston (Law and Order). Susan Glessner and Seth H. Waugh, CEO of Deutsche Bank Americas, served as Co-Chairs for the gala.
Emcee Sam Waterston and Special Guest Barbara Walters
Special guest Barbara Walters talked about how her late sister Jackie, a stutterer, was the inspiration behind her memoir Audition. She stated, “Today, with this organization, my sister would have had a very, very different life.”
Honorees Emily Blunt and Joe Moglia
Both Joe and Emily gave inspiring speeches about how they dealt with their stuttering and achieved success in their life goals. Joe was engaging and motivating as would befit the former football coach. Emily was elegant and uplifting as you would expect from the award-winning actress. We are thankful for their support and friendship.
AIS clients Jodriann and Joseph
AIS clients Kieran and Derek Wood
Like last year, our clients stole the show. Jodriann, Joe, Kieran, and Derek Wood touched our crowd as they each talked about their struggles with stuttering and what their time with AIS has done for them. Kieran’s mom Laureen shared her thoughts on Kieran’s experiences here as well.
Musician “Mojo” Myles Mancuso
We were honored to have blues guitar prodigy “Mojo” Myles Mancuso and his band provide the evening’s entertainment. Only 14 years old, Myles is a rising star in the blues world and a fellow “stutter-buddy.”
Our blog features pictures and video from the unforgettable night. It will surely stand as our best ever gala. At least until next year.
Held at New York’s downtown Tribeca Rooftop, the Benefit Gala Under the Stars on June 3, 2008 was a wonderful night! CBS News’ Byron Pitts (60 Minutes), who has also dealt with stuttering, presented the Freeing Voices, Changing Lives Award to the 2008 Honorees, Anthony C. Hooper, President of US Pharmaceuticals for Bristol Meyers-Squibb and then-Senator Joe Biden.
Emcee Byron Pitts and Honorees Joe Biden and Anthony Hooper
We’re also very proud of how Vice President Joe Biden spoke so openly about his own stuttering during the 2008 campaign and the positive attention he continues to bring to a largely misunderstood disorder. He gave an unforgettable and inspirational speech which you can watch. The 5-minute highlight video of the Gala is also available on YouTube.
Then-Senator Joe Biden
While Joe Biden was inspirational, we think that even he would say that the 3 young men, ages 8 to 11 were even more so. Ray Demintz, Will, and Junior all courageously stood in front of the audience of 250 people and spoke about their stuttering and how AIS has helped them as did our ‘older’ client representative Char Glessner. Char’s Mom was also on hand and spoke from the parent’s perspective.
On June 10, 2007 AIS launched its Inaugural Benefit Gala on board the magnificent Queen Mary 2 ship. CBS News Anchor Katie Couric hosted the event and presented the Freeing Voices, Changing Lives awards to our Honorees. Receiving the awards were singer/songwriter Carly Simon, author, Dominick Dunne, NBA All-Star, Kenyon Martin and ﬁtness entrepreneur Jake Steinfeld, all whose outstanding achievements are well known and who all have personally dealt with stuttering.
Katie Couric, Jim Manley, Jake Steinfeld, Tina Brown, Catherine Montgomery, Kenyon Martin, Sir Harry Evans, Carly Simon, and QM 2 Captain Chris Rynd.
The award is in the form of a blue crystal iceberg. One of our field’s pioneer, the late Dr.Joseph Sheehan originated the iceberg as the perfect metaphor for stuttering; that what one observes of stuttering is just the tip of the iceberg and that there can be so very much pain and suffering going on beneath the surface that the uninformed observer simply does not see or understand. Our Galas not only serve to raise much needed funds, they also provide great opportunity to raise public awareness of this disorder which is still so terribly misunderstood.
You can view the gala video on YouTube and gala photos at New York Cool.
NBA Star and AIS Board Member Kenyon Martin Hosts Event for AIS Kids and Teens
We are very pleased and honored that Denver Nuggets star Kenyon Martin (aka “K Mart”) is a member of our Board of Directors of the American Institute for Stuttering. Kenyon has personally dealt with stuttering and has generously stepped forward to join in our effort to raise public awareness about stuttering. Kenyon kicked it off by hosting a “Meet & Greet” event at the NBA Store in Manhattan.
Our AIS kids and teens were invited to the store’s “Center Court” to meet the basketball star. After chowing down on snacks, shooting some hoops and playing video games, the kids and parents were seated in the bleacher section to await the arrival of the big guy. Kenyon spoke about his own stuttering as he encouraged the kids to be proud of themselves, not to let their stuttering hold them back and then opened it up for questions. The kids’ questions ranged from “Did you ever get help for your speech?” (“Not really much”) or “Was it hard for you to talk to girls?” (“Yup”) to What kind of car do you drive?! (He has two and one of them is a Rolls Royce). He was warm, easy going and charming with the kids and they loved him. We were so proud of our kids and teens who jumped in to ask questions in what we hoped would be a stutter-friendly environment, in spite of the fact that there was quite a crowd and lots of media!
The kids all received a goody bag including a Reebok t-shirt provided by Kenyon that read in the Denver Nuggets blue & yellow: KENYON’S KIDS! They all had a chance to meet him, have a photo taken and get an autograph or two. On the following day, we were all treated as his guests at the Denver Nuggets-New Jersey Nets game. This will truly be something they will remember for the rest of their lives. All in all, a great weekend with lots of gratitude to Kenyon! What a wonderful gift he gave!