I’m preparing for a panel discussion about the launch of the Canadian Stuttering Association 30 years ago

I am preparing for a panel discussion which will take place during an online Canadian Stuttering Association conference on Nov. 12 to 14, 2021.

With all such events, I like to plan ahead.

The following notes outline some thoughts that occur to me as I prepare to answer the following three questions, along with three other panelists. Each panelist is allotted four minutes per each of the following three questions:

1) Why did you go to Banff 1991 or your first conference? What did it mean to you to attend?
2) What has your journey/life been like over 30 years?
3) Now that we’re 30 years ahead, what would you tell a younger version of yourself that attended that conference?

Below are my preliminary thoughts as I begin to prepare my responses, with about six weeks to go before the event. The panelists and event organizers have met several times on Zoom during the past several months in order to develop the format and contents of the panel.

My first thought was that I could contribute by suggesting some good candidates for such a panel; I was not especially interested in being a panelist myself as it’s been many years since I was active as a volunteer on behalf of self-help organizations for people who stutter. Eventually I was persuaded to be one of the panelists and so here I am. Below are my preliminary notes regarding the three themes for the panel.

But first, my bio:

Jaan Pill is a retired elementary teacher who lives in Stratford, Ontario. Years ago, when he was active as a volunteer, he was involved in the founding of the Canadian Stuttering Association, the Estonian Association of People Who Stutter, and the International Stuttering Association. He keeps fit by lifting weights and going for long walks.

1) Why did you go to Banff 1991 or your first conference? What did it mean to you to attend?

I went to the Banff 1991 conference because I wanted to help out with the launch of a national organization in Canada for people who stutter. Since 1989, I had been one of the people in Central Canada involved with preparations for the conference. The on-site preparations for the conference were done by people in Alberta.

What did it mean for me to attend? It meant that we could bring to fruition a number of seminars that I had been involved in organizing through cross-Canada phone calls – to people in Winnipeg, Regina, and Calgary – during the planning process. The internet came online in 1991; that means that cross-Canada organizing before that was conducted using Canada Post letters, fax messages, and long-distance phone calls.

The seminars led to the launch of the Canadian Stuttering Association. The original name of the organization was the Canadian Association for People Who Stutter. That made for a catchy acronym (CAPS) but a rather wordy title. The shorter name has worked out well. A short name is handy among other things in making it easier than otherwise for media (newspapers, radio, television) to deal with us.

2) What has your journey/life been like over 30 years?

The years have gone quickly and much has been achieved. I got married, for one thing. I worked for many years as a teacher and then finally retired.

In 1987 I had attended a speech clinic in Edmonton. When I was younger I sometimes could not get out any words at all. After the clinic I worked for many years at consolidating the speech skills I had learned in Edmonton. I worked at this very intensively for many years.

From my perspective – looking back on the early years when I at times stuttered very severely – I had no choice but to learn fluency as a second language, and to work on those skills every day. My speech has been fine in the years that followed. If my speech ever got choppy, even for a short time, I knew exactly what to do to get back on track again.

I often emphasize that what has worked for me will not necessarily work for other people who stutter. Each of us must find our own path forward.

3) Now that we’re 30 years ahead, what would you tell a younger version of yourself that attended that conference?

I would tell myself that a person is on the right path when they take an evidence-based approach to life. That’s what I did and it worked out well.

I would tell myself (looking back in hindsight) that it was a great thing that I learned to listen really well, when I was younger, and that listening well turned out to be a key to my effectiveness as an organizer involved in the launch of CSA and other organizations.

I would also tell my younger self that I could well have listened even more closely. There’s never a limit to how closely you can listen, when speaking with any person that you encounter.

The other thing I would tell my younger self is that it’s great to do lots of volunteer work but it’s also important to take time to focus on one’s personal life and interests. It’s important for people involved with intensive, time-consuming volunteer work to maintain a suitable balance in their lives.

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