A national nonprofit that serves youth who stutter is bringing back its free “Across the USA” program to the Orpheum Theatre on March 27 and 28.
Camp SAY is a two-week residential summer camp held in Pennsylvania by The Stuttering Association for the Young, and Camp SAY Across the USA is a shorter day camp the nonprofit offers in Memphis, Orlando, Los Angeles, Charlotte, Houston, and Washington, D.C.
The program came to Memphis last fall, when 25 campers ages 8-18 participated in a virtual version of the camp. It's helped boost the confidence of local kids like Kaden M., who has attended two in-person sessions.
“The reason I wanted to come is because I’d never seen grownups who stutter too. That made me feel good, and I made lots of friends,” said Kaden.
The spring session will also be virtual, led via Zoom by a mix of Camp SAY and Orpheum staff, featuring local teaching artists. Since the camp is being held online, kids can attend from anywhere, but Mid-South residents received priority registration for the Memphis sessions.
“When a camper in our fall program asked if Camp SAY was every weekend, we knew that we would have to continue to do more,” said Jennifer McGrath, Vice President of Education and Community Engagement at the Orpheum Theatre Group.
Before virtual camp begins, each camper receives an activity pack with the materials they need, plus a camp T-shirt. During the day camp, children split up into groups to collaborate artistically on pieces like short plays, skits, dances, and visual art, with the option to choose whether to participate when the results are shared with the rest of the group.
“We believe in using the arts to build community and to encourage young people to feel confident, creative, and to learn how to collaborate,” said McGrath. “Camp SAY embodies all of these same ideas and helps young people who stutter know that what they have to say matters.”
Taro Alexander, the founder of SAY, says it’s important for children who stutter to meet and interact with other kids and adults like them so they can build a community.
According to The Stuttering Foundation, more than 70 million people worldwide stutter, which is about 1% of the population; in the United States, about 3 million Americans stutter, with approximately 5% of all children going through a period of stuttering that lasts six months or more.
Many kids who stutter feel like they’re all alone, Alexander says.
“I have stuttered since I was 5 years old, and I grew up not meeting anyone else who stuttered at all. I was 26 years old before I met someone else who stuttered,” said Alexander. “[Camp SAY helps children] gain the confidence they need to be successful in life.”