He overcame a severe speech impediment, now he teaches kids to find their voice
Maryland teen Jonny Gherman uses his story of perseverance to inspire younger students who struggle with expressing themselves
Parents and teachers always say “Just use your words,” but what does that really mean? What if you don’t know how to use your words? What if every time you try and express yourself, you feel isolated, alone, and silenced?
I experienced first-hand what this is like. At age 8, I was diagnosed with a severe speech impediment and was told that there was a 98 percent chance I would remain unintelligible for the rest of my life. This left me feeling isolated; I did not possess the skills to vocalize my thoughts and I had an intense fear of public speaking. I was home-schooled for third and fourth grades to allow me to undergo intensive speech therapy, working daily to improve my language skills, to the point where now one cannot tell that I ever had any speech deficit. Today, I similarly see many middle school students (with or without a speech impediment) struggle with verbal expression, display detachment, and feel as if no one understands them. I hear and notice kids collapsing into a situation of silent deterioration or outright aggression when facing difficult or scary interactions. To compensate for the lack of skill to express themselves, they use more deconstructive methods.
I created the curriculum for Hear My Voice (HMV), an eight-week educational program focusing on self-advocacy, active listening, and quicker resolution both in and out of the classroom. The HMV team of high school students empowers middle school students through student counselor-led discussions and activities, imparting techniques to express themselves, allowing them to solve problems before they emerge into permanent issues. The sessions are comprised of both hands-on actives and discussions.
Unlike other problems, the ability to verbally express yourself and engagingly listen to others is a skill that everyone needs every day. Without breaking down what implications words can have and how to use them effectively, kids are never fully taught the right skills to beneficially move forward, leaving them feeling isolated, withdrawn and overwhelmed. I believe that good communications skills that are easily accessible and adaptable are the key to understanding one another, breaking down barriers and working together for the common good. Hear My Voice provides middle schoolers with those skills.
LearnServe International helped me conceive of Hear My Voice and take it from dream to reality. While working during in year-long LearnServe Fellows program, I learned how to build and run an organization from one simple idea. Knowing that you are making a positive difference in a person’s life (whether big or small) is powerful, and fuels me to do everything I can to see Hear My Voice and its participants succeed. This motivates me to teach kids in an enjoyable and inviting manner, so that they are fully engaged in learning the skills needed to express themselves or a problem in a positive manner. The friends, memories, connections and skills I gained were cultivated by LearnServe’s inspired leaders, innovative members, and boundless support.
Even as Hear My Voice grows into its own, the team at LearnServe is always ready to answer questions, no matter how broad or minute they are. They are a community that is truly invested, dedicated and involved in helping youth become empowered and changing the world for the better.
As Hear My Voice enters year two, we plan to keep progressing towards our goals of designing, implementing, fine-tuning and expanding our program. We are currently running our first full eight-week program. To help achieve our ultimate goal of helping kids throughout the country, Hear My Voice is reaching out to as many schools as possible, sharing our vision, curriculum, and guidance. We are empowering future leaders with skills that will be significant for the rest of their lives. For more information visit our website or email us at HearMyVoiceEmaiL@gmail.com.
Hear. Speak. Change the World.