Welcome to John and Felix – our new team members

Since the first lockdown (which seems so long ago now) we have seen a steady increase in clients accessing our services from all around Aotearoa. It’s wonderful to be reaching more of the stuttering community, but it has stretched our team of Speech Language Therapists (SLTs) and has meant that some people have had to wait to see one of the team.

So we are delighted to tell you two exciting pieces of news. Firstly John Doleman has joined our team as our newest SLT! Secondly, Felix Unger has joined the team in a new role we have added, providing additional support for people who stutter. 

John Doleman is coming to us from the UK, where he has spent the past 12 years working with children and adults in the National Health Service (NHS) and also in his private practice. Although experienced as a generalist SLT, John is looking forward to specialising in stuttering.

John had been looking for opportunities to specialise in working with people who stutter for five years, but recently he and his whānau decided to make the move back to New Zealand where he originally trained. The timing was perfect, coinciding with our new role here at START!

When asked about what drew him to this role, John says “I’m really excited about the opportunity I’ve been given to specialise in stuttering, something I’ve thought about for many years, so it’s nice to end up in a place I’ve visualised being for such a long time. I am also really pleased to have a small, dedicated team of experienced SLTs supporting me as I develop my work with people who stutter. That, coupled with my wider experience gives me confidence as I take on this important work.

“My main hope is to reach a broad range of people, older and younger, and help them understand their stutter, identify their communication strengths and ultimately support them in a way that works best for each of them in their lives.”

Felix Unger is taking up an exciting new role at START providing specialist support for some in our community – this is a pilot project. Felix is a previous client of START and since then has been part of the START community. With qualifications and experience in social work and counselling, Felix has previously been involved in SpeakEasy – a support group for people who stutter. This mix of his professional skills and life experience makes him a great fit for this role.

When asked about his interest in this role, Felix says “coming to START was an incredibly helpful and empowering experience for me and I have stayed in touch since then. During the Covid-19 lockdowns I realised what is important to me, and that I want to give back to the stuttering community by providing counselling, social work and peer support, informed by being a person who stutters.

“I am looking forward to connecting with, and supporting many in our START community, helping them to develop confidence and to shape the future that they are working towards. I am also very excited to work alongside, and learn from all of the START team, so that I can better support people who stutter, and of course, keep learning myself”.

We couldn’t be more thrilled to have them join the team, and we hope that very soon, COVID permitting, we can all be back at The Stichbury Bidwill Centre, working together in person.

Therapy for stuttering still available during the COVID-19 lockdown

Connecting with people through technology is more important now than it’s ever been before. We are incredibly fortunate to have so many different devices and apps available that enable us to connect, albeit virtually, with our loved ones, colleagues and clients during this difficult time.

The transition to working from home, and connecting with our clients via video call has been a fairly smooth one for the Speech Language Therapists at START, as we have been using Skype for stuttering therapy for a number of years.  We already see approximately 30% of our clients via Skype, so we are pleased that we can continue to offer this option to all existing and new clients during this time.

Therapy via Skype has enabled us to further our reach, and provide stuttering therapy to people of all ages across New Zealand. We are no longer bound to see only Auckland based clients, and for our Auckland based clients it gives them the flexibility to avoid the traffic if needed. This is important to us, as every person who stutters in New Zealand should have access to specialist support at any time. 

The current situation will look different for every household, with the capabilities and stressors for each person varying and likely changing over time. We expect that as people settle into their new routines (or lack of), and ways of living, they may find time to focus on something new. For people who stutter, or parents and caregivers of people who stutter, this may be a good opportunity to engage in or re-engage in therapy. 

You may wonder what therapy via Skype looks like.

It might be hard to imagine what therapy via Skype looks like, particularly with active pre-schoolers, but one of our SLTs, Anna Hearne, who is experienced in providing therapy via Skype has the following to say. “It works just the same. Just like in a therapy session, the pre-schooler doesn’t just sit in one spot…but the parent is still there”.  Children often have experience in talking to friends and family members via video call, and are usually more than willing to talk to us about their bug collections and favourite toys. For older children, teens and adults, therapy looks much the same as a face to face session. 

So, just how effective is it?

Research has shown that therapy for stuttering via video call is just as effective as therapy in person. 

For people interested in attending Skype therapy and provided you have a device with webcam or camera abilities, we can schedule an appointment for you. We will continue to be available to contact via phone and email.

Welcoming Nikki – our Grants Coordinator

This formal introduction is well overdue, as Nikki joined us in April of 2019! It has been wonderful having her join the team, taking charge of the Grants Coordinator position, previously filled by the amazing Frances.

Although Frances left big shoes to fill, we’ve been thoroughly impressed by Nikki’s enthusiasm, energy, and not the least by her impressive fashion sense.

Nikki comes from a background of marketing and fundraising for not-for-profits, Sales roles in Publishing and the Liquor Industry, plus running her own business.  Nikki has a lifetime of travelling, helping others, and sharing her wisdom to bring to the role – a role that is fundamental to the very lifeblood of our organisation. As a not-for-profit, START is able to continue providing life changing services through the generous contributions of grants and trusts across Aotearoa. Our mahi is supported through the financial support we receive from these wonderful funders, and we’re able to apply for and receive these because of the hard work our Grants Coordinator puts in.

So you can see why it’s important to have someone like Nikki on our team! We feel very fortunate to have her with us, but what are her thoughts?

“START is such a wonderful organisation.  The team and the board are all lovely and are all incredibly dedicated to helping people who stutter. It’s an inspiring place to work and I love to hear about all the life-changing work that the team are doing.  Working at START is a lot of fun, and I count myself lucky to be here”

On behalf of our staff, the board, and most importantly our wonderful clients, welcome Nikki! We’re happy you’re here with us.

2019 in Review

This year has been one of new developments and change here at the Stuttering Treatment and Research Trust (START). Alongside that, was our ongoing work with people who stutter and with other professionals developing their practice in this area. As always, after 12 months of hard work, we like to look back and reflect on all that’s gone on at START this year.

Our ongoing work continued.

International-stuttering-awareness-dayOver 200 people who stutter worked with our Speech Language Therapists (SLTs) to make a real difference in their lives. Family members accompanied many of our younger clients. Most of our clients came to see us in person, with approximately 20% of clients working with us by skype from all over Aotearoa, New Zealand. We also provided group programmes and social support to a number of people who stutter. These areas are the heart of our mahi or work. We continue to be encouraged by the progress so many people made over this year, and the way that this affected their lives and the lives of the people who love them.

We provided specialist workshops for approximately 100 SLTs working in other settings across NZ to support their work with people who stutter. Again, this work is vital, as it upskills generalist SLTs in this area.

We farewelled two long-standing team members as they embarked on new journeys.

Frances and Voon have both made significant contributions to START over the combined 20 years they’ve been with us. In June 2019, we said goodbye to Frances as she left to spend more time travelling and with family. Frances ably raised over $1,000,000 in trust and foundation grants during her 12 years as our Grants Coordinator. This funding has been key to enabling us to offer the level of service that we have provided over those years. Voon has been an invaluable addition to the START team of SLTs over the past 8 years, with his seemingly never-ending passion for working with people who stutter.

He also had a significant focus on ongoing development and learning and was a strong advocate for our group programmes. We said goodbye to Voon in August as he embarked on a journey to develop his skills in other areas. Voon has made a significant difference to the lives of the many people he has worked with and has helped to support and train a large number of SLTs working in other settings.

We welcomed some wonderful new team members as well.

Beth, Nikki, and Brittney all joined us this year and are already highly valued members of our team. It is exciting to have new energy and fresh eyes in our organisation. Beth and Brittney are both members of our SLT team, with Beth joining us in February and Brittney joining us in October. Both have taken to this specialist field eagerly. It’s been great to see their expertise grow and develop, supported by our longstanding SLTs. Nikki joined us as our new Grants Coordinator, and although Frances left big shoes to fill, she is a wonderful addition to our team and we appreciate her ability, alongside her energy and enthusiasm for START’s work.

We started to delve into the history of our organisation.

Next year marks 25 years of START helping Kiwis who stutter, and we want to celebrate that by collecting more knowledge about the history of how this unique organisation came about. We were, and still are, the only organisation in Aotearoa, that specialises in the treatment and support of people who stutter, and this in itself is worth looking back on. However, more than that, we are an organisation that was built from the ground up by people who stutter and those who love them, to fill the need for specialist treatment and support in New Zealand. This is a unique beginning for an organisation, and has meant that over the 25 years we’ve been in action, we’ve had so many dedicated people, including clients, staff, volunteers and Board members, walk through our doors and bring us to where we are today.

This year we worked with Dr Aroha Harris, Senior Lecturer in the University of Auckland’s History Department. Aroha and a number of her students have researched the history of START as a community organisation responding to community need. They have interviewed some key people in START’s history. We hope to bring all of this information together and we’ll be sure to tell you as soon as we do!

Save the Date – 25 years – looking back, going forward

As mentioned above, next year is a significant birthday for START, as we will have been providing services for people who stutter for 25 years. We have a few events planned to mark this special year, with the first of these being held on 18 March 2020 from 6:30 to 8:30pm here at The Stichbury Bidwill Centre. This will be an opportunity to celebrate what we have achieved together, catch up on what we are currently doing and look to the future. We are very excited to have Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft as our speaker at this evening.

We started creating an interactive tree mural in our waiting area!

This year’s International Stuttering Awareness Day’s theme was ‘Growth through Stuttering’. With the help of many of you, we have created a tree mural on a wall in our waiting area, with each of the leaves featuring a quote from people who stutter about how stuttering has helped them grow. We’ve had plenty of compliments on the artwork, so we’ve decided to keep it up for the foreseeable future. People can continue contributing to it for as long as they’d like. If you have not contributed to it yet but would like to do so, send us an email or give us a call and we’ll post you out a leaf for you to write on and send back to us.

We are planning the production of a video to support kiwi children who stutter.

This is an exciting project and we will tell you more about that next year. We also have other exciting things in mind which we will tell you more about in 2020.

Happy holidays, and we look forward to seeing you in the New Year.

Janelle Irvine
On behalf of the START team and Board

Welcome Brittney – the latest addition to our Speech Language Therapist team!

Brittney is a born and bred Invercargill girl who studied Speech and Language Pathology at the University of Canterbury, graduating in 2012. She worked for the Ministry of Education in Invercargill and Wellington, before heading to the UK to work as a locum speech language therapist.

She has now returned to Aotearoa and we were delighted to have her join the START team in October.  As an experienced speech language therapist, Brittney has worked with children and young people with a range of speech, language and communication needs.  Over time, she has developed a special interest in working with people who stutter. She has now been with us for almost two months and we’ve already seen the passion she brings to her practice. Over this time, Brittney has dedicated many hours to developing the specialist skills required to be an SLT for people who stutter.

On her experience with us so far, Brittney says “I’ve really enjoyed my first two months here at START. I’ve learnt more about the amazing work that START does, met many people who stutter and their families, and have felt very welcomed. Deepening my knowledge about stuttering, and the varied treatment options available has been stimulating and I look forward to continuing this journey.”

Brittney’s warmth, skills, experience and commitment to people who stutter stood out when she was interviewed for the position.  Janelle Irvine, our Executive Director said that when she first met Brittney she was struck by what a special person she was and how fortunate we were to have her join our team.

Brittney particularly enjoys working with people to help them build their confidence and abilities.  She is also aware that for many people, but particularly younger ones, family support is so important on their journey.  Brittney also has a broader interest in working with education professionals and others to make sure that people who stutter can be supported in the best possible ways.

As our SLT team grows, our organisation continues to flourish through fresh perspectives, new ideas, and the sharing of knowledge, so we are delighted to introduce Brittney to you as the latest addition to the team.

If you’re coming into START soon, make sure you say hi!

Flowers mark Janelle Irvine’s ten years of service to people who stutter

In April Janelle Irvine completed ten years of service to the stuttering community through her work at START.  Janelle commenced work as a Speech Language Therapist (SLT) at START in 2009. She had previously worked as a SLT with the Ministry of Education.  Her clinical focus at START has been mostly with pre-schoolers and school age children who stutter. She has also facilitated group programmes for people who stutter.

As Janelle’s wider interests and abilities in management and leadership became apparent, she moved into a promotion, management and leadership role while maintaining her clinical practice.  To support this new work Janelle undertook part time study in the Graduate Diploma in Not for Profit Management through Unitec which she completed in 2017. The course not only provided general learning but was also organised in such a way that Janelle was able to apply that learning directly to START.  Over recent years, as Janelle has developed strong leadership and management skills she has used these to the benefit of START, enabling its development as an organisation, while always keeping START’s client’s needs as paramount and a primary focus.

At the April Board meeting Janelle was presented with flowers to mark the occasion and her key role in START’s development.  Board members expressed their gratitude and acknowledged her diverse contributions to START, which is the only New Zealand specialist service for people who stutter. Janelle was also warmly applauded by the Board.

Speaking on behalf of the Board, Chair Eric Allan spoke of Janelle’s warm and generous heart for all those affected by stuttering.  Her heart has always been evident and underpinned all of her work at START. He also acknowledged her work with clients – many of whom have spoken of how much they have valued her support and clinical work.  Eric also paid tribute to how Janelle’s leadership and management have enabled START to develop to the point that it now plays a pivotal role in improving services for people who stutter. Eric spoke of how fortunate START is to have a person in the Executive Director role who is not only a highly regarded clinician but also a respected and able leader and manager.

In response, Janelle spoke of how fortunate she was to have the role of Executive Director of START and thanked the Board for their acknowledgement and for their strong support.  She acknowledged the role of the Board in supporting her study for the Graduate Diploma. She spoke of how much she had benefited from that study but even more importantly, how she has been able to use it for the benefit of START and its clients.  Janelle spoke of how excited she is by START’s progress and looks forward to it making even more progress in the future. Janelle will shortly attend the Fourth Croatia Stuttering Symposium in May which, having been at START for ten years will be a very good way to support further her work and the work of START.

Introducing our newest Speech Language Therapist

We would like to welcome our new Speech Language Therapist (SLT) – Beth Laurenson – to the team at START.

Voon Pang has taken on a new role at the University of Auckland this year, supervising Speech Language Therapy students, which means he has reduced one of his days at START.  Janelle Irvine is busy in her role as Executive Director with the development of our organisation, and as a result we were in need of an additional Speech Language Therapist.

We are excited about the growth of the START team.  Having Beth join us ensures we can reach as many people who stutter as possible.

Beth is a highly motivated Speech Language Therapist, experienced in working with children, teenagers and their whanau. Beth previously worked for a private practice, which provided a range of services to children and teenagers in Auckland. She has a keen interest in working with people of all ages who stutter.

Beth is looking forward to specialising in the treatment of stuttering as she commences work two days a week at START. She loves what she does and is committed to providing the best possible service for people who stutter.  

Beth will be working alongside our SLT team of Anna Hearne, Voon and Janelle for the next few months as she develops her skills in working with people who stutter. Our SLT team are looking forward to supporting Beth’s development as our newest stuttering specialist.

So what motivated Beth to specialise in working with people who stutter?

“I was excited when I saw the advertisement for the role at START as I have had a keen interest in the area of stuttering since Anna Hearne’s classes at Massey University.  I particularly enjoy working with older school age children and teenagers. I’m really looking forward to working with people who stutter as I see this as an area where speech language therapists can make a real difference in people’s lives.”

Welcome to the START team Beth!

Introducing our newly reinvigorated board

It’s been an exciting year so far for START, and we’ve been hard at work behind the scenes on some really exciting stuff (as well as some less exciting but no-less important tasks such as updating our health and safety policies)!

We’re so grateful to have a wonderful group of supporters who help us in a number of ways; by making donations, volunteering, and even sharing our posts with their Facebook friends.

Something that we are equally excited and grateful about is the number of wonderful new Board members who have joined our team here at START. Our newly reinvigorated Board is a dedicated team of volunteers who were chosen for their wide range of skills, experience, and commitment to START and its governance. We are so proud to have such a wide variety of skills and passions represented.

Our Board is led by Eric Allan, someone who is deeply passionate about the work we do here at START. When asked why he decided to take on such a role he told us, “I joined the START Board because START changes the lives of people, both young and old, who stutter.  I’ve had many years in community social service leadership and governance and bring that to START. I also have a lived experience of stuttering and START helped me with that. As an organisation we are in great heart.  As a Board we want everyone who stutters to know that START is here and ready to help. To enable this, our Board focus in 2018 is on expanding our loyal support base. This will ensure that we have the people and financial resources we need to respond to as many people who stutter as possible.”

We are so fortunate to have someone with his ideas and dedication leading our Board.

Anita Hayhoe, on the other hand, brings fresh perspectives with her position in marketing, and says, “When I saw the START board position advertised on the Institute of Directors website I immediately felt a connection with it and for what I could contribute in terms of building partnerships and bringing new ideas. START provides confidence and skills to people who stutter, and provides a supportive place for people who stutter to  become the people they want to be. My personal interests in singing and performing make me realise the importance of a voice in terms of expression and confidence.”

Other Board members would simply like an opportunity to make a difference to our community.  Tony McAlwee tells us, “I have good memories of working with a speech language therapist as a child. I wanted to give back to the community so when an opportunity arose to join START’s Board, I knew this was where I could put my commercial skills and fundraising experience to good use.”

If you would like to read more about who our Board members are and what they bring to START, please check out our Board members page here.