‘You are Lifting People’s Voices and Lives,’ StoryCorps Creator Tells Conference Attendees

family photos“Every life matters equally and infinitely.”

That lesson is one that Dave Isay has learned in the process of compiling more than 60,000 conversation through “StoryCorps,” the project that collects recordings of conversations between everyday people. The author, documentarian and StoryCorps founder opened the 2015 ASHA Schools Conference and Health Care Business Institute by sharing some of those stories in a joint plenary session.

The project began as a single recording booth in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal and now includes mobile audio booths that travel throughout the country and a recently launched mobile app. Millions of listeners tune in weekly to hear them on NPR’s Morning Edition.

The premise is simple: Come into the booth with someone you care about and, with the assistance of a facilitator, conduct a 40-minute interview.

What often ensues, Isay says, is a discussion centered on “If I had 40 minutes to live, what would I tell the person I love?”

storycorps
He shared recordings of an older couple, both before and after the husband was diagnosed with cancer. The story of a renowned surgeon, who reveres his late father—a janitor and chauffeur—and who says, “I hope I can be just half the man he was.” A conversation between a woman and the man who, at 16, murdered her son, about forgiveness and the deep relationship they have since forged. The actor who stutters and who concludes, “Who would I be if I didn’t stutter? I would be a completely different person.”

A man with Alzheimer’s disease is interviewed by his two daughters. “I have no regrets,” he says. “I have a family I love and they’re loving people. That’s the biggest thing you can leave.” And a daughter responds, “You created such love. We want to be around you.”

A mother who has developmental disabilities tells her interviewer—her teenage daughter—“I am thankful because you love me and understand me.” A mother asks her 10-year-old son—who at 4 asked Santa to allow his younger sister to hear—about growing up with a sister who is deaf. “Well, I get to meet a lot of hearing-impaired people I wouldn’t have gotten to know,” he responds. “And when kids make fun of her, I tell her they’re just jealous because she gets to do cool things like learn sign language and stuff.”

The recordings often evoke deep emotions, as evidenced by the number of session attendees reaching into pockets and purses for tissues.

This “collection of the wisdom of humanity,” as Isay describes it, is testament to the work of communication sciences and disorders professionals. “You work very hard,” he told the audience, “and you love your work. You are lifting people’s voices and lives. You help give them voice, love and hope.”

Speech-language pathologists are “so much about what we do at StoryCorps,” Isay said. “We shake people on the shoulder and say, ‘This is what’s important.’”

Isay concluded with a favorite quote of Mr. Rogers, the beloved children’s television host, but attributed to a Philadelphia nun: “It’s impossible not to love someone whose story you’ve heard.”

“We love you for the work you do,” Isay told the audience. “Keep loving and listening.”

Carol Polovoy is managing editor of The ASHA Leader.
cpolovoy@asha.org

HCBI: Where Passion and Knowledge Collide

Save life and knowledge concept
Save life and knowledge concept

Let’s just face it…I’m a conference geek! From my previous career in higher ed student affairs to now, I’ve thrived on attending conferences: the sessions, the networking, the energy… I could go on and on about what I LOVE about conferences!

So attending the ASHA Health Care and Business Institute was a no-brainer! Especially since it was in Phoenix, which meant no travel and hotel costs. I’ve attended ASHA’s national convention for four years now, but this was my first HCBI and as I write this blog on Sunday night, I’m 100 percent certain it won’t be my last.

As I reflect on the conference and the three days that flew by here are some things that left an impression:

1. No overflow rooms to worry about! While I love the hustle and bustle of the national convention, the smaller size and more focused topic tracks at HCBI left me feeling like I had soaked in a lot more knowledge, and with ideas I could implement come Monday morning. Sessions were the right size, allowing speakers to delve deep, cover research and practice, while still leaving time for questions. It also allowed for more personal interactions with names you probably only read in journals and textbooks before, and opportunities for new friendships because you sat with many of the same clinicians from one session to another. Many sessions were a two-part series which helped broaden the knowledge base, and you could really immerse yourself into a topic if you so wished. I’ve been talking about topic tracks for years and was so excited to finally experience it at HCBI. I wasn’t running around between sessions trying get a piece here and a piece there and oh look! Three sessions I want to go to are all the same time. Nope! Not at HCBI.

2. Take risks and know you’re supported! After waiting anxiously to hear if my submission was accepted, I was ecstatic to read the poster acceptance email. And just as quickly, I became nervous! I’m presenting a poster at a conference full of highly experienced researchers and clinicians! What if I mess up? The experience was quite the opposite. Clinicians of varied experience levels stopped by, asked questions, appreciated the work my colleague and I had done, and even discussed future collaborations. I was thrilled when a presenter stopped by and asked if she could use the information in her class! This was the experience of a lifetime! Presenting to a more focused audience wasn’t as intimidating after all – we were in this together, trying to make a difference in areas we were all passionate about. Having only 11 posters was a great way to spend quality time reading, assimilating and asking questions.

3. There’s more to the conference than meets the eye! Yes, there’s information to learn and CEUs to earn, but for me, no conference is complete without the behind-the-scenes activities. Since I was local, I reached out to the SIG 13 volunteer coordinator to see if there was anything I could help with. Through a series of events, I ended up introducing some speakers and writing this blog post! I’ve been meaning to rekindle my love for blogging and, let’s be honest … never made time for it. Thanks to HCBI I may actually achieve that goal after all! I’ve also been trying to initiate the Board Certified Specialist in Swallowing application process and was seeking out a mentor. Serendipitously, the speaker I introduced was the very same person I was hoping to connect with. Within moments the wheels were set into motion and my journey has begun. You never know what doors can open unless you knock, and conferences are the perfect opportunity to get more involved in our profession.

Special mentions: No conference blog would be complete without a shout-out to my #slpeeps family! From my first convention in San Diego till lunch this afternoon, there was never a moment when I felt like there wasn’t someone to talk to, someone to discuss successes and challenges with, enjoy a meal or happy hour with …. the value of social media and how small and connected it makes our world! Conferences like this are like family reunions. As much as I love everything I learned about exercise-based dysphagia treatments, pediatric gastroesophageal reflux, managing emotions and interpersonal relationships, and all the ideas that sparked this weekend, the conference would not be the same without these social connections that comfort, support and inspire!

Here’s to more bright ideas … more sparks of knowledge … more creative collaborations! See you in Minneapolis for #HCBI16. Until then, shine on!

Ramya Kumar, MS, CCC-SLP, is a hospital-based speech-language pathologist specializing in pediatric feeding and swallowing disorders. She also works in adult acute-care settings. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 13, Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders. Follow her on Twitter at @thatspeechy.

Schools 2015 Was a Sizzler!

Morning sun rays over Phoenix, Arizona,USA
Morning sun rays over Phoenix, Arizona,USA

Sensational sessions. School SLPs. Small intimate conference. What more could you ask for? Coming home from the 2015 ASHA Schools conference in Phoenix, Ariz., leaves me full of new ideas, an Amazon delivery (ninety dollars’ worth of books!) coming to my house, and notes in my iPhone of colleagues to connect with over the next few weeks.

If you’ve never been to an ASHA Schools conference, you’re surely missing out. I have attended since 2013 and each year the professional development team never ceases to amaze me. The thought that goes into planning conference topics and speakers is impeccable to meet the needs of the school SLP. There are always concurrent sessions, with each one appearing more intriguing than the next. I used to worry about missing valuable information. Not anymore! ASHA now offers the PLUS package, which allows you to listen to every session (they are recorded live) when you get home and the ability to receive additional CEUs. Did you know that by attending and completing the conference with the PLUS package, I will earn more than 4.0 CEUs?!

Each session I attended was full of eager SLPs looking to learn evidenced-based practices to take home and begin using as soon as school starts in a few weeks. This year, I learned about NPR’s remarkable StoryCorps (storycorps.org) program, started by Dave Isay, that allows individuals to record themselves in a soundproof booth in an interview style that leaves you with goose bumps. Differential diagnosis for word finding from Dr. German was eye-opening and has me thinking about professional development for educators;  interprofessional practice (IPP) from Dr. Beunza was thought-provoking for maintaining relationships with both fellow colleagues and clients; expository writing techniques from Dr. Ukrainetz that I can apply to my practice immediately; Dr. Westby solidified my evidence- and research-based practices supporting foundational reading skills in the classroom; and Dr. Raj provided myriad apps to incorporate into speech and language therapy.

One session sticks with me the most. The session: “A View From the Field: Teachers, Psychologists, and Principals Weigh In About SLP Roles” used a panel format with a school psychologist, a general education teacher, a special education teacher, and a principal. I found the different perspectives fascinating and left me wanting more information about this topic. Have you thought about how others perceive your role as a speech-language pathologist?

This conference is so much more than the sessions though. This cozy conference continues to provide opportunities to interact with #speechfamous individuals such as current and past ASHA presidents, members from the Board of Directors, and extraordinary SLPs that you can only dream of meeting! It allows the opportunity to sit over breakfast or lunch in the exhibit hall and chat with these individuals as if they were close friends. A few times I had to pinch myself! I felt like I was sitting with speech royalty at several meals! Speaking of food… breakfast is served each day, with options such as fresh fruit, a selection of protein, coffee and juices. The box lunch always offered two options that included one for vegetarians. I love that there are always choices. My favorite foods though are the snacks provided in the exhibit hall in the afternoons (usually representative of the location, providing a glimpse into local fare).

An exciting twist this year was the co-location of ASHA schools conference and the Health Care and Business Institute (HCBI). This year there was not the ability to crossover. However, the wonderful team at ASHA hasn’t even returned home from this conference and they are already discussing ways to allow us some additional flexibility next year. That’s incredible! That could mean access to two phenomenal conferences in one!

This is just the tip of the iceberg that I’ve described. If you missed out this year, don’t worry because next year the Schools Conference and HCBI is in Minneapolis, Minn., so plan now to attend July 8-10, 2016. I hope to see you there. I know I’ve already marked my calendar for those dates!

 

Lyndsey Zurawski, SLP.D, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and diagnostician for The School District of Palm Beach County. Zurawski also has a small private practice in Wellington, Florida. She creates speech and language materials and writes for her blog Speech to the Core (www.speechtothecore.com).