Toastmasters

 
On a sunny Saturday morning in February, I arrive at the Bayaud Enterprises building on Bayaud Avenue to attend the bi-monthly Toastmaster’s meeting. The group, chartered since 2009 through Toastmaster’s International, is, as far as anyone knows, the nation’s only homeless Toastmaster’s group. The group’s name is Toastability, in respect to its originating members, people with disabilities.

Members Learn To Teach Others About Their Disabilities

In addition to members having disabilities and other barriers to employment, some of the regular members are, or were homeless at one time. They attend these Toastmaster’s meetings to improve their speaking and presentation skills, so they feel more comfortable with job interviews or other social events.

Joe, a founding member who is blind and suffers from bi-polar disorder, rattles off a compelling statistic at my inquiry as to why he helped form the group. “People who can speak well will make 10% more in their working life” (than those who don’t).

Jeremy, a three-year Toastability member and the Vice President of Membership, said he was told about the group when he came to Bayaud for a vocational assessment. Since then he says, “It has helped me become a better speaker. It’s a great social event for me, and it has helped me teach others about my disability.”

All the members found the group through their participation in Bayaud’s programs and services and were encouraged by a staff member to attend.

How the Bayaud Toastmaster’s Group Began

Lynda Drake, a job developer at Bayaud, began the group with a former business partner when they recognized that their vocational rehabilitation clients needed to learn how to tell their stories and develop leadership skills. The Toastmaster’s format offered a safe place for clients to practice their speaking and presentation skills and receive kind and constructive evaluations of their performance.

Members Improve Skills and Advance Their Careers

The group has made a significant difference in the lives of attendees. Sylvia, a woman who is blind in one eye, has been a member since 2011. She was referred by Drake to the group to improve her social and interviewing skills. Sylvia says, “I’ve learned to use public speaking as a vehicle to give scenarios of what has happened to me.” She recounts how what she has learned at Toastability has improved her work skills. “I was a surveyor, and now I’m a bilingual QA specialist. (The group) helped me to bring all my thoughts together and be concise and much more organized.”

In addition to helping members earn the 10% more that Joe described, the group gives people the ability to advocate for themselves.

Sylvia continues,“ I like Toastabililty because it gives us the ability to express ourselves and also inform the public as to what is really going on in the disabled community.”

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