Helps em­power chil­dren who stut­ter

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Imag­ine it: You’re stand­ing in front of 850 peo­ple, and you can’t get your words out. The mo­ment might pro­voke awk­ward­ness or dis­com­fort in a lot of au­di­ences, but not the one that gath­ers to­gether every year in sup­port of SAY, the Stut­ter­ing Assn. for the Young. “There’s some­thing very mag­i­cal about an au­di­ence full of peo­ple just sit­ting, without any em­bar­rass­ment, and wait­ing for the per­son on­stage to say what they have to say,” says He­len Mir­ren of the an­nual gala. “It’s beautiful.”

He­len Mir­ren

Mir­ren got in­volved with SAY af­ter learn­ing about the New York-based non­profit from Broad­way ac­tress Kelli O’Hara. The two knew each other from the theater scene-they both won Tony Awards in 2015 — and O’Hara in­vited Mir­ren and her hus­band, di­rec­tor Tay­lor Hack­ford, to the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s fundrais­ing gala. “I ab­so­lutely was blown away by it,” Mir­ren re­calls. SAY runs af­ter-school and week­end pro­grams, as well as speech ther­apy, for young peo­ple who stut­ter. But its fastest-growing ini­tia­tive is Camp SAY, the an­nual twoweek sleep-away re­treat for 8- to 18-year-olds. Draw­ing some 125 par­tic­i­pants to its North Carolina fa­cil­ity, the camp of­fers tra­di­tional sum­mer ac­tiv­i­ties, as well as pro­grams aimed at em­pow­er­ing young peo­ple who stut­ter.

“It’s about mak­ing a space to be who you are, and be free and be ac­cepted,” Mir­ren says. With a full-time staff of just eight, SAY sus­tains it­self through funds raised by the gala as well as by an­nual bowl­ing nights hosted by board mem­ber Paul Rudd (in New York) and Hous­ton Astros player Ge­orge Springer (in Hous­ton). That money also helps bol­ster a fi­nan­cial-aid fund that al­lows kids from all so­cioe­co­nomic back­grounds to at­tend the camp. No child has ever been turned away from the camp be­cause a fam­ily can’t af­ford it.

De­spite a busy act­ing sched­ule that in­cludes up­com­ing tent­pole film “Fast 8” and “Col­lat­eral Beauty,” the De­cem­ber Warner Bros. re­lease in which she plays a woman who is the per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of Death, Mir­ren sup­ports not only SAY but a wide range of other char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing in­ter­na­tional body Ox­fam and the UK’s Refuge. As she notes, “It is a re­spon­si­bil­ity.”— Reuters

Mi­ley Cyrus was at a turn­ing point in her life af­ter a per­for­mance as a gy­rat­ing teddy bear at the 2013 Video Mu­sic Awards gen­er­ated mock­ery and end­less me­dia cov­er­age. “It seemed wrong that I had so much at­ten­tion, and there were so many peo­ple in the coun­try that didn’t have a place to call home,” Cyrus says. “I wanted to bring at­ten­tion to what was re­ally im­por­tant.”

The next year, she at­tended the VMAs with a 22-yearold home­less man named Jessie Helt, who went on­stage to ac­cept Cyrus’ Video of the Year award, de­liv­er­ing a speech about home­less­ness in front of 13.7 mil­lion view­ers. The ges­ture was in­spired by the 1973 Os­cars, at which Mar­lon Brando sent Na­tive Amer­i­can ac­tivist Sacheen Lit­tle­feather to decline his award. War­wick Saint for Va­ri­ety “I thought it was the best thing I’d ever seen,” Cyrus says. “Fi­nally, some­one made it not about them.” En­ter the Happy Hip­pie Foun­da­tion, which Cyrus founded in 2014 as a non­profit to pro­vide ba­sic needs and sup­port to home­less youth, the LGBTQ com­mu­nity, and other vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions. The group, work­ing with the Los An­ge­les-based My Friend’s Place, has do­nated 40,000 meals, 20,000 snacks, and 40,000 pairs of un­der­wear and socks to home­less kids over the past two years.

Happy Hip­pie has part­nered with Gen­der Spec­trum to cre­ate sup­port groups for 1,300 trans­gen­der and gen­der-ex­pan­sive youth and their fam­i­lies; MAC AIDS Fund, to help trans­gen­der peo­ple liv­ing with HIV in LA and San Fran­cisco find med­i­cal care and hous­ing; and the Ze­bra Coali­tion, which of­fered im­me­di­ate coun­sel­ing and sup­port in the aftermath of last sum­mer’s Orlando night­club shoot­ing. Cyrus has been the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s voice and em­bod­ies its spirit; this in­cludes hand­ing out bot­tles of wa­ter and gra­ham crack­ers to home­less peo­ple she passes on the street.

“I just think I found a pur­pose to do things,” says Cyrus, who serves as a men­tor on NBC’s “The Voice” and re­cently re­leased an al­bum of 23 songs-freeof charge. “That’s what I wanted to do. That’s what made me happy. And that’s what Happy Hip­pie is about: do­ing what you do, be­ing happy, and not hurt­ing any­one. It gave me mean­ing in ev­ery­thing.”— Reuters

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