For those who struggle with stuttering, still one of the world’s most stigmatized disorders, finding effective and affordable therapy can be a struggle unto itself. From a financial perspective, stuttering is often not covered by third-party reimbursement plans, leading many with the condition to spend thousands of dollars on therapy that may, or may not, be appropriate for their needs.
Indeed, those who suffer from stuttering often have to sift through substandard care options because precious few speech language pathologists, even the most highly skilled ones, are well versed in the area.
So, to continue in their efforts to fill this gargantuan void, the Arthur M. Blank Center for Stuttering Education and Research (The Blank Center), backed by renowned Atlanta philanthropist and Falcons owner Arthur Blank, held its inaugural celebrity golf tournament at the Atlanta Country Club on Monday, Oct. 24. The jam-packed slate of events, which included putting contests, hole-in-one competitions, and silent auctions, ultimately accounted for $325,000 in funds directly supporting stuttering education and research.
The tournament, which is primed to be a yearly event drawing in scores of local athletic celebrities including former Braves and Falcons players, was largely the brainchild of Blank, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, a three-time European Golf Tour winner, and Dr. Courtney Byrd, who in 2020, as a distinguished professor at The University of Texas’ Moody College of Communication, partnered with the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation to form the aforementioned Arthur M. Blank Center for Stuttering Education and Research, whose first satellite office was established in Atlanta in 2021.
As one of the approximately three million Americans affected by stuttering, Arthur Blank has whole-heartedly invested himself toward alleviating the burdens experienced by others struggling with the confounding speech disorder. Going forward, the newly established golf tournament will undoubtedly augment his noble mission.
“Arthur is a brilliant person,” says Byrd in speaking to the Atlanta Jewish Times several days after the event. “His brain is as big as his heart and that’s really the truth. He’s invested in this obviously financially, but emotionally, personally, and provided us with opportunities that we never would have had if not for him. It’s been extraordinary. It’s not as if he has funded a grant and walked away. He’s funded a grant and he’s done everything that he can to help us exceed the goals of that grant. Any progress that we make we’re indebted to him. Every life that we change is reflective of him and his own journey and the fact that his own mom told him that what you have to say is important and don’t let stuttering stop you.
“It’s an inspiration to every person who goes through our treatment program to know that he [Arthur Blank] is not just there in name. He’s physically present. He’s helping us to think through ways for us to reach more people across platforms that we just wouldn’t even be able to probably think about.”
The first-ever golf tournament, which not only showcased public figures but also those who have undergone treatment provided by The Blank Center, proved to be an effective mechanism for broadening the foundation’s reach. In particular, the inclusion of South African pro golfer Christiaan Bezuidenhout represented a compelling way to humanize what can be a debilitating condition afflicting people worldwide of all socio-economic classes, religions, races, ethnic backgrounds.
“What’s wonderful is when you hear Christiaan you hear his stuttering,” says Dr. Byrd, who had her first exposure to speech language pathology when she was an undergrad at Louisiana State University, during which she first recognized the inadequate services available to the stuttering community, and later initiated the stuttering education and research program at The University of Texas at Austin in 2003.
“The vast majority of people who are in the spotlight who stutter either hide their stuttering or they stutter at a low frequency, and so you don’t ever really see it. Christiaan now, as the face of our program, he stutters, and you hear it. He wants to make sure that we reach as many people as we can so that no child must navigate their childhood and their early adulthood the way that he did.”
Byrd has designs on advancing understanding about the nature and proper treatment of stuttering through the advent of evidence-based programming to treat children, teenagers and adults worldwide.
Over the next decade, behind the Blank Center’s support, Byrd looks forward to opening more satellite centers and launching her signature intensive treatment program (‘Dream. Speak. Live’) across a host of new countries including Nigeria, South Africa, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Ireland, Belgium, The Netherlands, Malta, Pakistan, Norway, and Mexico. Another critical underlying goal of these efforts is to help people who don’t stutter better relate to and empathize with those coping with these challenges.
“With Arthur’s vision and support, it’s definitely not limited by the United States,” says Byrd.
- David Ostrowsky
- Arthur M. Blank Center for Stuttering Education and Research
- The Blank Center
- Arthur Blank
- Atlanta falcons
- Atlanta Country Club
- Atlanta Braves
- Christiaan Bezuidenhout
- Dr. Courtney Byrd
- University of Texas’ Moody College of Communication
- Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation
- Louisiana State University
- South Africa
- the Netherlands
- and Mexico