Blank Donates $12M For Atlanta Stuttering Center
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Blank Donates $12M For Atlanta Stuttering Center

The new gift is on top of $200 million donated to Texas stuttering treatment and research facility.

The Blank stuttering clinic will eventually be housed at the Arthur Blank Children’s Hospital being built by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
The Blank stuttering clinic will eventually be housed at the Arthur Blank Children’s Hospital being built by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

Arthur Blank is doubling down on his commitment to support those who struggle with stuttering in their everyday speech. The Atlanta philanthropist has announced that he is donating $12.25 million through his family foundation to establish an Atlanta branch of the Arthur M. Blank Center for Stuttering Education and Research, headquartered at the University of Texas at Austin.

The new gift, which was made public in mid-December, comes in addition to an initial legacy grant of $20 million, made in 2020, to establish the Texas stuttering center. The initiative is a personal one. In making the announcement, Blank pointed out that he has been challenged by stuttering all his life and that the condition has affected his family for several generations. It is estimated that at least 3 million Americans struggle to improve their fluency, including President Biden.

“Stuttering has no bounds and no bias,” Blank commented, “it impacts people of all ages and from all walks of life. I’m thrilled to see this center come to life and be able to serve the people of Atlanta and this region.”

For the next several years, the new local facility will be located on Chantilly Drive, not far from the new hospital being built by Children’s Health Care of Atlanta and Emory University with a donation from Blank. It is just off I-85 and North Druid Hills Road, where the stuttering center will be permanently housed beginning in 2025.

Blank, who cofounded The Home Depot, has personally worked with staff at the stuttering center in Texas, and his brother, Michael, is said to be working with the founder of the program, Courtney Byrd, a speech pathologist who has developed a unique treatment model for stuttering that emphasizes self-acceptance and communication skills.

It’s an approach that Blank first learned from his mother, who was widowed when his father died while he was a teen.

According to Byrd, Blank’s mother, Molly, never let him feel sorry for himself when he struggled with his stuttering.

“He remembers living in an apartment with his mom and his brother after his dad died and just thinking about the impact that stuttering was having. The difference-maker for him then, he feels, is that his mom would tell him, it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks, what you have to say is important. And that’s really the heart of our program. We empower children and adults to understand that even though they stutter when they talk, that should never stop them, because what they have to say is important.”

Arthur Blank, with actress Emily Blunt and fitness expert Don Saladino, at a New York gala honoring his work to promote stuttering therapies in 2017.

Byrd and the professionals she has helped to train work with children and adults on accepting stuttering as a part of the communication process and then moving beyond, to understand how to better communicate and advocate for themselves. According to Kia Johnson, the director of the new stuttering center in Atlanta, the program teaches that what a person has to say is valuable.

“I want every kid, teen and adult who stutters to know that what they have to say is important. I want them to know that we have resources to help support that message, that we can help walk them through every step of the way to get to the point where they can tell themselves, yes, no matter what environment I’m in, what I have to say is important.”

The opening of the Atlanta center promises to be just the beginning of an ambitious expansion of the program through satellite centers across the country and around the world. According to the Blank Foundation, a summer camp program, which has been pioneered in Texas, is also to be launched in several countries throughout Europe, Africa and East Asia, to reach out to the estimated 60 million people in the world who stutter.

The Atlanta Falcons football team owner has had a long-standing interest in supporting education and research to better understand the causes of stuttering and find possible treatments. Four years ago, he was honored by the American Institute of Stuttering, whose work he has also supported in Atlanta.

The 2017 gala in New York received a message of support from then-former Vice President Biden, who has commented on how he has struggled with stuttering all his life.

Biden once wrote in an article in People that he worked on his vocal fluency by reading poetry, but he admits that it made life much tougher.

“I spent so much time reading poetry — Emerson and Yeats,” he wrote, but even in my small, boy’s prep school, I got nailed in Latin class with the nickname Joe Impedimenta. You get so desperate, you’re so embarrassed.”

It’s something that Byrd knows all too well from her clinical work.

“What resonates the most with Arthur and with the Foundation is the work that we do to free the spirit. Our goal is to free the inner person so that we can each live our lives to the fullest.”

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