Mary Lummerding leads a room of Toasmasters youth members in an activity during a recent open house.

Toastmasters for youth taking off on West Shore, but room remains in group

Self-confidence, communication skills among benefits of free program

Mary Lummerding was kind of a shy kid.

That slowly went away when she joined the workforce and held positions in kitchens and then union representation and union leadership.

But when she got an office gig and found herself in a cubicle behind a computer for eight hours per day, she noticed her ability to interact and engage with people was reverting to that childhood form.

“What really got me was when I was at a meeting with various managers and directors, and I had just changed my name to Lummerding, and I couldn’t even say my name because I was so nervous,” she says. Then she happened across a Toastmasters kiosk in a mall and went to a meeting. She was hooked immediately.

“I tell everyone that this is the safest place to practice and learn confidence and leadership,” she says. “It’s very empowering.”

About a year and a half ago she launched into a project to bring this empowerment to youth.

“It’s not new for Toastmasters,” she says, “but I’ve been doing it for about a year and a half out here. It’s a bit of an unknown secret that hasn’t been promoted very much.”

Thus began the Smedley Club, a free youth organization within the Toastmasters community here on the West Shore, which started with eight participants and has since grown to 15.

Lummerding wanted to start the club in Langford because it’s here that she’s raised her son, who suffers from ADHD and is deaf in one ear. She’s has been nearly overwhelmed by the level of support he’s received over the years, so she wanted to do something to give back, if she could.

Every Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon, Lummerding and two other Toastmasters join their 15 youth members in the Youth Centre on Carlow Road near Spencer middle school and build confidence, leadership and social skills, through public speaking and social interaction.

Lummerding says there’s not much more rewarding than watching people “find their voice.”

“Once people find their voice,” she says, beaming, “they’re just … they can do what they want to do.”

The confidence and ability to express oneself opens up a whole new world of possibilities, especially for kids at this age.

It’s going to help them with job interviews, college interviews, all kinds of necessary interactions people face in their lives, she says.

“One of the things I’m also interested is anti-bullying advocacy. Where I think this works is by empowering kids to speak up, to be more confident in themselves and know when something’s not right.”

A typical session of the club will involve some joke telling to liven the mood and relax everyone. That’s followed by some impromptu storytelling on non-prepared topics and interactive activities to get the creative juices flowing, then a couple of pre-prepared speeches by group members. A session typically ends with a fun quiz, to see how well people were paying attention and to encourage continued engagement during the time they’re together.

The “optimal number” for a group is about 25, which means they have room for about 10 more kids. There are students as young as eight and as old as 16 right now.

If you know of someone who fits this category and might be interested in increasing their communication skills, self-empowerment and social skills in a safe environment, contact Lummerding by email at mlumm@shaw.ca or 250-478-8355 for more information on the program.

mdavies@goldstreamgazette.com

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