GLEN ELLYN – It may be summer break, but some students are still hard at work.
A group of 10 showed what they've learned at the inaugural Words Wizards Speech Team showcase at Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley in Villa Park. The teammates, who are patients at Easter Seals, an organization devoted to helping young people with disabilities, spent the past six weeks working with Glenbard West High School students to improve their public speaking abilities.
Glenbard West senior Abbey Burgess organized the showcase after watching a former speech team captain and realizing how empowering the experience was and how much confidence could come from public speaking.
"I realized the experience we have every Saturday [at speech meets] would be really cool for these kids to have," said Burgess, who has been going to Easter Seals since she was six months old.
There were some obstacles along the way. Burgess attempted to start the program a year ago, but did so too late in the summer to gain traction.
"I am so happy about how it turned out," Burgess said. "The kids did so well. I'm so proud of them."
Villa Park Easter Seals President and CEO Theresa Forthofer said she thought the project was interesting when Burgess first proposed it.
"However, we had some apprehension because it was a very ambitious project that would require a strong leader," Forthofer said in a letter read at Thursday's showcase. Forthofer was out of town Thursday, and Vice President of Clinical Services Kathy Schrock read the letter.
But when Burgess presented her idea at a staff meeting, they realized she had a great plan in place and was willing to follow through.
"Abbey has been the strong leader we knew would be necessary to turn her idea into a successful program," Forthofer said in the letter. "She has been organized, flexible and professional. She is always smiling, always positive and always willing to adjust to make things happen."
The Easter Seals patients, who were between 7 and 18 years old, could talk about anything they wanted. Most opted for an original speech.
Bernardo Gomez's piece was titled "Bing Bong, Balls and Big Buildings." He touched on topics including baseball, the White Sox and Chicago architecture.
"I hope to design a building someday," he said. "The building I design will be 7,000 feet tall."
Olivia Sinagra gave an original speech about her guide dog, titled, "My Friend Hawk." Hawk, a yellow goldendoodle, likes going on walks and playing fetch.
"I feel confident and I don't feel lonely with Hawk," Olivia said. "He is a great addition to my life."
Nathan Humphrey read a poem titled "Hungry, Hungry Crocodile." Teagon Schuh sang her own rendition of the popular song "Let it Go," from the movie "Frozen." Michael Humphrey and Nora Grenado each read poems by Shel Silverstein.
Sven Flodstrom gave an informational speech about student dropout rates full of statistics and possible ways to stop the trend.
Burgess said she had no trouble getting fellow members of the Glenbard West High School speech team to volunteer to help.
"They were immediately all over it," Burgess said. "It was so cool for me to see how enthusiastic and excited they were."
Burgess hopes to continue the program next year with an even bigger response.
"I think those kids did an amazing job connecting with people," she said.
The winners are ...
Each speaker at Thursday's showcase won an award at the end of the evening. The awards were:
• Olivia Sinagra, best friend award
• Bernardo Gomez, best nickname
• Nathan Humphrey, most energetic
• Krista Winger, best laugh
• Michael Humphrey, most dynamic speaker
• Abby Grenado, most creative
• Nora Grenado, best storyteller
• Teagon Schuh, best imagination
• Sven Flodstrom, best research
• Jayne Crouthamel, most inspiring