Who We Are

FRIENDS is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to providing support and education to young people who stutter, their families, and professionals, through annual conferences, one-day workshops, and outreach. Our vision is to help build a world in which all young people who stutter feel empowered to communicate whenever, wherever, and however they want to. FRIENDS is directed by Lee Caggiano, the mother of a son who stutters and a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP).

Our Story

In 1997, FRIENDS was founded by John Ahlbach and Lee to meet the need for organized support and education for young people who stutter and their families. Over the years, we have expanded into a national organization that hosts a large annual convention each July and many regional one-day conferences around the country throughout the year. We primarily serve young people and their families, but also provide invaluable education to SLPs and graduate students and welcome adults who stutter into our community as volunteers.

Executive Director, Co-Founder

Lee Caggiano, MS, CCC-SLP, BCS-F

Lee is the Director of Stuttering Therapy and Resources of Northern Colorado and treats children, adolescents and adults who stutter. Lee is the mother of a son who stutters and is co-founder and Director of FRIENDS: The National Association for Young People Who Stutter. She is committed to providing a high level of parent education and training and has developed and coordinated workshops for children who stutter, families and professionals for the past several years. She has presented at local and national conferences regarding the needs of young people who stutter and their families. Lee serves as a consultant to many school districts as well as teaching the graduate level fluency courses at New York University, Queens College, and Long Island University-Post.

Co-Founder

John Ahlbach

I co-founded FRIENDS in 1997 with Lee to provide young people and their families with their own space, their own identity within the stuttering community. I have loved every minute of it with all my heart!

Board Secretary, Volunteer Coordinator/New Parent Coordinator

Ruth Ann McDermott

I am a retired language arts teacher and mother of an adult who stutters. We joined FRIENDS shortly after it was founded and my son is a confident, successful adult because of FRIENDS. I have become an advocate of FRIENDS because of the difference it made in our lives. I support and help organize one-day conferences in Ohio, reach out to school districts and clinics by keeping them informed of events sponsored by FRIENDS, and most recently, helped organize the 19th annual FRIENDS convention. I also present a workshop to welcome new parents to our organization at the annual convention.

Treasurer

Kevin Onorato

I am a person who stutters and currently work in the Syracuse area as an actuarial analyst in the healthcare field. I admire Friends’ strong dedication to reach out to people who stutter and provide a network of support, care and development. I look forward to the growth Friends will experience in the coming years and am grateful to be a part of it.

Board Members

John Ahlbach

John Ahlbach

John Ahlbach has been in the stuttering community since 1978.  He founded the San Francisco Chapter of the, then, National Stuttering Project (now the NSA)  and served as the Executive Director of the NSP until 1995. 

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He facilitated almost 100 one-day workshops for adults who stutter and editied 174 issues of its newsletter, Letting Go.   He co-founded FRIENDS with Lee Caggiano in 1997.   He is a father of two sons and a daughter, all grown, and has been a high school teacher of religious studies and history for almost 40 years.  Since 1995, he has been teaching at Archbishop Riordan High School in San Francisco. A life-long Shakespeare fan, he is proud of having produced the most comprehensive Shakespeare trivia board game on the market.  That is the Question: A Game of Shakespeare Knowledge is, however, perhaps the slowest selling board game of all time.   Away From the Crowd is a collection of his essays on the stuttering experience.
 

Melissa Fortunato

Melissa Fortunato

The oldest of my 3 children is a person who stutters and brought us to FRIENDS. FRIENDS has changed my life and impacted my entire family with all of its support, friendship and acceptance.

Caryn Herring

Caryn Herring

Caryn Herring, M.S. CCC-SLP is a person who stutters and a speech-language pathologist, currently pursuing her PhD at Michigan State University.

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Caryn’s research interests include the process of desensitization for people who stutter and the role of voluntary stuttering. Caryn has been involved with Friends since 2010, running workshops, coordinating one-day conferences, and editing the Friends newsletter, Reaching Out. She co-hosts the StutterTalk B-Team and is an active member of other stuttering organizations, including SAY and the NSA.
 

Eric Jackson

Eric Jackson

Eric Jackson, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, is a person who stutters, speech-language pathologist, and Assistant Professor at NYU, where he conducts research on stuttering. He is a long-time supporter and volunteer for FRIENDS.

Joe Klein

Joe Klein

Joe Klein, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, is a person who stutters and an Associate Professor in Communication Sciences and Disorders at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. 

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Joe teaches classes in fluency disorders and research methods and supervises therapy for people who stutter. Joe has presented at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and The National Stuttering Association annual conventions in the United States and for Friends: The Association of Young People who Stutter in India and the US. He has also published articles about stuttering in Contemporary Issues in Communication Sciences and Disorders, Perspectives in Fluency Disorders, and The Journal of Fluency Disorders. Joe’s research interests are in the areas of support and therapy for people who stutter. Joe lives in Boone, NC with his wife, Holly, and children, Zachary, Greta, Emaline, and Abraham.
 

Stavros Ladeas

Stavros Ladeas

I am a person who stutters and have been involved with FRIENDS during these last few years. I live in Queens, am involved in the tech scene, I enjoy hiking and exploring different parts of the city.

Mary McLoughlin

Mary McLoughlin

I am a person who stutters and have loved the opportunity to be involved with FRIENDS. I’ve learned so much about voice from FRIENDS, and I am excited to keep growing with and through this organization.

Friends Committees

Jessie Caggiano

Jessie Caggiano

Convention Registration, Sibling Workshop Leader

I am a social worker from New York and sibling of a PWS. I grew up going to Friends Conventions with my family every summer and the connection and support FRIENDS created for me was more than I ever imagined.

Noura Embabi

Noura Embabi

Administrative Assistant

I am a speech-language pathologist and I work to help FRIENDS grow its wonderful community. I live in India where I support people who stammer in creative and communicative endeavors.

Jim Fortunato

Jim Fortunato

Raffle Fundraiser

The oldest of my three children is a person who stutters and brought us to FRIENDS. For the past ten years, we look forward to the annual three day conferences and build our vacations around them.

Chaya Goldstein

Chaya Goldstein

Stepping Up Program Coordinator

I am a PWS and SLP dedicated to educating the public and empowering children who stutter. I am also co-leader of the NSA adult chapter in Midtown, and teach the stuttering course at LIU. I am forever inspired by FRIENDS.

Dave Hankins

Dave Hankins

Convention Store Chair

I am a proud parent of a child who stutters. We have been involved with FRIENDS for a while, and the support we have received from this amazing organization has been immeasurable. Now we want to give back!

Sarah Hankins

Sarah Hankins

Convention Auction Committee Co-Chair

I am a proud parent of a child who stutters. We have been involved with FRIENDS for awhile, and the support we have received from this amazing organization has been immeasurable. Now we want to give back!

Stacy Jolley

Stacy Jolley

Volunteer Coordinator

My son Evan is a PWS. The people of FRIENDS inspire & comfort us, and we’d be lost without them. Evan recently said to me, “I’m really glad I stutter, because if I didn’t, I would never have come to FRIENDS and met all these wonderful people.”

Brooke Leiman

Brooke Leiman

Graduate Student Training Program Coordinator

Brooke Leiman, MA, CCC-SLP, BCS-F is the Director of the Stuttering Clinic at National Therapy Center and a Board Certified Specialist in Fluency Disorders. She has been presenting at FRIENDS annual conventions since 2016 and recently began volunteering as a One Day Conference Coordinator. 

Michael LoPinto

Michael LoPinto

Facebook Manager

After many failed attempts to find successful speech therapy, my mother came across Lee Caggiano who introduced me to the FRIENDS Organization 10 years ago, I have been an active member ever since.

Linda J. Louko

Linda J. Louko

Graduate Student Training Program Coordinator

Linda J. Louko, PhD is a Clinical Associate Professor in the Dept. of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Iowa She specializes in speech sound development and disorders, as well as the relationship between stuttering and disordered phonology.

Jeanne Murphy

Jeanne Murphy

Registration Committee

I am a proud parent of a child who stutters. We have been involved with FRIENDS for awhile, and the support we have received from this amazing organization has been immeasurable. Now we want to give back!

John & Sue Parisi

John & Sue Parisi

Merchandise Managers

We are the proud parents of a child who stutters. We have been involved with FRIENDS for a while, and the support we have received from this amazing organization has been immeasurable. Now we want to give back!

Shelly Roney

Shelly Roney

Hotel Liasion

I am the parent of two teenage boys who stutter. Our family joined FRIENDS in 2012 and since then have attended 6 annual conventions and multiple one-day conferences. The experience has been life-changing for all of us. I feel very fortunate to be able to lend my time to help FRIENDS continue their mission to positively impact the lives of other children and families!

Roger and Susanne Ruden

Roger and Susanne Ruden

Chairpersons for the FRIENDS Charity Golf Classic

We started going to Friends 6 years ago when our son was 12. It changed our lives, so we wanted to give back. Through the Charity Golf Classic we raise money to help families attend 1-day workshops & the national convention. To organize a golf fundraiser contact us.

Ed Samp

Ed Samp

Convention Scholarship

My son Eddie is a stutterer. Our family attended the 2nd annual FRIENDS convention in 1999 in Boston when Eddie was 9. It changed our lives. Over the years, we’ve enjoyed staying connected with our FRIENDS family through the annual conference. Our Scholarship Program helps others afford the expense involved in attending our annual convention and conferences.

Steffi Schopick

Steffi Schopick

Childrens' Programs, Graduate Student Training Program Coordinator

I am a Speech Language Pathologist working in the private practice treating kids, teens and adults who stutter. I have been involved with FRIENDS for the past 12 years facilitating children’s workshop.

One Day Conferences

Sara MacIntyre, M.A., CCC-SLP

One Day Conference Program Director

Sara serves as the One-Day Conference Director where she is dedicated to organizing opportunities for regional support to young people who stutter and their families. She is the director of YouSpeak, a private practice in Philadelphia, where she works with individuals who stutter of all ages. In addition to working clinically, Sara teaches as an adjunct professor at New York University. She has presented nationally and internationally, and appears as a frequent guest on StutterTalk, discussing both her personal experience as someone who stutters, as well as her experiences working clinically.

Hope Gerlach

Hope Gerlach

One Day Conference Coordinator

Hope Gerlach, MS, CCC-SLP is a doctoral candidate at The University of Iowa. She has bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and Speech and Hearing Sciences and a clinical Master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology. In addition to co-facilitating a OneDay FRIENDS conference in Iowa, she has led workshops at one day conferences in Nebraska, North Carolina, Indianapolis, Ohio and at two Annual FRIENDS Conventions. She has worked with kids who stutter at UISPEAKS (a camp for kids who stutter at the University of Iowa) for three summers. Her research interests include social justice issues in Communication Sciences and Disorders and the relationships between stuttering, stigma, and identity.

Loryn McGill

Loryn McGill

One Day Conference Coordinator

Loryn McGill, M.S., CCC-SLP works in private practice providing therapy exclusively for people who stutter. She is adjunct faculty at Chapman University where she is Professor of Fluency Disorders. She has been involved with research examining the use of medication to assist with the treatment of stuttering at UC Irvine. She has presented and organized FRIENDS conferences around the country, presented CEU courses, and presented at CSHA, NSA and local school districts on the topic of fluency disorders.

Rita Thurman

Rita Thurman

One Day Conference Coordinator

Rita Thurman has worked in the schools and in clinical settings in Utah, Idaho, Illinois, Montana and North Carolina since 1977. Her private practice in Raleigh, North Carolina and Bozeman, Montana focuses on the evaluation and treatment of children, teens and adults who stutter. She was awarded the Clinical Achievement Award by the NC Speech Language Hearing Association in 2012 and the Speech-Language Pathologist of the Year by the National Stuttering Association in 2015, both for her contributions to diagnosis and treatment for people who stutter. She is a NSA Adult and TWST Chapter leader, and sponsors an annual Friend’s Workshop in NC. She is the Chair of the Executive Board of the American Board of Fluency and Fluency Disorders.

 

Professional Advisors

Joe Donaher

Joe Donaher

PhD, CCC-SLP, Board Certified in Fluency Disorders

I am a speech-language pathologist, and live outside of Philadelphia with my wife and 2 children. I became involved with Friends after sitting next to Lee Caggiano for several days at a stuttering workshop in 1998.

Heather Grossman

Heather Grossman

PhD, CCC-SLP, Board Certified in Fluency Disorders

I am a speech therapist who became involved with FRIENDS in 1998 because I was inspired by Lee Caggiano and working with CWS! It has become a second family to me that I can’t wait to visit each year.

Lisa Scott

Lisa Scott

PhD, CCC-SLP, Board Certified in Fluency Disorders

I am Clinic Director at Florida State University and VP for Education for the Stuttering Foundation. I became involved with Friends through my professional relationship with Lee and other Friends friends!

Patty Walton

Patty Walton

M.A, CCC-SLP, Board Certified in Fluency Disorders

I am a board recognized specialist in fluency disorders. Being a part of the FRIENDS family has been an amazing blessing to my entire family. I am also an avid skier and love to travel.

Tricia Zebrowski

Tricia Zebrowski

PhD, CCC-SLP, Board Certified in Fluency Disorders

I am a university professor and SLP with a special interest in working with teenagers who stutter. My involvement with FRIENDS over the years has helped me to be a better therapist, teacher and researcher.

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