DALLAS TWP. — Chris Monjelo stutters.
Monjelo, a 24-year-old Pittston resident, described himself as mostly mute in high school. He stuttered, which burdened his already complex teenage years. When he was a senior, a teacher referred him to the speech pathology program at Misericordia University. It was there that Monjelo found a support group for people who stutter; a place where he was comfortable opening up.
“I could speak about it to a speech therapist, but if the speech therapist doesn’t stutter they won’t ever understand what it’s like to have a stutter,” Monjelo said. “Past the stutter, it’s the awkward pauses or just talking to people; just wanting to be able to express myself.”
Monjelo still has bad days. There are moments when he’ll tense up or avoid eye contact during conversation, but the group has helped him become more comfortable with both who he is and the methods we all use to show those sides of ourselves to other people.
“Stuttering isn’t you, but it’s a small part of you, and I emphasize that because that’s a thing I still struggle with,” Monjelo said. “I’m Chris Monjelo and I’m a writer, I enjoy music, art, social justice and Drake. I’m aware I’m always going to stutter and that’s hard to accept; I still struggle with that. I just remind myself that it’s just a small part of me. It’s not the whole book, but a small chapter.”
The stutterers’ support group is open to people of any age and meets at 7 p.m. on the first and third Tuesdays of every month in room 212 of Misericordia University’s Passan Hall. Along with being students of Misericordia University’s speech pathology program, Terry Murgallis and fellow National Stuttering Association Northeast Pennsylvania chapter co-chair Kyle Pelkey both stutter.
Pelkey said there was a point when both thought they were the only people in the world who stuttered, and that’s why it’s important to give people who stutter a place to go. He explained the meetings as casual affairs that start with introductions and an opportunity to share recent positive and negative stuttering experiences. They’ll then open the floor for discussion and when it’s time to leave they’ll relay a mission or some motivation for the group to report back on next time.
Attending a stutterers’ support group session can also be beneficial for people who don’t stutter. Monjelo said sometimes he’s told to slow down or sentences are finished for him; according to 23 year-old Plains resident and Misericordia University speech pathology graduate student Erin Yanoshak, the meetings can also help those who don’t stutter keep sight of the person on the other end of their conversation.
“We are taught to see a person who stutters as a person first, with complex feelings and thoughts, but if you don’t come to something like the support group you kind of don’t get that,” Yanoshak said. “It gives you just a lot more insight with that. That’s why I like coming, it gives a completely different perspective.”
Even though they’re approaching the support group from two different perspectives, Yanoshak and 17 year-old Old Forge resident Josh Wagner, whose stuttering became evident at age 5, both said the meetings help them establish a better point of view on the topic.
“The support group here has helped to show me that I’m not the only one that has it,” Wagner said. “It helps to see that. It helps to have a point of view on the topic that could be hard to see on your own and to get the input of several others that have the same goals.”
For more information about National Stuttering Association Northeastern Pennsylvania and their stutterers’ support group, visit nsachapters.org/nepa.
Reach Gene Axton at 570-991-6121 or on Twitter @TLArts