Speak strong: Saanich youth embrace Toastmaster’s programs

Eight-week program is run at the Bruce Hutchison library at Saanich Commonwealth Place

Nine-year-old Kylie

Gordon Head resident Emily Zhang is just 12 years old, but she’s already moved from China to Canada, back to China and back to Canada again.

She’s not only been flip-flopping schools, but bouncing from one set of customs and cultural norms to the next, not to overlook the nuances of language.

And yet the Grade 7 student at Gordon Head middle school is communicating just fine with a comfortable confidence when  addressing others, thanks to the Toastmaster’s Junior Youth Leadership program she began this fall.

The eight-week program is run at the Bruce Hutchison library at Saanich Commonwealth Place.

“I really love the roles. At first I was a little shy, and the whole class, no one held their hand up when asked who will do a speech. In the end, everyone was holding up their hand to do a speech,” Zhang said.

She enjoyed it enough that she’s continuing on and will attend her first session of the Victoria Jam Masters Gavel Club at the Island Health building at Cook and Pembroke streets on Friday, Dec. 12.

Gavel Club is an ongoing youth initiative for junior Toastmasters aged seven to 17, led by Distinguished Toastmaster John Sherber.

“All the programs are free, offering a safe environment for youth to develop their confidence and leadership skills,” Sherber said.

“At the Junior Youth Leadership I learned so much, we had really good speakers,” Zhang said. “The chance to practice talking was very helpful. John taught me about speaking directly and using hand gestures.”

In actual fact, Emily has shown a spark not that common with 12 year olds, said Sherber.

In the final class of the eight-week youth leadership program, Sherber encouraged participants to write a brief response to the class, including suggestions to improve the program.

While there were many likes and dislikes, Zhang was the only member to take a crack at Sherber, suggesting he lengthen his eye contact.

“She felt it was her duty,” said Sherber, laughing. “And that’s just what you want to see, kids coming out of their shell and becoming comfortable.”

Kids not only succeed at telling interesting improvisational speeches, they particularly enjoy the variety of roles, such as the timer, which Emily fulfilled in her first Gavel night experience, the joke master, the mystery master and of course, the “ah, um” counter, which was held down by Emily’s younger sister Kylie, 9.

“The ability to stand in front of a group of people is a scenario fraught with anguish, anxiety and just plain fear. We are adults now, ‘do you remember what it was like as a child?,’” Sherber asked.

Gavel Clubs and the Youth Leadership Program have become Sherber’s focus in the 10 years that he’s become a Distinguished Toastmaster and the Div. A Governor among Toastmasters in Victoria.

Another Gavel Club has restarted in the Westshore, Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon, at the West Shore Youth Centre, led by Mary Lummerding. Sign up through Westshore Parks and recreation, 250-478-8384, code 93816.

For youth interested in the Victoria Gavel Club contact Sherber at 250-598-3285, or johnsherber@hotmail.com.

reporter@saanichnews.com