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Talk to take on rights, struggles

December 10, 2017

The graduates of New Directions Speakers’ School will be speaking at Thunder Bay City Hall on Tuesday.

Voicing their struggles in the quest for social justice, they will be engaging the audience in council chambers from 6:30 - 8 p.m. about Indigenous rights, systemic abuse and struggles with the law.

New Directions Speakers’ School is a program created by and for Thunder Bay residents.

Originating out of the injured workers’ movement, Speakers’ School equips those struggling with issues of poverty, mental health, abuse and discrimination with the skills and resources to speak against injustices that they face.

Participants go through a 14-week course where they learn public speaking while educating themselves on social justice issues facing the city from local experts.

“Speakers’ School is a real triumph for the City of Thunder Bay,” says course facilitator Richard Togman.

“It’s a unique program with a proven track record of ending the isolation and hopelessness of those living in poverty while empowering them with the skills necessary to become leaders in their communities.”

Indeed, many graduates have gone on to establish community organizations and to take up leadership positions on tribal councils and in the workplace.

One of the past graduates, Amy Manning, has founded the Vale/Limbrick Youth Action Group during her time at Speakers’ School.

After the tragic death of her friend, Otis Perkins, in her Limbrick neighbourhood, Manning made a vow to do more for the youth of her community.

Using the skills she learned at Speakers’ School, Manning is busy organizing and fundraising to bring community programs to Limbrick, which include an after-school peer tutoring service, a computer lab and a community Christmas party.

New Directions Speakers School Graduates Share Their Stories

Posted 19 December 2015 by James Murray in Featured


New Directions Speakers School Graduating Class 2015

THUNDER BAY – The New Directions Speakers School hosted the 2015

Graduation at Thunder Bay City Hall this week. The audience was treated to

some incredible talks from a very focused and determined group of speakers.

New Directions Speakers School was founded in 2008, and is directed to help

people develop skills in public speaking to assist them in their daily lives.

There were seven graduates speaking at City Hall this week. Four of the grads

are presented here for your viewing and learning enjoyment.

The New Directions Speakers School is open to anyone who is an injured

worker, living in poverty or facing other economic or social challenges.

The goal of the NDSS is to help people to address and overcome barriers to

participation and promotes an atmosphere of peer support and mutual aid.

There have been over one hundred graduates thus far.

For more information on the school, call 627-9136 or email

New Directions Speakers’ School Graduates Powerful Voices for Social Justice

Posted 16 December 2014 by James Murray in Featured

New Directions Speakers School Graduates at City Hall in Thunder Bay

THUNDER BAY – The New Directions Speakers’ School held its speech

presentations and graduation at Thunder Bay City Hall tonight. The graduates

presented their speeches to a full audience, and a panel of evaluators.

New Directions Speakers’ School was founded in 2008 as a part of the Thunder Bay

Injured Workers Support Group. The school provides a free 14 week program that

assists people to learn public speaking and leadership on social justice issues.

Speakers presented very powerful, thought provoking messages, some which left

members of the audience shedding tears.

NetNewsLedger was in attendance at the graduation ceremonies, and over the next

days will be sharing presentations of the speeches that the graduates presented at

City Hall tonight.

The speakers were evaluated by Michael Sobota, Ann Magiskan, and Monique Woolnought.

Thunder Bay Superior North MP Bruce Hyer, and Thunder Bay City Councillors Frank Pullia, Paul Pugh, and Andrew Foulds were in attendance.

Loud and Proud (December 2010)

Public speaking has become a source of inner strength for students at a specialty school that has even helped

some build new lives.

Eight people graduated from a course offered by Thunder Bay’s Speakers’ School. Graduates enjoyed a night of

delivering their speeches on subjects ranging from recovery, faith and leadership, on Tuesday. Guest speakers

addresed related topics like disability, poverty and unemployment.

Karli Brotchie, facilitator, said the course is designed to empower people by teaching them how to speak clearly

in a public setting and gain confidence.

Among the graduates was Anne Chuchmuch, 45, who six months ago was living in Toronto, addicted to crack cocaine, apparently with no future.

“Basically, I was standing still, not moving ahead or going backwards,” she said in an interview before the graduation. “I wanted more and had glimmers of the life I could have, but my crack cocaine addiction was holding me back.”

Everything changed for Chuchmuch in June. She said that through a series of circumstances she arrived in Thunder Bay, and her common-law husband told her about the Speakers’ School he had attended. She registered through AIDS Thunder Bay.

Chuchmuch said it has been a life-changing experience. Not only did she learn to write and speak clearly, techniques she learned during the course have made her a more confident person.

“I highly recommend this course to anyone who gets nervous around people,” she said. “They teach students not just to deal with the public, but calming techniques, and I am already telling my friends to register.”

The lessons learned have opened doors, she said.

Since joining the Speaker’s School, she’s completed a course at Lakehead University, started working at AIDS Thunder Bay and is planning to enrol at Everest College for business administration. She will also be doing speaking engagements for AIDS Thunder Bay.

The Speaker’s School began in 2008 through a Thunder Bay & District Injured Workers’ Support Group initiative, in collaboration with community partners including the Lakehead Social Planning Council and the Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic.

The school’s main purpose is to develop public speaking and leadership skills, and to raise awareness of social justice issues. The school is open to anyone who is an injured worker, living in poverty or facing other economic challenges. The school attempts to address and overcome barriers to participation, and promotes an atmosphere of peer support and mutual aid.

The free 14-week course runs twice a year, teaching public speaking and leadership skills in an environment of peer support and within the context of education in social justice issues; guest speakers present on issues relating to disability, poverty and unemployment.

The training consists of exercises focusing on effective communication, public speaking and group facilitation, combined with lectures on social justice and other related topics presented by community trainers. Speakers’ School also co-ordinates and facilitates monthly meetings of the alumni who wish to continue developing their skills and broadening their knowledge.

About 40 students have graduated from the school since its inception.


Grads able to cope better (December 2009)

Wilfred Pott knows about drug addiction and he says he’s ready to make a difference.

Pott described recovery as “a hard road” and said the toughest part is deciding to get help.

“Addicts are happy where they are,” he said.

“I know what that’s about from personal experience.”

Pott didn’t go through rehab. Instead he went to jail and it helped his recovery.

“I was clean when I was released and decided to stay clean,” he said Tuesday at the Lakehead Social Planning Council offices.

Pott took part in a three-month speaker school which taught him to communicate better and helped raise his confidence.

“There’s a lot of addicts (in Thunder Bay) and they can’t get help right away,” he said. “I think we need to do more in that area to make sure help is more readily available.”

The speaking class made him more comfortable talking about addiction, he said, adding it also has given him more insight into himself.

“I think we all have something to say about different issues. If more people spoke up society would be a better place,” Pott said.

Nine people graduated from the speakers school Tuesday night.

“Everyone in the class has learned a lot about other people’s issues,” said school co-ordinator Robin Faye.

“It has been a real sharing experience and it’s helped each person gain confidence.”

The goal is to help people improve their communities and build skills they can use, she said.

“The hope is someone feels more confident, then maybe they take a course in college or university,” she said.

The school is funded by the Public Service Alliance of Canada Social Justice Fund and the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

It is a collaboration of the Lakehead Social Planning Council, the Thunder Bay and District Injured Workers’ Support Group and Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic.

“We started this to give a voice to vulnerable people in society,” said Steve Mantis, chairman of the school and treasurer of the injured workers support group.

“The systems we have in place really undermine individuals’ ability to cope in society.

“We try to give them confidence and abilities to move forward, tell their stories, and conquer their own challenges,” Mantis said.


Speaking Out at Speakers’ School (Kinna-aweya legal clinic newsletter)

By Mary Veltri


After three years of operation, Speakers’ School is fast becoming an integral part of the social justice infrastructure of Thunder Bay. The school is a collaborative effort of the Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic, the Thunder Bay and District Injured Workers Support Group and the Lakehead Social Planning Council. What began as a pilot project in the fall of 2008 with a modest budget has developed into a full time program offering a spring and fall course for classes of 15 students. The school is targeted for people who are living on a low income, unemployed, or are injured workers.


The Legal Clinic plays a vital role by helping oversee the development and operation of the school, providing a space for monthly meetings and having various staff members participate as guest speakers and on the panel evaluating the final graduation speeches.  Currently, Speakers’ School is funded by Ontario Trillium Foundation, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union and the Bay Credit Union Social Justice Fund. The school is fortunate to have dedicated staff and volunteers including our newest instructor, Karli Brotchie, who is no stranger to the legal clinic as she also, facilitated the successful Photo Voice Project.


Speakers’ School provides high quality, inclusive and participatory training in public speaking, leadership and social justice issues. It is designed specifically to remove barriers and enhance learning for people who are economically disadvantaged. Public speaking exercises are a regular part of the curriculum including practicing tone of voice, posture, breathing and impromptu speaking. Participants are given one-on-one help with speech writing and an atmosphere of peer support is fostered by offering opportunities to provide input and constructive feedback. Some of the social justice topics include the history of social assistance, ODSP, living with HIV, the injured workers movement, advocacy and Seven Grandfather Teachings. An alumni group which meets monthly allows graduates to continue honing their skills and to further develop their knowledge of social justice issues. The school provides a meal at each class, a transportation allowance and if necessary, a child care allowance. Tuition is free.



The success of the school is evidenced not only in the quality of the students’ final speeches which they deliver to an audience of peers and community leaders but also in the growing recognition from our community and across the province. Graduates from the school have been invited to speak and participate in a variety of forums including a union meeting, Northern Regional Training for Legal Clinics, press conferences and the Speakers’ School Coordinating Committee. This year Speakers’ School was honoured to be the recipient of an award by the Ontraio Public Service Empoyees’ Union. The Rainford Jackson Award recognizes an organization that has made significant contribution to combating racism and promoting equality. Interest in the school is spreading across the province and other legal clinics wanting to develop similar programs have approached Speakers’ School for guidance.


If you are interested in learning more about the school or want to register for the next course, send a message to or phone Karli at 627-9136.


Grant for speakers’ school brings relief (July 2009)

Karen McKinley

Friday, July 24, 2009 – 08:00

The Thunder Bay speakers’ school received a grant Thursday. On hand for the announcement were, from left, school committee members Steve Mantis and Aaron Park, Lakehead Social Planning Council services director Marie Klassen, MPP Bill Mauro, graduates Bill Ferguson, Sandra Taggart and Yvonne Murray and school co-ordinator Robin Faye. Advocates for social justice and the disadvantaged received some good news Thursday from MPP Bill Mauro who announced that funding for a speakers’ school has been approved for two years.

The announcement was made at the Lakehead Social Planning Council office.

The LSPC was the lead applicant in a proposal submitted to the Ontario Trillium Foundation by the LSPC, the Thunder Bay and District Injured Workers’ Support Group and the Kinna-Aweya Legal Clinic to further develop the school. The application was successful and the program has been awarded a $68,300 grant.

To mark the occasion, Mauro (L-Thunder Bay-Atikokan) presented a plaque to the organizers and several alumni of the school.

“This program is a good thing because it helps build the confidence of people that may not feel part of the city,” Mauro said. “This also helps them build connections so they know they are not alone in their personal or community struggles for social justice.”

The funding announcement is a great relief for the partnership, said co-ordinator Robin Faye.

Faye said that in the beginning, the school was running on a shoestring budget. With the grant, the school can expand the program, hire a co-ordinator and continue developing, she said.

Many of the students are from lower income areas and live with disabilities, she said. Teaching them to speak in public and network will help them gain the tools they need to seek personal justice and help give a voice to their community.

“This adds spark and inspiration to us all,” Faye said. “This is as much about teaching people to be comfortable speaking to the media as it is being confident and knowing it’s OK to take risks to improve their situation.

“Often poverty brings with it social isolation. Knowing how to speak up will help our clients break the cycle and improve their situations, from their lives to employment to the whole community.”

The program works by teaching students about three key areas of public speaking: leadership, history and the actual speaking.

Students learn how to put those elements into context with milestones in social justice, and apply those to their own situations.

Aaron Park, a social planner and researcher for the LSPC, said that speaking is a skill that is sadly lacking in education.

“I didn’t do anything more on public speaking after the seventh grade,” Park said. “Schools don’t do enough to prepare people to let their voice be heard.”

The school was started two years ago as a pilot project and is hosted by Lakehead University.

The Trillium Foundation is a provincial government agency that for more than 25 years has supported the growth and vitality of communities across the province.

The program continues to strengthen the capacity of the volunteer sector through investments in community-based initiatives. Funding has been increased from $100 million to $110 million to further assist these programs.

Applications for the speakers’ school are available at the Thunder Bay and District Injured Workers’ Support Group office at the Lakehead Labour Centre on Fort William Road.

Letter to the Editor (December 2009)

Voices of Authenticity

On Dec. 8, in the company of dozens of others including our mayor, I had the distinct pleasure of attending the third graduation ceremony of The Speakers’ School (Grads Able to Cope Better, Dec. 9). A display of character, courage, community at its best, the proceedings left me profoundly moved.

A collaboration of the Thunder Bay & District Injured Workers’ Support group, Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic and the Lakehead Social Planning Council, funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the Public Service Alliance of Canada Social Justice Fund, the Speakers’ School is nothing short of democracy in action.

Covering a wide range of topics – mental health, poverty, addictions, homelessness, women’s rights, kinship care – the speeches delivered were well-crafted and informative. More importantly, they resonated with an authenticity that only comes with having first-hand knowledge of the subject. Congratulations to each of the graduates for feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Without your voice, the record is incomplete.

If you are interested in learning more about this remarkable project, please call Robin Faye at 627-9136. The next session starts in February.


Fiona Karlstedt

President, Lakehead Social

Planning Council


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