'I couldn't be more thankful': Elks, ISTAR give nine-year-old his voice back

Thirty years after their first meeting, Elks help Holly Zacharko's son overcome his stutter

Amanda McCarthy - 06 March 2018

Holly Zacharko has a special connection to the Alberta Elks Foundation.

As a child, she often attended Elks functions with her grandparents, all of whom were a part of the organization.

Now, 30 years later, Holly has another reason to love the Elks-her son Miles.

"Miles was first diagnosed with a severe speech delay when he was just three-years-old," explained Holly. "By grade one, he was much better. But then he developed a stutter, and that's when he was recommended to ISTAR to start speech therapy."

Since 1986, The Elks and Royal Purple have provided funding to the Institute for Stuttering Treatment and Research's speech therapy programs-funding that allows children, teens and adults who are experiencing communication challenges find their voices.

Thanks to the Elks, Miles started his therapy at ISTAR in February 2017 and has already come a long way.

"I recently watched a video I sent to ISTAR one year ago and I just marveled at how far he has come. And the Elks have made that possible."

Before treatment, Miles did not have what you would call a typical stutter. Often times, people wouldn't even be able to notice a difference in his speech.

"People were always surprised when I said that Miles had a stutter," said Holly. "I guess maybe because it wasn't the 'normal' stutter, it wasn't as identifiable."

But that doesn't mean it didn't affect him.

For Miles, words were often interrupted by 'hey' or 'haaa' sounds, which made it hard for him to say what he really wanted. But now, there's nothing stopping him from expressing himself.

"Miles was able to speak in front of his whole school-300 people-with a microphone!" said Holly. "For as long as we could remember, Miles always had his speech challenges. So to see how far he has come is very rewarding."

But while this journey has allowed Miles, now almost nine years old, to speak with confidence, it has also allowed the Zacharko family to make some close friends along the way.

"We have met some amazing people. Working with our speech-language pathologist Shea Thompsen has been amazing.

Without the help of ISTAR and the Elks, Miles wouldn't be where he is today-making friends and actually having people listen to what he has to say. It means a lot."

And now that Holly has been reunited with the Elks, she couldn't be happier to have them back in her life.

"To me, it's amazing that as a kid, I went to Elks functions with my grandparents, and now 30 years later-in a different city, for different reasons, I might add-the Elks are back in my life. And I couldn't be more thankful."