Staci Reith hold camper Tanis Malooley during story time at the Tiny Talkers summer language camp. Daily Star photo/CRAIG HAUPERT

Archived Story

Tiny Talkers making progress

Published 5:08pm Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Campers at the Tiny Talkers summer language program in Niles were learning how to say the letter “K” on Tuesday.

Camper Trenton Runnels built a kite — note the “K” in kite — with the help of his favorite teacher, Rachelle Dodge. He and fellow campers flew it in an open lot near Niles New Apostolic Church, where the camp is held.

“Mine flew the highest,” said Runnels, who will be attending kindergarten at Brandywine this fall. “Rachelle made it with me. I love her so much.”

The camp might seem like all fun and games for the dozen or so 4- to 8-year-olds in it. Most don’t realize they are slowly overcoming speech difficulties as they have fun.

“They are happier. They smile more,” said Staci Reith, who has helped run the program for 25 years. “They are communicating and expressing themselves rather than allowing an adult to speak for them.”

Four-year-old twins Titian and Tanis Malooley are attending their second year of camp.

Their mother, Cathy, said her twins had little interest in interacting outside of their “twin world” before enrolling in the camp.

“By the end of the Tiny Talkers program, I saw a language explosion in my daughters’ speech. I heard more expressive language than I’d heard in months,” she said.

The program is designed to help children with speech and language difficulties achieve their goals over the summer. The camp runs for four weeks and includes a staff of three teachers, including a speech therapist and student volunteers.

Last week, campers worked on the letter “D” by taking a trip to Dairy Queen. Each camper had to order a Dilly Bar and pay with a dollar bill.

“We practiced all week looking each other in the eye and ordering clearly so it would be a positive experience,” Reith said.

The program was created almost 30 years ago by former Niles speech therapist Sue Balazar. Tiny Talkers expanded to locations in Dowagiac, St. Joseph and South Bend before the economy dived. Tiny Talkers now can only be found in Niles.

Reith wanted to thank the many individuals and organizations for donations, which made this year’s camp possible.

“We’ve had wonderful community support,” she said.

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