Tiny Talkers celebrating 20 years of helping develop language skills

By By BEN RAYMOND LODE / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- Tiny Talkers Speech and Language Summer Camp is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.
Dowagiac-based Sue Balazar is the founder and director of Tiny Talkers.
Throughout its 20-year existence, Niles' speech and language summer camp has been held at the First Presbyterian Church on 13 S. Third St., in Niles.
But, Tiny Talkers also has speech and language summer camps in Dowagiac, Mishawaka and St. Joseph.
Staci Reith, a teacher who has been involved with the speech and language summer camp here in Niles for a long time, said Tiny Talkers was founded when people found out there was a need for a language program for children between the age of 3.5 and 9 years old.
Reith herself started out as a high school aide in the speech and language summer camp but took a break when she went to college.
As soon as she was done with college, however, she came straight back and has been in the program for the last eight years.
The program has always been dependent on donations, and the local community has been forthcoming in supporting the speech and language summer camp, Reith said.
She said Psiotisi in Niles gives a large donation toward the program every year.
Family-owned South Bend, Ind.,-based Ferguson Equipment and the Niles Service League also donates money to the summer camp,
The summer camp lasts for four weeks and goes Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 12 noon, Reith said. This year 21 students are enrolled in the program here in Niles and three junior aides, who are graduates of the speech and language summer camp, assist three teachers. Other teachers are Jenny Pepper and Donna Dodge
In addition, local past and current high school students volunteer.
Amber Spriggs, who is currently enrolled in Ferris State University's dental hygiene program, is among this year's volunteers. However, she has volunteered for the speech and summer camp for five years.
Jenny Pepper, one of Brandywine Public Schools speech therapists, worked with the children on the "ch" sound Wednesday.
While teaching them how to pronounce the "ch" sound by using words like cheese and chair, she kept her students busy working with clay at the same time.
Pepper, who only had three students in a separate classroom, said it's important to be able to give the children individual follow ups to make sure they learn as much as possible.

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