Profile: Paulette's Path

Profile: Paulette's Path

With the help of a mentor, a disabled Toastmaster achieves
Competent Communicator Award – after four years

By Carol Lunsford, M.Ed, DTM

Photo Caption: Paulette Bass (left) received her Competent Communicator badge from High Noon VPE J.D. Dirkschneider. 

In March of this year, High Noon Toastmasters honored member Paulette Bass. She had earned her Competent Communicator award, and the club in Peachtree City, Georgia, held a celebration to mark this accomplishment. Many Toastmasters reach this milestone. Paulette’s journey, however, is of special note: She is developmentally disabled.

Paulette joined High Noon Toastmasters in April 2004. Nearly 35 years earlier, after she graduated high school at age 24, she had been enrolled in a Georgia program that helped her learn job skills. And after that, she worked as a teacher’s aide for the severely developmentally disabled, in the same school system where I taught special-needs students. Upon joining the High Noon group years later, Paulette recognized me and asked me to be her mentor.

Having taught special-needs students for more than 28 years, I felt the exposure to the club environment would be excellent “social practice” for her. Paulette had different ideas.

She listened to others present prepared speeches. She applauded when someone gave an Ice Breaker or received one of the ribbons during a meeting. She cheered along with the rest of the club when a member was presented with a badge. She learned to count votes and count Ah’s, read out Table Topics questions, called on individual members to answer them, and volunteered to create a club scrapbook. She was happy and involved.

Or so I thought. After being a “watcher” for about six months, she turned to me and asked, “When do I give my first speech?” The rest, you could say, is history.

It took four years for Paulette to achieve Competent Communicator status. Sometimes High Noon members said they thought that I, as Paulette’s mentor, wrote her speeches and she just delivered them. Yes and no. Paulette, who is now 62, has speech and language difficulties. She often struggles to retrieve the correct word for what she’s trying to say, and she can’t pronounce words with multiple syllables.

So, being a trained special-needs instructor, I employed the “Language Experience” approach when we worked on her speeches together. The process is simple though time-consuming. First, we would discuss the speech project being considered. When she did not understand the language, I would re-phrase the information into language she could understand. The process followed a question-and-answer format: I asked something like, “Paulette, what do you want to talk about?” She answered and I wrote the response in sentence form.

                    “High Noon thought ahead and had her Competent Communicator
                    badge ready for presentation.”

Then came the hard part: “Paulette, what information do you want to tell the members about (the chosen topic)? Name at least three things, please.” Paulette would answer and I’d write the information down. Next, I would read the information to her and she’d tell me if she was comfortable with the vocabulary. If she wasn’t, we’d choose different wording. Following this format, we cobbled together a Toastmasters speech that worked for Paulette.

She memorized the beginning of every speech: Mr. Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters, guests – good afternoon! Paulette was so adamant about having the phrasing exactly right that she’d ask who the Toastmaster of the meeting was so she could practice saying either “Mr. Toastmaster” or “Madame Toastmaster.”

When Paulette gave her 10th speech to earn her CC award, she was so happy and proud. She told everyone she knew that she was reaching the CC level – and invited almost 50 people to come hear that speech. (Paulette works at a program run by Georgia’s Department of Human Resources to provide services for the developmentally disabled. On weekends, she is a greeter for a local event facility when needed.)

Members of the High Noon club, proud of her as well, invited friends of their own to the talk, which was given March 25 at the Fayette County Public Library. Mayor Harold Logsdon of Peachtree City, a former Toastmaster himself, learned of the celebration and came to make a presentation to Paulette. He read a proclamation designating that day to be Paulette Bass Day in Peachtree City, and he bestowed upon her “Honorary Lifetime Residency in Peachtree City.” In addition, the Fayette County Commissioners Office presented a Certificate of Achievement to her.

She had family members drive from South Carolina for the occasion. The local media was present – and an online newspaper videotaped her speech and uploaded it onto YouTube (Search videos on for “Paulette Bass”).

But best of all, in Paulette’s eyes, High Noon thought ahead and had her Competent Communicator badge ready for presentation.

Paulette is a challenge, she is a joy, and she is a friend. She’s also a big cheerleader for Toastmasters, and recently she gave a presentation to the board of directors that oversees the program where she works; she described her success and what Toastmasters is all about. Her caregivers, family members and instructors all give Toastmasters tremendous credit for her personal growth.

And she’s not finished. Since earning her CC, Paulette has become a member of Westpark Toastmasters – also in Peachtree City – and her dream is to become an Advanced Communicator. She’s already delivered three speeches toward her Advanced Communicator Bronze.

In the speech Paulette gave to earn her CC award, her conclusion asked us all, “What are you waiting for? Confidence? Being artistic with words? Toastmasters helped me with both; it can help you too. What are you waiting for?” 

Carol Lunsford, M.Ed, DTM, is vice president education of Westpark Toastmasters club and a member of High Noon Toastmasters club, both of which are in Peachtree City, Georgia. She can be reached at