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Member Achievements

Four Toastmasters share stories of new beginnings.


Gary Malner

Gary Malner, ACB

Audible Experience Toastmasters • Yakima, Washington

Old Bones, New Growth

I have experienced 75 years of growing to find out who I am and what I want to do with my life. As the song Old Bones states, “And I bet by now you’d think I wouldn’t care”—but yes, I do care, and more deeply than ever because I realize most of my life is behind me yet there is still so much to do and explore. That is the reason I joined Toastmasters. After seeing a classified advertisement for a club, I felt this was something my wife, LaRayne, and I could enjoy together. Thus we unfold the mystery of life in a new way.

On October 10, 1950, I had my first accordion lesson, and since then my life has been a journey of performing and learning. But through all the schooling, from earning a bachelor’s degree to teaching others, nothing has matched the impact of the Toastmasters experience. With LaRayne, I am now active in three clubs. Our conversations bristle with Toastmasters chatter.

I currently perform with the accordion seven to 11 times a week for seniors in ­retirement homes and for a variety of service organizations. Onstage, ­dialogue and monologue are now big parts of my music, as I have moved from just a “musician” to a “musical entertainer”; for that, I thank Toastmasters and my new loving families of club members who evaluate me and encourage me to grow.

Toastmasters has given me tools to entertain my audiences, and help them reflect on memories and publicly share experiences from their own lives.


Helmi Yousif Alfarra

Helmi Yousif Alfarra, CC

Creatively Speaking Toastmasters Halifax • Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

The Secret is Toastmasters!

As an international student from Gaza Strip, I was earning my Ph.D. in ­Malaysia. I was eager to learn the leadership, public speaking and communication skills that would help me in my future career. One day, I saw a poster on campus that caught my eye. It read “Toastmasters, Where Leaders Are Made.” What’s Toastmasters? I asked myself. This is what I want!

I looked for a club near my home and finally found Kuantan Toast­masters club. I immediately joined and started my Competent Communicator projects. I was excited about finishing them before I left Malaysia, and I did.

In 2015, I presented my Ph.D. thesis in front of professors of the faculty of science as well as graduate students. No one knew how anxious I was. I prepared for my presentation by following the Toastmasters guidelines I had learned from each project in the Competent Communication manual. The day I delivered it, professors and others in the audience were amazed by how clear it was. When someone asked how I learned to speak like that, I replied, “The secret is Toastmasters!” That became my motivation to ­continue my journey in Toastmasters.


Naneh V. H.

Naneh V. H., CC

Heart of England club • West Midlands, England

A Safe Place to Fail

In 2012, a few years after our son’s sudden death, I sat in a quiet corner of England. For days, I’d have no contact with adults apart from my husband. Once he left for work, I’d take my toddler daughter out and proceed to drag myself through the day. A full-time mother and housewife, I fear I was more like a zombie.

I owe thanks to Sonia, who lived nearby and befriended me. Sensing my isolation, she invited me to her Toastmasters club for some stimulation. Her message to me was essentially “get out of your head and get a life.”

My first visit to Toastmasters felt strange. However, a weird pull made me return and sign up.

It was fun. I loved the diversity: a retired pilot, a ballroom dancer and a TV chef, among ­others. I heard a speech on female genital mutilation and saw a Pavlova baking demonstration. I wouldn’t otherwise have met such people, because our friends and family tend to mirror us in terms of lifestyle, outlook and age. Finally, I sensed camaraderie: Everyone’s on a journey and all are here to learn.

Ultimately, Toastmasters is a safe place to fail. What happens when you freeze? Lose your lines? Monotonously deliver a poorly structured argument? You’re ­supported, accepted and invited back. Failing safely is a chance to get feedback and bounce back. It builds mental muscle and ­expands our comfort zone.

As a member of another club now, I’m hooked for good. And good it has been. I’ve completed my first set of manuals, competed at club-level speech contests and am working through my advanced manuals. I also recently delivered my first-ever non-Toastmasters speech at Ignite Liverpool, an event where people speak for five minutes on a subject they are passionate about. Lastly, as I type this, I’ve accepted an invitation to speak at the Nursery World Awards in London. Wish me luck!


Robert Gallant

Robert Gallant, ACB, ALB

Southside Toastmasters • Jacksonville, Florida

A Leader Within

In May 2013, I was three years into serving a seven-year prison sentence. I had been addicted heavily to alcohol for almost 20 years and homeless for three. But that fateful month, an organization that was new to me came into my life. It was Toastmasters. I had already pledged to devote my life to self-betterment, and so I dove into the Toastmasters program with delight.

I was a member of a brand-new club and had the opportunity to take part in building it from the ground up. Talk about a confidence builder. I became very involved with the club’s leadership team, and we soon developed a well-oiled machine to facilitate the education and mentoring needs of our club’s members. I never would have thought a leader was waiting patiently under the darkness of my addiction to spring forth like a lion.

Then, of course, came the speeches. I dove into those with relish as well, taking every opportunity to speak. It paid off in a multitude of ways. I became quite the proficient speaker, and I even won my club’s Motivational and Inspirational Speaker of the Year award for 2014.

Speech evaluations changed my life for the better. Not only did they help me accept constructive criticism in regard to my speeches, Toastmasters evaluations also helped me to accept correction in all areas of my life. Humility is one of life’s vital skills, and evaluations helped me tremendously in this aspect.

My communication skills also continued to evolve. In April 2016, I went to work on writing a memoir of the victory I had gained over my life of homelessness and addiction. I am now working on my third book while still active in Toastmasters. You can learn more about my journey by visiting my website.



Do you have a Toastmasters success story you’d like to share about yourself or another member? Write it in 300 words or less and send it with a high-resolution photo.