Skills For Life offers vital ministry to the incarcerated by running weekly supervised Toastmasters meetings, which teach public speaking, personal responsibility and leadership skills. These one to two hour weekly meeting’s provide an impetus for inmates to help each other to learn. Each Toastmasters club (referred to as Gavel clubs at the units where Skills For Life works) is limited to 20 members to insure each member an opportunity to participate each week.
They are also required to give at least one speech per month. The weekly format consists of three to five speakers, giving speeches which are normally of 5 to 7 minutes in length. With the exception of the first speech (called the ice-breaker, where the speaker is required to speak about himself or herself, enabling the other members to get to know them), inmates are free to speak on any topic. The only criteria for subject matter is that it be decent and in good taste. Each speech is designed to achieve certain technical goals such as maintaining eye contact, overcoming nervousness, effective use of gestures, vocal variety, eliminating vocal pauses and using props effectively. Participants measure their progress through goal achievement programs under the rules of Toastmasters International.
Each speaker is assigned a personal evaluator whose job it is to evaluate the speaker face to face and in a caring and constructive manner. The other exercise is called Table Topics. A club member is designated table topics master. His job is to prepare a list of questions before hand, then when called upon during the meeting, he approaches the lectern, states a question, then calls on a club member to stand and respond for a period of one to two minutes. This is designed to assist the member to learn think on their feet. In addition, there are several members given duties before hand to serve as officials during the meeting.
The first is the grammarian, who has two tasks. The first is to present the word of the day, along with its definition, its part of speech (noun, verb, adjective,etc.) and an example of its use. This is designed to help the members develop their vocabulary. The second task is to listen for incorrect grammar, then give a report at the end of the meeting. There is an “aw” counter, who listens for the verbalized pauses (aw, um, er, etc.) and redundancies ( this means, this means; and, and; etc) then gives his report. The third official is the timer, whose job is to keep track of the allotted times for the various participants and to make sure the meeting runs on time. The fourth official is the listen master. He listens to everything that is said during the course of the meeting, writing down questions as to what is being said, then calling on members at meeting’s end to answer the questions.
In addition to the skills, the implementation of this program has produced other significant results. The participants learn to research subjects and organize their material in a logical, coherent manner. They are also developing community. Most impressive is the dignity, courtesy, and respect for one another that is on display at every meeting. Partcipants consider themselves family and their increased self-esteem is obvious.