SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Research has shown that survivors of stroke and traumatic brain injury (TBI) oftentimes have a decreased quality of life. One group in Savannah has been focusing on how to improve the lives of stroke survivors since the 1980s.

The Savannah Speech and Hearing Center (SSHC) has existed since 1954, dedicated to improving the lives of those with hearing loss and verbal communication conditions for just as long.

WSAV NOW spoke with the SSHC’s Jenna Harcher and Georgia Southern’s April Garrity about the Speak Easy Support Group and Communication Help for Adults after Stroke (CHATS) program.

“Our intention is to just keep people talking,” Harcher said.

The Speak Easy Support Group meets every Friday at the center from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. The support group has a wide range of attendees who each bring their own unique experience to the community.

Sitting in on the support group, you can hear the happiness in the voices of the community members as well as the students from Georgia Southern who are participating in the CHATS program.

There is laughter, smiles and plenty of storytelling. Some members have been attending this group for over 19 years.

“They encourage one another. They encourage me,” Harcher explained.

When it ends, people reluctantly leave, passing around hugs and handshakes before slowly filing out the door.

“We really have a great group of people. Through the years they’ve become my friends,” she said. “Fridays are my favorite days because of the group.”

The group took a break during the beginning of the pandemic but has since returned, with members coming back to attending in-person meetings.

Georgia Southern has been meeting with the group yearly for over a decade.

“I started CHATS in the spring of 2009,” Garrity said. “So we’ve been coming for about 12 weeks every spring semester.”

The students that come are second-semester graduate students in the speech language pathology program at Georgia Southern. They participate in this service learning program as a way to achieve learning objectives while also getting to participate in the community and provide services to SSHC.

“They get to be immersed in the experience,” she explained.

An example of something the students may do at the support group is participate in guided storytelling with the attendees. For one activity, attendees drew colored strips of paper from a brown paper bag. The colors indicated a question they were supposed to answer. They were able to recall past experiences like their favorite memories or their favorite food.

After, they did a trivia exercise where participants (students included) attempted to remember the answers that others gave to the questions they responded to.

“It really helps students see other aspects that they wouldn’t normally be exposed to,” Garrity said.

The students clearly enjoyed getting to interact with the survivors and the feelings were reciprocated.

There are other volunteers who participate in the program, too. Some younger people who volunteer are doing so in hopes that they will eventually one day become speech pathologists themselves.

“We couldn’t have done it without our volunteers,” Harcher said.

If you would like to get involved you can visit the volunteer page on the SSHC website for more information.