Tag Archives: Joe Biden

Words Matter: Jonathan Costello’s Video Goes Viral

Last week, a story about Joe Biden’s stutter gave Americans better insights into his speaking style and “gaffes.”

Also last week, a Westport 7th grader’s video about his own stutter went viral. It’s as personal as the vice president’s tale — and perhaps even more powerful.

Jonathan Costello’s stutter began when he was 5. He was bullied a bit in his New York City school — but there were moments of kindness too. When his 2nd grade teacher explained to the class that Jonathan was trying to get over his speech disorder, a girl said, “Don’t change! I like you just the way you are.”

His family — father Sean, mother Lauren and younger brother William — moved to Westport just before 4th grade. Jonathan was very nervous. He worried that kids would think he was “weird.” He might have no friends.

From left: Sean, William, Jonathan and Lauren Costello. They’ve got a “soccer room” in their Westport home.

Jonathan is an excellent soccer player. A week before school began, he went to Mickey Kydes’ soccer camp. He made a good friend.

On the first day at Coleytown Elementary School, Jonathan blasted a home run in kickball. “I got known as the soccer kid, not the stutter kid,” he says proudly.

Jonathan’s stutter is caused by his vocal cords shutting when he speaks. He has no trouble putting thoughts together. They just don’t always come out as quickly as he’d like.

For the past 5 years, Jonathan has worked with world renowned speech therapist Becca Grusgott. She was just minutes from his Riverdale Country School.

But he moved to Westport, and she to Kansas City. They’ve continued their work via FaceTime. Jonathan has flourished. Now a 7th grader at Bedford Middle School, he plays premier soccer for Inter Connecticut FC, basketball for the Westport PAL travel squad, and attends Hebrew school at Temple Israel.

Soccer — the world’s sport –has helped give Jonathan confidence and poise.

Last spring, as his bar mitzvah loomed, Jonathan wanted to do his “mitzvah” (good deed) project about his stutter. His mother suggested a public service announcement.

A project should involve “tikkun olam” — an element of “repairing the world” — Lauren explains. A PSA video could help repair not only the world around him, but also Jonathan’s world.

Lauren and Sean were happy to help. But, she notes, “we’re not helicopter parents. We did not want to do this for him.”

Jonathan loved the idea. But he felt nervous too.

He was a fan of John Green’s crash courses. (The novelist creates clever, quick videos that use words and illustrations to explain history and science.) Green is also a Liverpool soccer fan. Sean suggested to Jonathan that he use the “crash course” model himself.

Jonathan wrote a script. Through a website for graphic artists, the family found someone in Utah to add illustrations.

His parents recorded Jonathan in their basement (they put up a green screen background, just like the pros). He created a teleprompter, and read his script.

Jonathan Costello, with the improvised green screen in his basement.

He stuttered a bit. But that’s what the whole video is about. Jonathan explains what stuttering is. He talks about his own life (including a worker at Subway, who asks what’s wrong when he’s trying to order).

And he offers strategies for family members, teachers, friends and strangers: Be patient. Don’t finish sentences for someone. Be kind.

Plus: “Share this video.”

That’s a fantastic idea.

Jonathan’s video debuted at his bar mitzvah, earlier this month. Rabbi Michael Friedman agreed to show it during the ceremony.

It was a powerful moment. There was not a dry eye in the synagogue — and then everyone erupted in cheers.

Much of the ceremony involves speaking. Jonathan stuttered often. But he delivered his words with poise and confidence.

The next morning, Sean and Lauren emailed the video to everyone at the bar mitzvah — and all the guests who could not attend. Jonathan’s parents also uploaded the video to YouTube. Temple Israel forwarded it too.

Almost immediately, people shared it on Facebook and Twitter. Quickly, it rocketed around the world.

Speech therapists in Sweden and Portugal asked for translations. A girl watched it 4 times, then asked her teacher to show it to the class. An 18-year-old who had lived his life “in the shadows” said that Jonathan’s video perfectly articulated his life.

Becca — Jonathan’s speech therapist — shared it with a number of professional groups. Many members said other people had already sent it to them.

Referring back to “tikkun olam,” Lauren says, “The reaction has been amazing. But we feel like we’re just getting started repairing the world.”

What a start! With stuttering in the news, the Costellos sent Jonathan’s video to the Biden campaign. A staff member quickly responded.

Soon, Jonathan will meet the former vice president.

It should be a remarkable conversation.

(Hat tips: Ben Frimmer and Frank Rosen)

Trump And Hillary: JP Vellotti Compares The Rallies

Alert “06880” reader/photographer JP Vellotti is an equal-opportunity political rally-goer.

On Saturday night, he attended the Donald Trump rally at Sacred Heart University. Afterward, he sent photos and a report to “06880.”

Here’s Part 2 of his journey to Election Day:

There was a lot to process after the Trump event. Having never been to a political function, I wondered if his rally was a normal state of affairs.

The next day I checked out Hillary’s website, to see if she had any events planned nearby (other than the $34,000-per-person dinner in Greenwich).

To my surprise, there was an event Monday in Scranton, Pennsylvania. I clicked the link, and got a ticket. I don’t have $34K, but I do have enough for a tank of gas.

At 5:30 a.m., I headed 150 miles west on I-84. It’s a nice drive. I was early, but that helped me get a great spot close to the stage.

The same type of vendors were there as at the Trump rally, selling pins, hats and t-shirts. They seem to be price-fixed, no matter which party (all overpriced and low quality). Bernie Sanders merchandise was marked way down.

Hillary pins - JP Vellotti

There were about the same number of protesters in the parking lot — all peaceful. I’m not quite sure what the people with the giant inflatable spliff were protesting (or supporting).

It was really interesting to see both sides. I don’t think a lot of people can say they did that, especially in a 48-hour span.

Part of the anti-Hillary protests.

Part of the anti-Hillary protests.

I’d be interested to hear what Hillary said at the $34K event, versus this free one in Scranton. I especially wonder how she can tell the people of Scranton certain things will be done with money that comes in from the wealthiest 1% paying their fair share of taxes.

I imagine some of that 1% paid to see her in Greenwich. Are they ok with her plan? Maybe she laid it out in greater detail during the dinner? I’ll never know.

Unlike the Trump event, there were no vulgar t-shirts or pins — or chants of the same, from the crowd or candidate.

The arena was much larger, but it was closed off to nearly the same size as the SHU Pitt Center. Both events were hot, but nothing beats the Trump rally heat.

Hillary’s event had a live, local coffee shop-type band. They played mellow songs like “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” then funk like “Superstition” and “ABC.” They did not repeat anything.

The Trump rally blasted mostly the Rolling Stones (who asked him to stop using their songs) and Elton John’s “Funeral for a Friend” (an odd choice). His playlist repeated 3 times, and the crowd noticed. He also had an opera tune in the mix.

The crowds were almost equal in size — about 5,000. The demographics were again very similar — a bit younger in Scranton, predominantly white, but with more outward signs of diversity (buttons, pins, hats for various causes).

Hillary crowd - JP Vellotti

Much of the same speeches from both sides were snippets from the primaries. The Scranton one had a bit of hometown flavor, because of Hillary’s and Joe Biden’s roots there. Both told funny anecdotes.

Biden was a dynamic speaker. He made his speech feel personal, like your uncle was telling you something important. He also gave direct facts and statistics about consequences of things like dismantling NATO. He said he was off to Kosovo immediately after the rally, to assure them of America’s support.

Vice President Joe Biden.

I thought the talk in Scranton would be more about factory workers and old mills. Not at all. There was no relishing in the past for the American worker, which is the sense I got from Trump’s speech.

Hillary outlined her agenda at a high level. There was no badgering of the press, no name calling, and no Democratic version of “Lock her up!” She did wonder if Trump will ever release his tax returns.

Hillary speaking - JP Vellotti

Both Clinton and Biden came to the front row, and worked the crowd for a very long time. I was amazed at how close I could get. I believe Trump left as soon as he was finished, but I couldn’t see that side of the stage so I don’t know for sure.

Hillary after event

After the event, I walked over to Sonic to get something to eat. I met an 83-year-old Korean War vet named Daniel. He had been undecided, but will now vote for Hillary.

JP Vellotti's new friend, a Korean War veteran named Daniel.

JP Vellotti’s new friend, a Korean War veteran named Daniel.

I bought him lunch, thanked him for serving our country decades before I was born. And then it was back on I-80, to Westport. Without a limo.

Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden leave Scranton. (Photos/JP Vellotti)

Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden leave Scranton. (Photos/JP Vellotti)

Dorian Kail Does The White House

Yesterday’s “06880” post about the 25th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act — and the formation of a possible town commission on disabilities — resonated with Dorian Kail.

The Westport native manages the professional wheelchair division at New York Road Runners (including the marathon). She’s been awed by the accomplishments of the men and women who use wheels to run.

One of her top athletes — the fastest wheelchair marathoner of all time — is Tatyana McFadden. She won a lawsuit against her high school to allow wheelchair participants in sports.

Last week, McFadden invited Kail to the White House, to celebrate the ADA’s anniversary. McFadden and Kail met the president; Kail also had a quick conversation with Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Bob Dole (who as a senator helped pass the ADA).

Dorian Kail and Vice President Joe Biden.

Dorian Kail and Vice President Joe Biden, at the White House.

Thanks for all you’ve done, Dorian. Keep on pushing — and keep helping these remarkable athletes run.

Dorian Kail and Tatyana McFadden stroll through the White House.

Dorian Kail and Tatyana McFadden stroll through the White House.

Former senator Bob Dole -- now 92 years old -- asked for a selfie with Dorian Kail.

Former senator Bob Dole — now 92 years old — asked for a selfie with Dorian Kail.