Orangeville Toastmasters mark 20th anniversary in community

December 7, 2016   ·   0 Comments

For two decades, Orangeville Toastmasters has acted as a beacon of hope for individuals looking to make a positive change in their life. This past Monday (Dec. 5), the local organization held a special open house officially celebrating its 20th anniversary in Orangeville.

Since its inception in 1996 as a subsidiary of Toastmasters International, the Orange­ville Toastmasters club has helped hundreds of people overcome their fear of public speaking. With 16 active members, the club continues to provide a safe and supportive environment to local residents looking to improve their communication skills.

Approximately 40 people crammed their way into the club’s regular meeting area at the Alzheimer Society of Dufferin building on Centennial Road on Monday night to recognize the “significant achievement” of reaching that 20-year milestone. Amongst those was Toastmasters International District 86 Director Vitaliy Fursov, special guest speaker Eric Solowka and one of the local association’s founding members Isabel Hershaw.

Speaking to the Citizen, Mr. Fursov provided some insight into what exactly Toastmasters is able to offer to an individual.

“Whenever people ask me what Toastmasters is or what it does, I like to share my own personal story. I became a Toastmaster in 2008 shortly after losing my job. I had been promoted to a managerial position within my company and within a year I was let go because my presentation skills were so poor,” Mr. Fursov said. “I realized I had a problem, so I seriously looked for ways to try to improve those skills. Somebody suggested Toastmasters to me and the rest, as they say, is history.”

Eight years on from that dismissal, Mr. Fursov is now responsible for representing more than 5,000 Toastmasters members across Ontario. He’s given speeches in front of hundreds of people and is now, in his own words, truly comfortable in himself and confident when addressing others.

“Toastmasters provides you with the safest environment in the world in which to better yourself. The people involved in these clubs, not only here in Orangeville but all across the world, truly care about helping each other improve their speaking, listening and overall communication skills. You progress at your own pace and really you design your own program and decide what you want to take away with you.”

He added, “The program totally works. If it worked for me, it can work for anyone.”

While the focus of the night was very much entrenched on the 20th anniversary, there was another special surprise for those in attendance, as a long-time local member was recognized for her years of hard work and service as a Toastmaster. Kersty Franklin became only the second Orange­ville Toastmaster, after Ruth Demeter in 2003, to be awarded the Distinguished Toastmasters Award (DTA) on Nov. 25 – the highest accolade one can receive from Toastmasters International.

Having begun her Toastmasters journey 33 years ago south of the border, first in Ohio and then in Florida, Mrs. Franklin has been affiliated with Orangeville Toastmasters since 2001. When recounting how she first came into contact with the organization, it was an all-too-familiar story.

“I was going to lose my job,” Mrs. Franklin said. “I’d recently graduated from school with a master’s degree in counselling psychology, but I was absolutely terrified of being a therapist. I couldn’t even imagine talking to another human being and telling them what to do. After three months, I was pulled into an office and told I was being let go.”

Toastmasters helped her turn everything around and after convincing her boss to give her a second chance, it took just six months for Mrs. Franklin to not only be offered a promotion, but to be made a full partner in the company.

“I have a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and a doctorate degree and to this day I still believe the best education I’ve ever received is the one I’ve gotten from Toastmasters,” Mrs. Franklin said. “Toastmasters taught me to be confident in myself, it has taught me to how to work with other people and it has taught me how to be a leader. I honestly feel like it’s the single best thing I’ve ever given myself in my life.”

On the other end of the scale, Natalie Merritt, Orangeville Toastmasters’ current president,  has been with the organization for a little over a year now, having first joined in July 2015. A self-declared introvert, Mrs. Merritt told the Citizen that she’s learned a lot during her short stint with the organization thus far and encouraged anybody currently battling with issues relating to public speaking or communicating in general to check out the local Toastmasters club.

“Toastmasters has done so much in helping me to feel more comfortable talking to people and just helping me improve my speaking skills in general,” Mrs. Merritt said. “Toastmasters is an environment in which you don’t have to be afraid. It’s a great place to come and build on your skills – this is a very supportive group, a very friendly group full of helpful people. If you’re dealing with issues on a daily basis, just know there are options out there for you to build your skills and really improve your life.”

Orangeville Toastmasters meets every first, third and fifth Monday of the month at the Alzheimer Society of Dufferin, 25 Centennial Road. Meetings begin promptly at 7 p.m. and run until 8:30. Those with an interest in joining the group are encouraged to attend the group’s next meeting on January 2, 2017. For more information, visit

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