COLLINGSWOOD – It was 10 years ago that Staff Sgt. Marc J. Small was killed in action while serving our country in Afghanistan.

His fiancée, Amanda Charney-Berardi, a speech-language pathologist who is a member of the New Jersey Speech-Language-Hearing Association (NJSHA), was determined to create a foundation in the memory of this hero.

Marc had dreams of Amanda opening her own private practice and came up with the name “Small Steps in Speech” to symbolize her soon-to-be last name along with the small steps children must take to build their communication skills.

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“When the heartbreaking news came of Marc’s passing, starting this non-profit foundation seemed like a good way to start keeping his memory alive and close to the heart,” Charney-Berardi said. “The foundation helps children with communicative disorders be able to take the steps needed to become better communicators.” 

“Over the past decade, this foundation has brought hope to families all over the country, and it allows me to do something positive in Marc’s memory,” Charney-Berardi said. “Throughout the school year, parents always ask me, `When will my child talk?’ `I want to know how their day went in school.’ `Why are they crying, what hurts, what is the matter?’  This foundation has made wishes come true for so many children.”

Charney-Berardi, of Point Pleasant Borough, is a speech-language pathologist for the Collingswood school district, where she specializes in the preschool population and children with multiple neurological disorders. Most of her spare time is dedicated to Small Steps in Speech.

She recalls 2010 when the organization gave out just a few grants. In 2018, that number has exploded to more than 100 grants each year, equaling $137,000, to families.

Since its inception, the foundation has raised and distributed more than $1 million to approximately 800 families.

The foundation has awarded 43 grants within New Jersey, totaling $63,030.91, which funded hippotherapy with a speech therapist, speech and language therapy, summer programs/camps emphasizing speech therapy and augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices/applications for children with disabilities.  

“We’ve received testimonials from parents and therapists stating how a child went from being non-verbal in a self-contained classroom to now talking and mainstreamed within general education classes,” Charney-Berardi said. “We are now looking for new partnerships as there is such a need to assist these children with communication disorders.”

Fundraising is always a challenge, as the foundation is unable to grant more than half of the applications it receives. The organization, comprised of volunteers, has no overhead costs, ensuring that all dollars raised go directly to providing services to children.

Charney-Berardi is especially thankful to NJSHA, which has served as a resource along the way and has spread the mission to all parts of the state. The foundation has had a booth at NJSHA Conventions over the years, allowing its volunteers to have one-on-one conversations with more than 900 speech-language pathologists who attend the Convention.

NJSHA President Mary Faella noted the Association was proud to recognize Small Steps in Speech with the Distinguished Service Award in 2014, honoring its many accomplishments.

“We are proud to have a homegrown hero in Amanda Charney-Berardi, who has made such a difference for so many families across the state and across the country,” Faella said. “She is a shining example of what our NJSHA members have been able to accomplish in the field. We are tremendously proud to congratulate her on the 10th anniversary of Small Steps in Speech.”