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Learn about SPEAK's growth from a student group to a student-run non-for-profit!

SPEAK started as a Vermont Law School student group in the fall of 2014 with a mission to promote debate, public speaking, education, and advocacy for VLS students and community members, including individuals incarcerated in Vermont. Since its inception, SPEAK has strived to live up to that mission, continuously growing and expanding to reach new populations and promote powerful voices. In the past two years since SPEAK began, Vermont Law School students have partnered with debaters from the University of Vermont’s Lawrence Debate Union to spark several projects and initiatives…and we won’t stop there!

None of the initiatives that are mentioned above could have happened without the support of Vermont Law School. We are so grateful to the Student Bar Association, our faculty mentors, and the students who share our excitement, volunteer for our programs, and troubleshoot the “boulders” that pop up along the way. Your trust in SPEAK and enthusiasm for our mission has enabled our band of volunteers to do some exciting things, and we are extremely grateful.

So we are thrilled to announce that, due to all of your support and the requests that we have received for future programs, SPEAK will be continuing to pursue its mission to promote public speaking and advocacy as a social-profit! SPEAK’s transition from a student-organization into a non-profit has been very exciting, and we are incredibly fortunate that our friends at VLS have supported us by providing advice, assistance, and constant optimism. Special thanks are due to VLS superstars Greg Johnson, Margaret Barry, Shirley Jefferson, Robert Sand, Mark Latham, Laura Murphy, and Oliver Goodenough who have all helped to give SPEAK the confidence and ability to move forward with this project. Thank you for believing in SPEAK, and the VLS and UVM students who volunteer to teach every week at the CRCF. We are grateful and humbled!

Here is my attempt to answer as many of the “But, how does that work?” questions as I can:

  1. What is the non-profit called? SPEAK Inc. (“SPEAK”)

  2. What does SPEAK Inc. do? SPEAK provides a public speaking curriculum that uses debate as a tool to teach professional skills and encourage self-confidence. SPEAK will continue to facilitate opportunities for students at Vermont Law School who would like to improve their public speaking skills or gain teaching experience in correctional settings to be a part of our programs. Want to get involved? Contact Jess (!

  3. What happens to the student group formerly known as SPEAK? SPEAK is no longer under the umbrella of VLS as a student organization because it is now a corporation in Vermont. However, the VLS SPEAK Chapter, which has a nearly identical mission, function, and structure as the former SPEAK group, remains as an SBA funded student group (basically, the student group changed its name). The VLS SPEAK Chapter will continue to host events on campus and strive to promote public speaking and advocacy on campus. In contrast, SPEAK Inc. will continue to teach at correctional facilities and high schools, coordinate VLS and UVM volunteers who want to gain teaching experience in correctional settings, and maintain our international partnerships. The VLS SPEAK Chapter is a “chapter” of SPEAK, similar to the Federalist Society, and may use the SPEAK name with SPEAK Inc.’s permission.

  4. Who will lead the VLS SPEAK Chapter? We are extremely proud to introduce Laura Savall as the President of the VLS SPEAK Chapter! Laura has been with SPEAK since she started at VLS in the fall of 2015. She is also a volunteer for the SPEAK Prison Debate Initiative and a joint- recipient of the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship ’16-’17. Laura has big plans for the student group next year and I cannot wait to see where she leads the VLS Chapter! Thank you Laura, for your positivity, enthusiasm, and commitment. You are a lifesaver!

  5. Will SPEAK still offer programs for VLS students? Of course! Through either the student group or the non-profit, VLS will have access to our curriculum and instructors.

  6. How can VLS students get involved in SPEAK Inc. and volunteer to teach at correctional center and/or local organizations? Contact one of the following SPEAK folks:

  7. SPEAK Director, Jessica Bullock

  8. VLS Supervisor, Will Lowrey

  9. Assistant Director, Toni Girardi

  10. How can VLS students get involved in the VLS SPEAK Chapter on campus? Contact:

  11. President, Laura Savall

  12. Secretary, Al Dean

  13. Treasurer, Elise Iannone

  14. *Vacancy for VP to be elected this fall!

We hope that this message answers some of your questions about SPEAK and the VLS SPEAK Chapter. Thank you all for your support throughout this exciting transition! Of course, we will be sure to keep in touch with updates about SPEAK’s news and projects, and you can expect to hear from Laura next fall about recruitment and on-campus events.

Whew, if you read to the bottom of this message, you are a champion! If we left anything out, or if you have further questions, please do not hesitate to contact Jess at

Vermont Law School SPEAK Chapter:

Interested in learning more about SPEAK Inc. and the VLS and UVM students who make our work possible? Check out our new website (a HUGE thank you to Six Degrees and Chris Ryan for design help!), follow us on Twitter, or join us on Facebook!

Learn More about SPEAK Inc. here!

Visit our new website, with photography by Vermont Law School alumna, Ivy Garlow, and design by Chris Ryan from Six Degrees:

Or find us on social media!



Here are just a few of our accomplishments over the past two years:

  • Offered public speaking and debate instruction at Vermont Law School;

  • Provided three full-length public speaking programs and founded a weekly debate group at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility, Vermont’s only correctional facility for women;

  • Partnered with the Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center, Vermont’s only correctional facility for adolescents, ages 13-18;

  • Presented “SPEAK: Promoting Powerful Voices” at the New England Clinical Conference hosted by Harvard Law School;

  • Conducted multiple, day-long student and teacher training sessions for WeDebate in Milan, Italy;

  • Ran a full-length program in partnership with the African Refugee Development Center and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) for refugees in Tel Aviv, Israel;

  • Awarded Three Albert Schweitzer Fellowships;

  • Recipient of the VLS SBA Student Group Pro Bono Award ’15;

  • Highlighted by Vermont Public Radio, UVM Communications, and the Wall Street Journal for our work with incarcerated populations;

  • And much more to come!

A quick preview of some our most recent news and events for this summer:

  • VLS student, Jessica Bullock, collaborates with UVM alumna, Mariel Golden, to host the first SPEAK program for the African Refugee Development Center. SPEAK’s partners in this endeavor include the African Refugee Development Center, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and the Community Education Center;

  • VLS students, Laura Savall and Kassie Tibbot, pilot creative writing, resume building, and interviewing sessions at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility;

  • VLS & UVM students, Toni Girardi, Laura Savall, Elise Iannone, and Franny Solnick run an 8-week debate program at the CRCF. Led by VLS Supervisor Will Lowrey!

  • VLS student, Jessica Bullock, teaches the SPEAK curriculum to undergraduate students at Beihang University’s Third Annual Debate Conference in Beijing, China.

  • And much, much more to come this fall!

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