Communication challenge doesn't prevent state verbal competition

Jansen Handel as he prepared to work on his competition.

Jansen Handel as he prepared to work on his competition.

At first glance Jansen Handel seems like any other student at Eagle Point High School. True he is exceptionally polite and never misses an opportunity to open a door for someone, but other than that, quite typical.

However, once you spend some time with him, you realize his exceptional qualities go beyond good manners. Jansen aspires to become a role model. Those who know him believe he already is, but he feels he’s at the jumping off point.

When I interviewed Jansen he was preparing to take his first leap at a state wide competition to be held in Lebanon and sponsored by SkillsUSA, a job preparedness organization which stresses the 8 keys of employability. Jansen will be participating in the Culinary Arts division. Specifically he will present a Job Skills Demonstration, which combines an oral presentation with a skills demonstration. Once again, at a glance, this may seem interesting, but not inspirational. There is a little something else you should know about Jansen, he has a communication disorder.

For Jansen it manifests itself like this: he knows precisely what he wants to say, he has the vocabulary to back it up, but he has difficulty getting the words out. Who hasn’t, from time to time, experienced that particular frustration over a word or two? For Jansen nearly every word presents that frustration.

Moreover, how many people are thrilled at the idea of public speaking? Even the most effortlessly verbose individual might balk at the idea of that. Not Jansen, he knows one can’t become a role model by succumbing to a verbal road block. When he heard about the SkillsUSA program, he decided to challenge himself and join. Further, he opted to participate in the speech/demonstration division vs. pure demonstration.

On the eve of the competition, is Jansen nervous? No, he “feels great” about it. He has been practicing both his dish – a beef and broccoli stir fry – and his speech for two weeks. On Wednesday he practiced his speech in front of a classroom of peers. When the teacher, Carroll Newcomb, asked the student audience if any of them would voluntarily make a similar presentation, only one hand was raised.

Jansen will have 10 minutes in the competition for his presentation, as of Wednesday it was running 20 minutes – yes – he talked too much. Mrs. Newcomb schedule time with him after our interview to edit it to the proper time.

When not practicing, Jansen has been spending time pulling weeds and raking leaves for folks in the community to earn the $40.00 he needed for food and supplies for the competition. No “Hey Mom, can I have some money.” for him! He’s also been scouring the Internet for broccoli jokes; he’d like to make the audience laugh during his presentation.

All of Jansen’s hard work may be rewarded beyond his personal goal of inspiring others. Those who do well in the competition can win scholarships. As Jansen is only a Freshman he might just have his full tuition covered if he does well in this and subsequent years.

Jansen enjoys being a part of the SkillsUSA program because he has been making new friends and he really enjoys getting to “go new places” for meetings and competitions. If he places this weekend he will be eligible to go to Kansas City for the National competition. There’s a good chance he will place too. Eagle Point students have placed 5 out of the last 5 years their student’s have participated.

As to why Jansen chose cooking, “If I get married,” it would be a good skill to have. For now he tests out his recipes on his family.

Jansen will travel to the competition with 21 other Eagle Point students and teachers/coaches Carroll Newcomb and Matt Boren. The competition will take place over two days, and will include; Culinary Arts, Auto Body & Paint, Welding, Carpentry and many other non-agriculture based skills.

The busses left at 4 a.m.  Friday and no doubt many of the entrants will be will be quite nervous and restless. Not Jansen, he plans on napping for most of the drive.

Oh, if you’d like Jansen’s stir fry recipe – sorry, he won’t give it away. Does he want to protect his top secret ingredient? No, he’d just like folks to ask him to cook it for them.

For more information on the SkillsUSA program please visit:
By Christy Pitto
Of the Independent

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