Arthur Blank funds Atlanta program to help people who stutter: It’s personal

Arthur Blank, the 79-year-old philanthropist, co-founder of Home Depot, and owner of the Atlanta Falcons, says that he's been a stutterer for his entire life  (Curtis Compton /

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Arthur Blank, the 79-year-old philanthropist, co-founder of Home Depot, and owner of the Atlanta Falcons, says that he's been a stutterer for his entire life (Curtis Compton /

Arthur Blank never let his stutter be a hindrance to his success.

That was thanks in large part to his determination and the support of his mother, who always told him that his words mattered. Now Blank wants to help others who have the speech disorder.

The Arthur M. Blank Center for Stuttering Education and Research established last year in Austin, Texas will now expand to Atlanta with a $12.25 million grant from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.

The center, currently operating at 1605 Chantilly Drive N.E., will eventually be housed inside a new pediatric hospital at North Druid Hills Road and I-85, projected to open in 2025. The foundation donated $200 million to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for the new hospital, which will bear his name.

Like the original center in Austin, the Atlanta center will treat those who stutter and do research on stuttering; something Blank understands well. “I’ve been a stutterer my entire life,” said Blank, 79, a philanthropist, co-founder of Home Depot and owner of the Atlanta Falcons. “I think when I was younger, particularly, it definitely came into play in terms of my childhood relationships, my friendships, my school presentations and things of that nature... Most people who stutter, it impacts their lives in a whole variety of ways.”

Last year, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation awarded a $20 million legacy grant to the University of Texas at Austin in the Moody College of Communication to fund research and treatment for stuttering. It resulted in the Blank Center for Stuttering Education and Research in Austin.

The Atlanta center will host Camp Dream. Speak. Live, an innovative intensive treatment program, according to the foundation. The Atlanta center will be the first of several satellite centers around the world devoted to stuttering treatment, research and training.

The program itself is in several nations, but this is the first of several brick-and-mortar sites.

The center will be led by Dr. Courtney Byrd, who founded and directs the Michael and Tami Lang Stuttering Institute, the Dr. Jennifer and Emanuel Bodner Developmental Stuttering Laboratory and the Dealey Family Foundation Stuttering Clinic in the Moody College of Communication at UTA.

According to the National Association of Stuttering, at least 1 percent of the world’s populations stutters. Byrd said that number could be significantly higher because some people are ashamed of having the problem and don’t seek help.

“We’re doing everything we can to promote a sea change in treatment so young children through adults don’t feel stigmatized by their stuttering,” said Byrd. Others might “assume they’re anxious, shy, there’s a lack of intelligence” or they can’t complete tasks. “The truth is people who stutter are among the brightest, most talented and communicatively competent people in the world.”

The center, founded and led by Byrd, will advance understanding about the nature of stuttering and effective treatments. They plan to roll out scientifically based programming to treat children, teenagers and adults, and create a pipeline of clinicians and researchers to make quality, effective treatment accessible to all people.

Byrd said the center hopes to have more than 500 people go through the program in Atlanta the first year, growing to 1,200 to 1,500 annually after that. It will also train between 100 and 300 undergraduate and graduate students each year and work with underserved populations.

She said there is no cost to patients.

President Joe Biden talked about his stuttering during the 2020 campaign and retired NBA basketball player Shaquille O’Neal said he used to pray his teachers would not call on him in class. Jack Welch Jr., the former CEO of General Electric, was also a stutterer.

Some people, though, never accept their stuttering. They and others may view it as a disability.

It isn’t. Take Blank, for instance. He stuttered as a child and still does on occasion. An uncle stuttered. Blank’s own son, Max, 18, has “a bit of a stutter,” said Blank.

In college, though, Blank became president of his fraternity and senior class. He put himself in situations where he had to talk.

When he helped found Home Depot in the late 1970s he had to constantly speak before investor groups and the public.

“It hasn’t affected my career. It hasn’t really affected my life,” he said. “Only because I think I had a mother who at a very early age constantly said to me, ‘What you have to say is important.’”