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Toast of the town Samantha Mendoza | Sat, Nov 05 2011 12:00 PM

A toast to the 73rd anniversary of the Toastmasters Chula Vista Club 108.

Club 108 was founded April 18, 1938, with five members. Today it's the oldest of seven in Chula Vista and has 39 members.

"It's been 73 years of excellence as we continue to see changes and improvement," said Club 108 president Cesar Miranda. "As we learn to communicate, we also have to learn to change."

At Club 108, members learn the skills of public speaking by talking in groups and working with others in a supportive environment.

"Honestly it's fun," said vice president of membership Donald Gerken. "It's almost always fun and educational. Members walk away learning something more and they build a network of friends with a main primary interest of self-improvement."

A typical meeting is made up of 20 to 30 people. Meetings are Thursday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Chula Vista Elementary Education Center on 84 East J St. in the boardroom. Each meeting gives everyone an opportunity to practice conducting meetings, give impromptu speeches, present prepared speeches and receive constructive evaluation.

"At our meetings, it's not pass or fail," said Gerken. "Our goal is to help you move forward."

Club 108 members vary in age from 18 years old to people in their 70s.

"We have many different types of people and we're very diverse," he said. "We're ethnically diverse which is wonderful. We have people who are moms, some who are business owners and everybody in between."

Gerken said he's never been afraid of public speaking but he joined two years ago to polish his skills.

"I joined personally because I'm a doctor and my goal is to communicate well with my patients," he said. "Doctor school prepares you to be a good doctor but it doesn't really teach you how to be a good listener. When I talk to my patients I want them to be able to understand their options and say wow, he's good I want to talk to him more."

To join, members must be 18 years of age or older and interested in improving communication skills. Enrollment fees include a $40 membership and a $20 materials fee every six months.

"When people come to our meetings, I like to tell them about what Toastmasters goals are and see if they would like to participate in not just our club but in the whole Toastmaster experience," said Gerken. "It's a lot like a sandwich, the more you put into it the more you're going to get out of it."

With more than 13,000 clubs in 116 countries, Toastmasters International is a non-profit organization whose goal is to increase awareness of speaking and leadership skills.

First-timers are assigned a mentor who guides them through their first three speeches.

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