Chanel Torres stutters and was often teased about it in middle and high school.
She never thought she had the courage to speak publicly because of this impediment. Not anymore — Torres now tours the county to give presentations on fetal alcohol syndrome, or FAS.
"I learned that my audience needs to see the stuttering," she said. "(My) mother drank when she was pregnant with me. That is where the stuttering is from."
Torres, 22, was one of three young people recently recognized by the Pinellas County School District with a Young Heroes award for overcoming adversities and giving back to the community.
In her speeches, Torres tells teens and adults what FAS is and how it can be prevented. Then she shares her story.
Her birth mother was an alcoholic, which caused her to be born prematurely, weighing about 4 pounds and 3 ounces. She cried in a high-pitched tone for years.
She was diagnosed with FAS and was given up for adoption when she was 2.
"I will never fully get over my disability, but it's the way that I have learned to deal with the disability that makes me stronger," she said. "Every time I get on my presentation and I stand in front of a group, it's just my way (of) forgiving my mother for drinking while she was pregnant."
Torres' efforts to educate people about FAS in the past few years have won her the local and national Yes I Can! Awards from the Council for Exceptional Children, in addition to the Young Heroes award.
But Torres is quick to note that she's not doing this for the recognition.
"I do it to advocate for children who can't speak for themselves, for the unborn and for the kids that have it," she said. "My disability does not define who I am. I just live with it and I want to teach others how to do it."
To learn more about Chanel Torres and FAS, visit advocatefortheunborn.com.