Don Thornton, Learning Centre Update at Brantford Scottish Rite Association Dinner

The First Child


Don Thornton took time out of his busy schedule to speak at the recent Brantford Scottish Rite Annual Dinner, to provide an update on the Learning Centre for Hamilton. Don announced the Centre had started to tutor their FIRST CHILD and provided an update on the Centre's progress.

Where we were: Where we are now: Where we are going:
We have reached the end of the beginning of this very exciting project which began in March 2013 when a committee was formed to study the feasibility of establishing such a centre in the Valley of Hamilton. By December 2013 and after extensive study, the original committee recommended that the concept was viable.

A steering committee was formed with the approval of the Scottish Rite bodies of Hamilton Valley. That committee worked tirelessly holding special fundraising events like the Love of Learning Gala in 2016, the plays A Rose Upon the Altar in 2016, and The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge in 2017.

In addition the committee promoted newspaper articles, gave radio interviews, made presentations in Lodges, Churches, and Service Clubs and publicized it to our friends whenever and wherever possible. Donations were solicited from a broad range of private sources through charitable giving as well as grants from corporations and charitable foundations. In addition third party fundraising was encouraged through events such as the Hamilton Valley Annual Golf Tournament, the annual Masonic Beef and Corn Roast in Ancaster and other Masonic bodies held fundraising events with us as the beneficiary.

Some Lodges have stepped forward and made significant donations to us as well.  

In June of 2017 the governance of the Learning Centre transitioned to an Ontario incorporated not for profit organization with Canada Revenue Agency charitable status. This transition allows the Centre to be operated as an independent entity with an elected Board of Directors and independent authority to operate the centre, to raise funds and issue charitable receipts.

The steering committee members continue to serve as members of the not-for profit corporation as well as in other volunteer capacities.

While all of that was taking place we were busy securing the premises at 148 George Street adjacent to the Scottish Rite on a 10 year lease at $1.00 per year. Plans and drawings were prepared; a building permit obtained and renovations of the house undertaken. A significant part of the retrofitting of the building has involved a state of the art video system to provide for the monitoring and support of the tutoring process as well as assuring the best possible protection for the vulnerable children the centre serves. Much of the required furniture and equipment has been donated and we have enlisted volunteer tutors who we are training. As well as volunteer tutors the centre will require a large base of volunteers who will provide support for the centre in various ways.

Of course, to make this initiative worthwhile we needed children with dyslexia because that is what it is all about and we have been actively seeking applications from parents of dyslexic children.

The work begun by the Steering Committee has continued without interruption through the establishment of the corporation and we all owe a great debt of thanks to these brethren for their dedication and continued support and contributions. 

We have raised sufficient funds to carry out the renovations necessary to make the house at 148 George Street suitable for the Learning Centre and I am pleased to report that we have started tutoring the first group of children with dyslexia. 
We have trained 3 tutors in the Orton-Gillingham Approach and we have 3 children enrolled. Tutoring is on a one to one basis and is delivered without cost to the child and his or her family. It is totally dependent on the public's charitable support.

So much for how we got to where we are today. 
At this moment we have established the centre, we have enrolled some children and some tutors and some other volunteers. We have leased, renovated and equipped our centre and we are starting to tutor. All of this has been accomplished because of the dedication of many people and the donation of thousands of dollars to our cause. All of that constitutes a tremendous achievement we as MASONS can all be proud of.

What about the future?
There are three things we need to be successful:
*    dyslexic children
*    volunteers – not only tutors but also volunteers to fill the numerous support roles at the centre
*    money

First, we have room for 40 children. We have accepted a further 4 children and have two more in the assessment phase that we can't start tutoring until we have more tutors started with their training. Now that we are open the word will spread quickly about our program and I expect that our waiting list of qualified children will grow rapidly especially once parents and teachers begin to see the difference we are making with the children we are tutoring. Obtaining children will not be a problem going forward in fact the challenge will be in selecting those we can help the most.

Second, we need more tutors before we can reach capacity. We already have three additional tutors waiting for the next training course to begin which I expect will be this Fall. The tutors are all volunteers and in their first year are restricted to tutoring one child. In the second year, after they have gained some experience, that is increased to two children but still on a one to one basis. The tutors undergo 45 hours of classroom instruction and 100 hours of practicum before being certified as Orton-Gillingham Tutors. It takes two years to complete the course which is taught by an Orton-Gillingham Certified Tutor Trainer and is provided free to the tutors.  This is a major but necessary annual expense for the centre. If you or someone you know is interested in joining that group please let me know or approach that person and let them know about us. 

Many retired teachers especially remember the thrill of seeing the light come on in the eyes of a struggling student and would love to experience it again. I can guarantee them that will happen many times at the centre.

Third, we need funding to make it all work. Money does indeed make the world go round. We spent a large part of our time and effort over the past 5 years fundraising. It takes constant effort, a strong pool of volunteers not only for special events and speaking engagements but also for maintaining visibility in the Masonic Community as well as the broader community in general.

Ongoing fundraising is a reality. But our efforts now need to be directed to running the centre, attracting children, tutors and other volunteers as well as continuing with fundraising events. Fundraising events are important for many reasons other than simply raising money. They raise our profile in the community which attracts other supporters as well as children and tutor volunteers. But to simply rely on yearly fundraising campaigns does not support stability.

We understand the imperative of establishing a more sustainable revenue flow we can rely on as we move forward. A sustainable source of funding will not only relieve the stress of uncertainty; it will also allow us to concentrate on making the centre more successful in what it was created to do - help children overcome their problems with dyslexia.

To that end we have established a sustainability fund that we hope will grow sufficiently over time to ensure that year to year operating expenses are covered so that additional fundraising efforts can lead to improvement and expansion of the centre and its programs.

What can the Masonic Districts do to help us?
*    We know that each of you, as a well-known member of your District, will be listened to by the members of the Lodges in your District.
*   We would like to recruit a member from each District from among you to help coordinate a campaign to create a sustainable source of revenue from the Lodges in your District as well as members of those lodges.

What can you as an individual do to help make it happen?
*    volunteer to be that Brother in your District to serve on the sustainability
*    make a donation and add the Learning Centre to your list of favourite charities
*    encourage your lodges and other Masonic bodies where you belong to make a donation
*    offer to volunteer your time to assist at the centre speak to your friends about the centre and the good     work it does
*    complete a pledge form to support us financially for the next number of years              (see following form)

Will you be part of the solution?           Remember these ten two letter words
                                                                                     IF IT IS TO BE… IT IS UP TO ME

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