Thursday, December 17, 2009

Thoughts at the end of 2009

95 Postings and What do You Get?

Today is our last posting in 2009. It has been a little over seven months since we began this blog. May 12 we started this communication as a way to offer more help to you and to solicit your insights and experiences which we could then offer to your peers throughout the network of Learning Centers.

In some ways we feel the Idea Hub is working. When we solicited your advice in the rebranding process, you rewarded us with local perspectives that have truly defined our decisions. The business guru Malcolm Gladwell has described the power of harnessing groups like this for decision making. You proved his points in this respect.

Further, I have found that by communicating to both boards and Center Directors we have gotten to better understand how our Learning Centers work. One of the things that I've come to appreciate is how well many of our Center Directors understand the reality of our current business model and how they are willing to do anything for their Center.

My boss, Sovereign Grand Commander John William McNaughton, has a way of determining those who are fully invested in a project. He says that they are the folks with "skin in the game." Clearly most of our Center Directors have "skin in the game."True , they draw income from their involvement in the Learning Center, but I believe that their interest is far deeper. Everyday they see kids and their parents walk into our Centers. They saw these kids when they first arrived. They shake their hands was they "graduate" and leave. They viscerally know the power of our Centers. And they have risen up to fight to keep them.

I am struck that the most consistent readers of this blog are the Center Directors. The most consistent respondents to surveys are Center Directors. It's all about skin in the game.

Five Center Directors have sought our help in grant writing because they haven't seen their boards step up. Several Center Directors have called us, concerned for the future of their Center. They are desperate to do whatever they can to preserve their programs, even to level at times of cutting their own salaries.

This is not to say that there is an absence of board effort. The boards in Milwaukee and Madison and Pittsburgh and Columbus, to name a few, are behind the success of their their Learning Center. Last week I was fortunately in the company of Joe Fennick of New Castle to meet people who have or could support his Learning Center. Joe is shining example of a board member who's fearless because of his belief in the good of his Learning Center. We all need to be like Joe if this program is to thrive in all our locations.

As you might imagine, the activity in our office as of today is somewhat quiet. In my experience, many people spend the next two weeks catching their breathe, eating too much good food and taking stock of their past year so they can resolve to improve in the coming one.

I hope your commitment in 2010 is to share our communal resolve to do anything in your capacity to sustain your Learning Center. The future of each Center hinges upon the local passion for this program. You can be assured that if you have the passion, we're ready to help.

The next nine months will be pivotal for a number of Centers. With this in mind, perhaps 2010 is a time to assess your priorities and decide that now is the time and the Learning Center is the place for you to shine in your finest hours!

The staff of Scottish Rite Charities wish you and yours a wonderful Holiday Season filled with love and good cheer!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


In the Spirit of Giving

Eri Martin knows firsthand how important the work is that our Learning Centers are doing. The twelve year old is dyslexic and has experienced the struggles that so many dyslexic students face. Since he began attending the Portland Learning Center, Eri has made remarkable gains. In his own words, "I now ENJOY reading."

Eri hasn't taken the gift our Centers provide for granted. When he learned last year that it costs $5,000 a year to tutor a child at the Learning Center, he wanted to start a service project to earn money for Portland. The student decided to raise money and community awareness for the Portland Learning Center by selling holiday ornaments.

On November 30th, he proudly presented Portland Board Chair John Berrill with a $110 check. This season Eri, once again, will be raising money for the Center by selling silver toned heart ornaments.

As Portland Director Barbara Labrecque noted, "How thankful we are for this wonderful effort from a remarkable young man!"

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ideas That Work - Holiday Edition

idea icon Dressing up the Tree with "Friends"

The Cleveland Learning Center began an effort last summer to organize a group to support the future of their Center. They named it "Friends of the Cleveland Learning Center." Creighton Bradler, of the the LC board reports that the group has about 15 founding members spanning all aspects of the LC community. "The 'Friends' has parents of our students, tutors, board members and other interested people," said Bradler.

Creighton also mentions that the group has met about 4 times. They are interested in dyslexia and its treatment as well as ways to help our Cleveland Leaning Center.

The first effort the group has made is by purchasing and selling special Holiday ornaments to benefit the Learning Center. Kathy Goebel a member of the committee was one of the leaders in this effort. She found inspiration from Quantum Ornaments in nearby Kent, OH. "I had gone to Kent for a Grand Lodge (Masonic) event and found out about [the ornaments], Goebel relates. " I thought, ' This would be a great idea for a fundraising project,' and tucked the thought away. When we were looking for a project, this seemed like the right idea." Four designs were selected including the one shown above.

As the the Season of Giving nears, the group has nearly sold out their first year supply. As a result the Friends of the Cleveland Learning Center will raise $800 for the Center. Just as important, the group that has been formed are becoming an important component of the future strength of this LC.

Good work, Friends! What a lovely idea to remind people of the children we help.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rebranding Update

Rebranding...Notes from the Board Meeting

Today, December 10, 2009 the meeting of the parent board of the Learning Center Corporation was held. For those of you who might wonder, the board was in 100% attendance at this meeting. This demonstrates the commitment these members have to the program.

One of the items covered was the progress of the rebranding research and next steps. I conveyed to the board the sometime intense opinions and observations many of you shared with me during the past 5 months. As a result, the board decided that the matter of naming and of logo design - and whether of what to change or not merits a subcommittee to make final recommendations to the board at its next meeting in June.

I am sure they will seek additional input as we take our time in this process. Thank you for your candor and advice to this point. When we resolve this issue, your voices will have played a meaningful part of our final outcome.


Next week will be the last week of postings in 2009. Please get any success stories you might want considered for the December contest to us by Friday, December 18.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone-we find it with another. "

- Thomas Merton
American Theologian

Today marks the Episcopal Church (USA) Feast of Thomas Merton. This is the anniversary of Merton's death in 1968.

Merton was a Trappist monk who lived in a Kentucky abbey. Over his life he wrote more than 70 books and is well remembered as a force of interfaith understanding worldwide.

Love takes on many faces. We work alongside each other in love of our fellow person, in the hope that, as it is with dyslexia, we can improve a life and, perhaps, the world. In this season of love, let's all remember our reasons for supporting our Learning Centers.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Ideas That Work

idea icon
Keeping "Pace" with Fundraising

Recently each board of governors received information from Joe Blanc, a volunteer from Cincinnati who is organizing a 2010 tour of Tony Pace, a Las Vegas entertainer who has wowed audiences from New Hampshire to Ohio.

Tony began his relationship with the Learning Centers three years ago when he performed in benefits for the New Hampshire Centers. The events were sold out affairs. Bill McNaughton, the Sovereign Grand Commander of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, attended the 2008 concert and felt the event was tremendously entertaining. That year Joe Blanc heard about Tony and was inspired to attempt bringing a larger "tour" together in 2009.

Those events, which occured in September, were largely successful. Akron/Canton, Cincinnati and Danville all had successful events. This is not without some risk, but I would say that for some communities this concert would be something worth considering. If you have a Valley that is active and tends to like coming out for an entertainment, if you can get the economical use of a performance space that will accommodate about 500 and if you have a body of people ready to promote (sell) tickets (remember, tickets don't sell themselves), this might be a good event for you.

One thing that recommends the tour to me is the involvement of Joe Blanc. He has been a tireless volunteer fundraiser for the Cincinnati LC as the hole LC program. He is passionate about the program and very reliable. I'll post a memo he sent to LC's to reinforce the points I've outlined at the end of this post.

The deadline for joining the tour is here, so if you are interested at all, contact Joe with questions at 513 677-2115 or 513 290-0483.
From Joe Blanc:

1) Why is it being called a Children’s Charity Tour and not a Learning Center Tour?

Fair question and the reasoning is that as we build tours with the synergy from multiple sites and this possibly lead to the point where we can get national sponsorships to assist in underwriting the cost of the tours. Calling it the “Children’s Charity Tour” also allows other Valleys and other Masonic Organizations (not in competition with Learning Centers) to join in. The long term goal is growth to maximize each of our profits. One example is that Wilmington DE. currently does not have a LC and yet they want to raise money for other children’s charities they have. So why not open it to others, it only helps each of us long term.

2) Who is Joe Blanc and what is your involvement?

I love this question and yes it is a fair question. I am Scottish Rite Mason with a passion for this cause, I am dyslexic and grew up being called "crazy lazy and stupid." I make no money from this, I just have a passion for it. I am not a concert promoter nor an event planner by profession. I do not take offense for questioning who I am, you should question my motives. So my motive is passion for the cause.


VERY Important question, and at the same time difficult to answer. I tell each LC or site to budget $15,000 which is worst case scenario I believe. Also in the costs are many items which can be donations in kind as well. For instance at Akron/Canton, all hotel rooms were free for two nights and Akron/Canton arranged to have a wonderful meal provided for Tony and Chris at Canton’s best restaurant. The Cincinnati out of pocket costs was about $11,000. This included performer costs, printing, mailing… Our three highest cost were sound (our choice to use professional sound people), our wine and cheese meet and greet post concert (works great) and of course the performer. Our in kind donations were close to $8000. We started planning in January and by March we were at a profit and still 6 months until the concert.

4) Can we contact, Danville, Akron, Canton and Fort Wayne to get their input?

Sure you can, and they all have agreed to be ambassadors to assist where they can in answering your questions.
Akron – Jim Ohlinger @ 330.833.9930. H 330.327.7096 C
Canton- Bob Parker @ 330.305.1361
Danville IL. - Allison C. Enslein, Director @ 217.446.9377 (I request you please respect her time as she is the Director)

Fort Wayne did not use it as a LC fundraise in 08. They used Tony as their fall kick off. They will expand that next year into a combo event from what I understand
Fort Wayne- Sheila Hubart 260.423.2593 ext 29

Nashua was not part of the tour but started it all with Tony and Roger agreed to be an ambassador for us as well
Nashua NH. – Roger Pellerin -603.883.7141(day) 603.883.2743 (eve)

5) What if we do not have a facility to hold this event?

Akron/Canton and Danville did not have one. Each of your cities probably have schools or other venues for a reasonable price and many have all of the sound systems and lighting you need for this event. Akron/Canton was actually cheaper then Cincinnati due to the fact that their venue had all of the needed items that Cincy had to rent. Remember if this is your first year please do not get a 2000 seat venue. Focus on filling 500 seats and WATCH IT GROW NEXT YEAR. There are many options out there for venues.

6) Why September?

September offers some advantages and disadvantages. In Cincinnati we combined the Scottish Rite Fall Kick Off (pre concert event) with the concert. During September many vacations are over, weather is still good and it comes before we get into the fall reunions. The biggest hurdles are, your boards will be active during the summer and of course many Lodges are dark. We believe we can overcome any hurdle September offers for it’s advantages. You can over come those hurdles by planning working the system January thru May.

7) Is it difficult to plan this event?

Very tough question to answer. I will say yes and no! We can make it easier. We have letters, planning outlines and artwork to assist. Tony is also putting together a promo package to assist us in our planning efforts. I have been to a number of board meetings in other cities and here is the advice I give each of them. “Stick with it,,,, you will pull your hair out one week before the concert wondering if it was worth it and the day after the concert you will call me wanting your next year date !” Here is the good part --- year two gets MUCH easier and the profits GROW! Which is why I now have the time to reach out and assist you through your worries, your joys and your ultimate success.

8) Why the December deadline?

First it is to respect Tony’s schedule so that he can work with his Las Vegas Venue. The second reason is so that we can start lining up tour stops. For instance doing Akron/Canton on a Friday or Saturday during High School Football would be nuts to do. They like their Tuesday night. We may be able to do back to back nights depending on travel. An example of that could be Fort Wayne to Indy to Danville. Here is what I request for the December deadline a commitment that you are about 80% sure you are going to do. Our target is to have a conference call with Tony and all sites in early December.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

News You Can Use

Maintaining Good Donations in Hard Times

Well, with Thanksgiving just a calorie-filled memory, we are now truly in the Holiday Season. This is the time of year when many a person's thoughts turn to love for his or her neighbor. It is after all the season of giving.

An article in the Wall Street Journal by one of "The Hub"'s favorite writers - Karen Blumenthal - suggests that the current year end may not be as generous as in years past because of the lingering economic malaise. Her piece "Tough Choice for Givers" describes 2009 as a down year for giving. The American Red Cross found that 20% of donors were scaling back donations. Even the venerable American Cancer Society has seen an 11% decline in giving.

The point of the article is to help the many people wrestling with perhaps giving less or confused as to how they might effectively give in 2009. Consider these points in your own giving. Also think how your LC could appear more donation-worthy.

  • Think like a foundation - Foundations base giving decisions on the effectiveness of the charity. What we can do: describe more fully how cost effective our program is. 100% of each dollar donated to you now goes directly to local services.
  • Make your list - List the charities you support and prioritize them. Then break the charities into tiers and give gifts based on tier. What we can do: A note now to your past donors advising them that your need is greater than ever and explaining that a gift ant last year's level (or greater) would be so important this year.
  • Look for a match - a great leverage is a donor who will match funds. If one of your charities has this, it might help your decision-making. What we can do: Do you have a past donor who might be interested? This might convince him/her to step up this year.
  • Be Selective - There are lots of scammers out there as well tele-charities that call for donations and spend that money on fundraising. Give to charities you know. What we can do: Remind our Masonic donors of the Fraternity that founded and supports our Centers and of its solemn obligation to be "on the level." Then ask in the spitit of charity for support.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Congratulations to the Nashua Learning Center for winning November's inspiration contest. Nashua's submission was written by Marie Thibodeau, a parent whose 11 year old son Nate is currently enrolled at the Center.

Center Director Aileen Cormier said she had misty eyes when she read Marie's story. "Hearing it from 'mom's' perspective just puts a different spin on things," she said.

Since enrolling in the Center in 2007, Nate has made remarkable progress. He read his first chapter book this week without prodding.

His mother was so thankful and impressed by the Orton-Gillingham methods Nate was learning that she decided to enroll in Nashua's tutor training program and become an OG certified tutor. She has almost completed her coursework in the certification process.

Nate's story, and his mother's commitment to the Center program, is truly an inspiration. Marie wrote:

Today my son, Nate, is a confident 6th grader who enjoys learning many new things and using his vivid imagination to create stories about super heroes who must face many challenges on their mission to overcome some immense foes. I think the reason Nate is so fascinated by these epic battles is that, even though he is only 11 years old, he too has already endured tremendous struggles in his quest to learn to read and write. The good news is that because of the help he has received through our local learning center, Nate finally feels like he is the victor.

Three years ago, Nate was a frustrated and hopeless student. He had hit an academic wall, and though he was an energetic and diligent child, for some mysterious reason he could not learn to read or write like his peers. Each day brought more upsets and a deepening realization that something was just not right. Nate understandably concluded, as he saw his friends begin to read chapter books and to take off educationally, that he must be a very dumb child and that there was really no point to working so hard.

For a parent this was very painful to witness, and our child’s future seemed filled with trouble. My husband and I dearly wanted to help Nate, but we simply did not know where to turn. Thus began months of work on our part as we sought answers to questions like “Why couldn’t Nate, an intelligent child learn to read?" and "Who could help us teach our child before he completely gave up trying?”

After Nate went through extensive testing we discovered that our child was dyslexic, but that without appropriate intervention he would never learn to read and write properly and consequently he would never reach his academic potential. Fortunately for us and for many others in our situation, there was an answer. We discovered the highly successful, scientifically proven Orton Gillingham method of remediation. But there was still one immense obstacle remaining in our path. How were we to afford this type of tutoring for the duration required to help Nate attain mastery? We knew it was going to take years of hard work, many times each week, and that unfortunately the cost of tutoring was prohibitive to everyone except the very wealthy.

It would be difficult to adequately describe our tremendous relief when we discovered the Nashua Learning Center. This charitable organization had for years been using the Orton Gillingham method to not only help children like our son become competent readers and successful students but they had been doing it at no cost to the families they were assisting. This was nothing short of a miracle to our large family of 7 children.

Nate has been fortunate enough to attend the Learning Center for more than two years. He started out far below grade level but now he is reading and writing almost as well as many of his peers. Nate knows that he will always struggle with his dyslexia, but he also knows that through the dedicated staff at the Center he has been given amazing tools for his journey and that he can attain victory in his quest to read and write successfully.

One final note concerning the Nashua Learning Center and its effect in our community: over the years they have helped hundreds of families like ours, but their mission is even more amazing and far reaching than this; through an intensive training program offered at no charge to the teachers, the Center also trains teachers to use the Orton Gillingham method of remediation so that more and more children every year can be reached with the help they so desperately need. My family has seen first hand how powerful this help can be and because of this I am now in the process of becoming an Orton Gillingham tutor. Someday soon I too hope to make a difference in the lives of children like my son.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Ideas That Work

idea icon
Giving Two Times During the Holidays

As you know the New York Times is often a source of ideas for our Thursday "News you can Use" column. November 11th an article ran that was destined for the end of the week segment...until I spoke to Don Murphy, the Valley Secretary for Pittsburgh.

The article, "Dollars That Turn Into Bees, and Other Gifts Given Twice",was a very interesting piece about how both giving and Holiday shopping are expected to be down this year - and how some individuals and organizations have devised cool strategies to give in ways that honor or benefit someone on your gift list.

Ideas described include donating bees to a developing community in honor of a loved one to giving a membership to the local art museum to an art lover.

These are good and worthy ideas. In regards to our Learning Centers, I wrote in Northern Light a couple of years back about the Vaughtiers who gave a Builders Council membership to their daughter's grandfather. A 33rd degree Mason from Harrisburg, he suggested the Learning Center as a way to help his granddaughter's reading troubles. The daughter is now a successful college graduate.

I had just read the Times article when I spoke to Murphy about his Valley's Hiram's Scottish Rite Riders Motorcycle Group. The Riders have been a tremendous advocate of the Pittsburgh Learning Center. We were discussing their 2009 Motorcycle Raffle, which raised a lot of money.

"Steve," Don said, " the group is already working the next raffle for a new bike. They were promoting the raffle entries as great stocking stuffers!"

I called Bill Roberts, a member of the club. Not only was this true, but apparently the idea has been pretty successful. "We sold a bunch of tickets at our last Valley event," relates Roberts. "We've also put our a number of order forms to get tickets around the bike. I've had to restock our supply of order forms. People keep taking them."

This is a great way to promote our Learning Centers as show our loved ones we care. Can you promote something similarly to benefit your LC? It may be tight for this year but it is and inspired way to give twice!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

News You Can Use

Bad Charity, Just in Time for the Holidays

'Tis the season when humanity's heart warms most toward the condition of one's neighbor. Unfortunately swindlers know this and seek to take advantage of our empathy of guilt.

Take for example this case found in the New York Times...

The New York State Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo, has filed a complaint over the practices of the
United Homeless Organization, citing that among other things, the organization:
"...does not operate a single shelter, soup kitchen or food pantry. It does not provide food or clothing to the homeless. It does not even donate money to other charities that do."
Apparently the group's founders pocketed most of the money donated to the organization through cash gift tables set up on street corners throughout the boroughs of NYC. In other cases workers paid the founders daily usage fees for the tables, aprons and large donation jugs and they kept the remainder of donations.

The organization was not a certified charity and maintained no financial records.

While hearing this type of story is sad, it should not shake our charitable nature. Rather, we should be more aware of the places we donate. Are they good stewards of my generosity? ( We know the Learning Centers are.)

Last year TimeOut New York fielded a question about UHO and ran an answer. At the end, Katie Martin, New York Philanthropic Advisory Service program manager for the Better Business Bureau was quoted and said," If you want to help [the] needy but find this whole thing fishy (it doesn’t help that UHO’s website is nonfunctional), consider donating to more-established organizations like Help USA ( and Project Renewal ( )."

I'll bet there are other locally vetted organizations in your town who also do great work. This is the season to give. Let your heart be joyous.

Happy Thanksgiving from everyone at Scottish Rite Charities.


For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill.
The eyes of all people are upon us.

- John Winthrop
1st Governor of the
Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1630

This is perhaps the most famous quotation of any of the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which, famously, was officially settled by the Pilgrims in 1620. That fateful and ultimately successful experiment began a wholesale settlement of the region by the English over the subsequent years. John Winthrop, who was a Puritan was commissioned by Oliver Cromwell's court to preside over the territory as governor. He served on and off in this post for nearly 2 decades.

The importance of this quotation, part of a longer sermon to his shipmates upon the near conclusion of their voyage to theirs new home, was that it has become the primary citation of an idea known as American Exceptionalism. This idea promotes the view that America is uniquely enbued among nations with qualities and gifts that make it special. This is a notion later expanted by Alexis de Tocqueville and recently remembered in the words of President Ronald Reagan.

In a way we can metaphorically look upon our Learning Centers as "institutions upon hills." We inside each Center occurs exceptional things - uniquely successful to children in need. And, as then, the eyes of our communities are upon us. Will we let our Centers fail? Indeed not.

(For a great book about Winthrop and his contemporaries, you might look for The Wordy Shipmates, by Sarah Vowell.)

Ideas That Work

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A Post-event Fund Booster

There are a lot of ways to boost the return on events. One way that is relatively inexpensive and is effective has been pioneered by Joe Fennick, supporting the Walk event they hold each October.

Last year, Joe had a goal of exceeding the previous year's fundraising. By the end of the Walk however, that goal was not attained. Joe noticed that a number of people who supported the previous event, had not stepped forward. Undaunted, Joe sent a letter to those past donors as well as fellow 33rd Degree Masons. In the letter, he described the event and the enthusiasm of the day, described the fundraising goal and its importance and asked one last time for their support.

The letter was very successfull, raising about $2,000 in additional donations. The event exceeded its goal!

You could employ a similar strategy for nearly any fundraising event. Giving a picked group "one last chance" to join in supporting the event may be just what you need to meet your financial goals.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

News You Can Use

Galas Dispense With Some of the Froth

With America in the midst of a recession, charities are cutting back on opulent fundraisers in lieu of more casual events, according to a recent New York Times article.

The article cites examples from several of New York’s upscale charity functions. (You can read the article here.)

Some of these charities and their cost-cutting measures may be out of our league, like the charity that saved $25,000 by omitting the draping from its party tent ceiling. But there’s still plenty of useful information to be gleaned from the article.

Replacing a multi-member band with a DJ, settling for simpler or artificial flower arrangements and reverting to a family style dinner instead of an elaborate three-course meal are all good ideas for cutting back. The article also mentioned looking for sponsorship donations from restaurants and wineries to reduce catering costs.

“(The recession is) bringing us back, and forcing us to be more creative,” said Frank Alexander, who created the d├ęcor for the Central Park Conservancy’s Halloween Ball this year. “This whole thing has been a learning experience.”

If you’re worried about drawing your usual numbers for your annual gala, or are looking for some guidence before throwing your first upscale event, check out the full article.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Happy birthday, Mickey!
“I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.” -Walt Disney

Today is the 81st anniversary of the release of Steamboat Willie, the first animated film featuring synchronized sound. The date is also recognized by the Walt Disney Company as the birth of Mickey Mouse.

Few may realize that the beloved mouse and his famous creator have a Masonic connection. Disney was a member of the original Mother Chapter of DeMolay in Kansas City, and he later authorized Mickey to be named an honorary DeMolay. In 1986, 20 years after his death, Disney was inducted into the first class of the DeMolay Hall of Fame.

Disney faced several setbacks before achieving success. Although bright, he was labeled slow by some of his teachers due to his lack of attention in class. In 1923, he was forced to file for bankruptcy after being cheated by a distributor. And it was actually the loss of the rights to an earlier character he had developed which led to the creation of Mickey Mouse.

Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse have brought joy to millions. You can read more about Mickey’s career here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ideas That Work

idea icon Making Connections

West Michigan Center Director Nina Gorak is thinking outside the box when it comes to seeking support for her Center. Over the past few months, she has used connections to get thousands of dollars worth of services donated to West Michigan.

"Wherever I go, whoever I talk to, I just talk about the Learning Center," Nina said. “Whenever someone mentions ‘Gee, maybe I can contribute through this or that’ I make a note, and I follow up on it.”

For the Center’s recent Halloween Dinner and Dance fundraiser, she was able to get pro-bono work from several people and organizations in the community. Looking for help with designing the fundraiser’s print materials, she sent an email to one of her tutors who teaches art. Nina simply asked the tutor if she knew anyone willing to do some artwork for the event, and the tutor connected her to Deidre Wieszciecinski and Jennifer Maine, two recent graduates of Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University. The graphic artists agreed to donate their services, creating the flyers, save-the-date cards and programs at no charge. They also recruited members of Kendall's branch of the American Institute of Graphic Artists, a student organization, to create the ballroom decor.

"The students of that club took this on as a project," Nina said. "They created
folded book decorations, including hanging folded book ornaments around a lighted paper chandelier over the ballroom dance floor. We used large folded books as centerpieces. The decorations were perfect to create our Halloween ball atmosphere."

The connections go on. Obtaining a liquor license for the event brought seemingly endless red tape, but Nina was able to enlist the help of a lawyer who serves on the Center’s Board of Governors. The photographer for the event, Heather Dixon, was a high school friend of a West Michigan tutor. The professional photographer offered her time and services for no charge.

West Michigan’s donated services don’t end with the Halloween fundraiser. When she wanted to set up an online donation system for her Center, Nina checked with the vendor who repairs her computers. He put her in touch with Shelly Gies, an insurance company manager who does web design on the side. The designer agreed to create the site without charging for her services. She set up PayPal for online donations and even designed the site’s logo. The total cost for the finished site was $55, which included registering the domain name and purchasing the website template and stock photos of children and tutors. You can check out West Michigan’s website at

Perhaps one of the most valuable connections has resulted in production of a promotional video for the Center. Larry Taunt, Chairman and CFO of Regal Financial Group, serves as Nina and her husband’s investment manager. In a conversation with him about her work, Nina learned that Larry’s partner at Regal has dyslexia. Although the business already supports a successful fundraising campaign for cystic fibrosis, he offered to see what he could do to help. The connection led to Regal offering to film and produce a promotional DVD for the Center using the business’s new production studio.

“For someone to rent the facilities and staff would cost $15,000 per hour,” Nina said. “The staff there has put in days of work. I couldn’t even begin to estimate what the cost would have been.”

Connections also came in handy when Nina needed qualified individuals to speak on the DVD. Several board members will be featured, including Board Chair Dr. James Resau, a microbiologist & geneticist at Van Andel Institute, Vice Chair Dr. Steven Pastyrnak, division chief of pediatric psychology at DeVos Children's Hospital, and board member Dr. Wendy Burdo Hartman, a pediatrician whose daughter has dyslexia. Anita Smith and her daughter Jennifer, a West Michigan graduate whose book Dyslexia Wonders was published this year, will also be speaking, along with Nina and former student Jeffrey Drake-Todd.

The video will explain dyslexia, tell what the Center does to help and end with an appeal for donations to support the program. It should be completed by the end of this year.

There’s no secret to seeing results like West Michigan.
“I just asked,” Nina said.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

News You Can Use

The James Irvine Foundation in cooperation with the Chronicle of Philanthropy just released a new report entitled, Convergence: How Five Trends Will Reshape the Social Sector. This report describes the coming years as being very challenging for organizations that try to maintain status quo in their approach to their market and their worlds. The trends as described in the study and summarized by the Chronicle are:

Shifting demographics. With new generations making up a growing share of the work force, charities must learn to share leadership with younger workers, the report says.

Technological advances. Social-media technologies provide charities the opportunity to gain greater exposure, but they also require groups to be comfortable giving more people within their organization a chance to speak out.

New ways to collaborate. With the advent of new technologies, organizations can just as easily work with an individual located across the world as they can through traditional coalitions and alliances, according to the report.

Greater interest in service. Last year’s presidential election spurred interest in volunteerism, but nonprofit groups need to keep in mind that people have many different reasons for volunteering and ought to tailor their opportunities to individuals’ interests.

Blurred lines between nonprofit and for-profit. Greater emphasis on corporate social responsibility and the emergence of businesses whose primary aim is to do good are challenging the nonprofit field’s traditional identity but are also creating opportunities for new partnerships and collaboration, says the report.

This monograph is a must read for our boards and staff. When you read this, take an honest eye to your board and the way you do business. Are you integrating youth into your leadership? Is social-media technology (or even email) facilitating communication with in the board and to your universe of stakeholders? Are you operating from silos of one-person, one task or collaborating to maximize your strengths for the events or activities you do for your LC? Are you assertively seeking new volunteers on their terms? Are you willing to explore ways to build revenue in addition to charitable donations?

Please discuss among your boards.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


"A competent leader can get efficient service from poor troops, while on the contrary an incapable leader can demoralize the best of troops."

-General John J. Pershing

Today is Veterans Day (or Armistice Day or Remembrance Day, depending upon your nationality or preference). It is a day made solemn by the sacrifices of millions of American sons and daughters, among the world's multitudes - a time to reflect and appreciate the freedoms and opportunities their measures of courage have protected for us to enjoy. This day of honor is especially poignant this year as we morn those soldiers massacred at Ft. Hood last week. To all our vets, Thank You!

General John J. Pershing, a Mason, was the commander of American forces during World War I. His troops' victories in the Second Battle of the Marne and the Argonne have been marked as critical to the ultimate victory of Allied forces in the "War to End All Wars."

I take from this quote Pershing's understanding that the quality of our leadership ability has a profound impact upon our outcomes. As leaders of our Learning Centers we must all ask ourselves,"Am I serving as a competent leader of my Center? Am I inspiring others to do all they can do? Or, am I showing ambivalence and disinterest that is leading my Learning Center nowhere?"

Demonstrating leadership, event modest leadership, can work wonders. As board members and staff, it behooves us to remember that.

Nuts and Bolts

Grant Update
In recent months we have noticed some of the same grant questions and issues coming up that we’d like to address. We have included an explanation of how to handle confusing budget questions, a GrantAID update and a reminder of time constraints when preparing a grant.
Please feel free to call or email anytime. We’re here to help.

The Corporate Umbrella
Operating under the corporation’s 501 (c) 3 can pose a challenge for individual Centers applying for grants. A yearly audit is done for the entire corporation (32nd Degree Masonic Learning Centers for Children, Inc.) but not for individual Centers. Many grant applications ask for budget information, revenue, etc. from the audited financial statements, but including these numbers can be confusing and seem inflated because they pertain to the entire corporation.
Our solution for this has been to contact the foundation directly and ask if they want the corporate numbers or data from the individual Center. If you need more explanation, please contact us.

LOI Changes
We have made another change to the GrantAID Kit. The last three paragraphs of the Letter of Intent have been updated to reflect funding changes. You can download the updated Letter of Intent (LOI 2009) from the Learning Center website here (scroll down the page to view the GrantAid documents).

Please be aware of the time frame if you need assistance with preparing a grant.We are always willing to help, but please respect the fact that we are supporting 55 Learning Centers. As a result, we may not be able to accommodate last minute calls for help. Starting to work with us 90 days before a proposal is due assures our ability to best help you. If you are caught in a last minute rush, consider whether waiting for the next funding cycle is possible. You may stand a better chance for success by waiting until the next grant cycle than by throwing together a rushed proposal.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Thoughts on Ultimate Giving

Gender and Bequests

It has been assumed for years that women are the most common donor of bequests, but a study just released sheds new light on the differences and motivations of bequest donors by gender.

The study, conducted by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) find that contrary to current thought, men and women are just as likely to make charitable provisions in the wills. Their motivations at times are similar, in others, different.

The study states that about 15% of adults have included charities in their estate plans. Factors that increase the likelihood of this include religious participation, age and marital status. The highest likeliness is among single people who are between 40 and 64 that attend services once a week.

Differences are subtle. Women are more likely to be motivated by helping those in need. Men are most likely to support causes that they have had a personal relationship with. Both genders are motivated by the effectiveness of the charity.

What we can learn from this is that we have an opportunity with bequest giving from our Masonic board members and volunteers. The tool to use is the Cornerstone Society, the planned gift donor club of Scottish Rite Charities. The points that will motivate these male members would be reminding them of their association with Freemasonry and the Learning Centers. Also important to reinforce the effectiveness of the LCs and how it helps kids who have few or no alternatives.

If you are interested in reading more the study can be found here. If you need Cornerstone Society brochures contact the SRC offices at 781-465-3326.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


This month’s inspiration contest winner was the Lancaster Learning Center. (For contest details click here.)
The account below, submitted by Lancaster board member Joy Smith Linton, was written by former student Jonathan Celli, who graduated from the Center in May 2006. Now 16, he presented his story at a Center fundraiser in October.
Jonathan received his 3 years of tutoring from Lancaster Center Director Michael Hall. "Jonathan is a very gifted young man," Michael said. "What I did was organize and scaffold the information already in his head so he could access it."
Jonathan prepared his address to help others understand the Center from a student's perspective. His ability to see his dyslexia as a gift is a testament to our Centers' life changing work.
"What is dyslexia? Is it a problem, a disability, or an obstacle that just stands in the way? Without the 32 degree Masonic Learning Center, my answer would be that it is all three; with your help, the answer to this question is quite simple, it is a gift.
You may be familiar with some others who had the gift of dyslexia: Thomas Edison, who left formal schooling after three months to be home schooled by his mother; or Albert Einstein, who left school at age 10. Unhappy with the school's program, he turned to a course of personal study.
I can understand that. My local public school system saw me as someone to be retained. Unlike Edison and Einstein, I had the Lancaster Learning Center, which saw me as someone to be re-trained. I needed retraining because when I began formal reading instruction I was not able to understand the teacher's approach. The methods used assumed things, like an ability to recognize rhyming words... and to do that, you must be able to distinguish differences between letter sounds... some of us just didn't come wired that way! Dyslexia did not negatively impact my intelligence, it just enables me to think differently. All dyslexics are different, which means we must be taught to read one on one. That kind of individualization is not a school's strong point either.
Dyslexia does, in fact, present itself as a challenge, but not a challenge that cannot be overcome if you receive one on one instruction and work with teachers trained in methods that meet the needs of the learner. I did receive help from some other organizations and teachers, but when I encountered the Masonic Learning Center something changed. Not only did the program bring me up to grade level, it increased the speed of my reading and also helped me to understand the material as a whole. When I completed the program I left not only with improved reading skills, but also with an opportunity to fulfill my dreams. This program gives those of us with dyslexia a new beginning and a chance to achieve goals that had seemed unattainable. It unlocks minds with wonderful potential that can benefit both the student and the community.
This summer I spent almost two weeks at Villanova University as part of the National Youth Leadership Forum in Medicine. Those students invited to attend have demonstrated an aptitude for, and an interest in, the field of medicine. The Masons' investment in my learning to read was the key that opened that door for me. I am not yet sure that a career in medicine is for me, but I am sure that whatever path I choose, it will have been paved by the generosity and efforts of others like you - Masons who are building a better tomorrow one child
at a time.
I will begin regularly volunteering for the Center in November because I want to assist you in providing an opportunity for others to get the help I know they so desperately need. I have also walked in all but one of the Center's walk-a-thons... and I only missed that one due to a school commitment. I will be there tomorrow to once again support you in your efforts to build. I stand here before you as proof of what this program can do. I only hope that I have helped you to see the possibilities and hope you give to children with dyslexia."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

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"Room" for Fund-raising Success

I have heard from a number of Learning Center board members and staff concerned about long term funding of their Centers. Some folks have spoken to me and the SRC team here about how to, "raise the 100,000 we'll need in three years." While I appreciate the fact that these are really fluid times and it looks likes the best solution is a home run to keep the doors open in a couple of years, it is more productive (and more likely to be successful) seeking support over a few years, rather than only one.

Here is an innovative example of this philosophy at work in Bangor:

The Bangor Learning Center is moving into a new space after having lost their home in the Masonic building several years ago when a fire burned it down. The fund-raising committee of the Bangor board considered how to "sell the training rooms" to raise additional funds to cover their costs in 2010 and beyond.

There was one drawback with this idea - the board did not believe they could dedicate the rooms for enough of a donation to merit a perpetual naming opportunity.

Instead the folks in Bangor agreed to take a different approach. They decided to seek named sponsorship of each training room in exchange for a 4-year pledge of $12,000. With 8 training rooms, the $24,000 per year this program can generate is a solid addition to the Center's annual events and major gifts efforts.

The program is seeing success. Several sponsors have already committed to the program. The long-term visibility and impact this sponsorship has is a very attractive inducement to larger possible donors.

The Bangor Center is new, but that doesn't mean you can't initiate a similar sponsorship program for you Center, regardless its age. Contact me if you want some advice.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

News You Can Use

Now that's a Walk!

We are just about coming to the conclusion of this year's dyslexia walks. In some communities our walks have been very successful. However, it never hurts to imagine bigger. So to lift our sights, consider the Crop Hunger Walk, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
In 1969, an ecumenical group of several Bismark, ND churches came together for an event to take a stand against hunger in our world raising awareness and funds for international relief and development, as well as local hunger needs.

The first event was humble, but the idea fired peoples passions. The idea spread across the nation. This year more than 2,000 Crop Hunger Walks are taking place, raising about $17,000,000!

Few enterprises are this successful overnight. Consistency and persistence contribute mightily to longterm success. Maybe our walks haven't raised $17,000,000 this year. We are mere babes when compared to this old-timer. But we can reach higher - one step at a time.

Read more about the Crop Hunger Walk in the LA Times.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother; be never so vile. This day shall gentle his condition. And gentlemen in England now abed shall think themselves accursed they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day. "

-William Shakespeare
Henry V

October 25 is St. Crispen's Day and is the anniversary of English King Henry V's defeat of a much larger French army at Agincourt in 1415.

The victory against overwhelming odds inspired The Bard to pen this moving speech for his drama. It is a fitting call to arms for any band of "warriors" who have a challenging task that can only be accomplished by teamwork and selflessness.

Well, we band of brothers and sisters, we have a worthy effort in our Learning Centers. If we work as one and confidently apply ourselves to the needs of our Centers, we can overcome anything. Our purpose is great and our results are life-changing.

Saints Crispen and Crispinian were themselves brothers and third century evangelists from Gaul, martyred in Rome in 286AD. They are, among other things, the patron saints of lace makers. You can read more about them here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ideas That Work

Board Leadership and "Skin in the Game"

Last week in my rebranding post I wrote that my recent survey of chairs of our boards of governors garnered 29 responses. I went on to snipe a little about the 26 chairs who didn't respond, going so far as to opine that, "these are always the same Centers."

Well this small comment provoked a passionate response from one chair. While I don't think the chair's identity furthers the point, I will share with you key points of the message:

"This [the rebranding process] is one of the turning points in the Learning Center’s history that could have a positive or negative impact. The decision made in a few weeks will be with us for at least a decade or two, so it must be acceptable and workable to entice donors, future students, applicants for the scholars program, etc...."

"The purpose of this email is to say 29 Learning Centers out of 55 participating in the survey is not acceptable with something this important. This is the future of our Learning Centers and must be taken seriously... I am truly frustrated with this high number of non-responses."
This chair gets it. Unfortunately, I fear we are risking our program in places where our leadership may be complacent or ambivalent.

To our surprise, over the past two months, I and members of my staff have fielded a number of calls from Center Directors. They are calling in great distress because they believe their Learning Centers are being driven into the ground (and out of existence) because their boards are doing little or nothing to secure their financial needs. These directors have sought and continue to seek guidance and any advice and support we can give them so they could save their Centers.

This situation, while troubling, is by no means universal. In fact, a good number of our Centers' boards are very active, creative and committed. I think immediately of Columbus, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Nashua, and Central New York, to name only a few. But truly, there are others at risk.

In hindsight, we might have developed the funding system for the Learning Centers differently. The system that was in place through last year, with little reward for extraordinary activity and little punishment for inactivity by local boards, has contributed to the weakness now evident in the boards of some Centers. With a change of funding that is the rule for the foreseeable future, this weakness is dangerous. The Center Directors who've called believe they see this problem in their boards and are truly distraught.

Commander John William McNaughton often talks about people who have "skin in the game." He defines this as visceral commitment to any project. Center Directors are deeply involved in the activities of the Centers. That is why they are among the most concerned - often going above and beyond because they can't abide with the idea of their Learning Center closing.

As a board member, ask yourself, "Do I have skin in the game? Am I willing to do whatever it takes, whatever is within my ability, to assure that these children with dyslexia will still have a Learning Center next year and beyond?"

If so, the time for action is now. What your Center needs now is more - more local funds, more quality individuals who can share the load, more communication to the general community about who we are and what we do. Here are 5 things every committed board member can (and should) do to secure the future of YOUR Learning Center:
  • Participate vigorously in the business of your Learning Center, attending meetings and Center events
  • Speak to a service group using the DVD and guide provided by Scottish Rite Charities
  • Identify 2 people whose involvement in the Learning Center would help improve its financial success
  • Donate to your Learning Center as if this is one of you closest charitable priorities
  • Ask 3-5 people to join you in financial support of your Learning Center at a personally generous level
If you are willing to do all you can do, you can rely on the fact that those of us in Lexington supporting the Learning Center program will provide you all the support and advice at our disposal.

If you are not, you may be placing your Learning Center and the children who rely on it at risk.

Please add comments to this posting. This is a critical issue that deserves our discussion.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

News You Can Use

Look Folks, We're not doing too Bad

It seems that articles that describe the impact the current (or recent) economic slump and its effect on charities are coming our regularly. I noted this one form the Hartford Business Journal.

A recent interview with an executive from the United Way described a survey conducted in central and northeastern Connecticut herein one in three charity executives expressed concern that their program would have to close.

What Susan Dunne of the UW sees is the economy has caused many donors to cut funding, while demand for many services has increased. She estimates that perhaps 1,900 jobs are at risk.

While this might bode ill for all charities, I think this can remind us that our position is not nearly that bad. Consider our blessings:
  • Our overhead is minimal. Most non-profits have to raise funds for administration and overhead, increasing their challenge. Because of our Centralized model, each Center is only raising direct case funds, lowering our overall need.
  • We are not reliant upon governmental aid. The article states that direct donations account for only 20% of the organizations' income. A lot comes from local and state governmental sources, which are really unstable in this economy.
  • Most of these organizations have little or no reserve. Our history of raising Board Restricted Funds gives many LCs a cushion to protect us from the severe potential economic environment.
  • The Scottish Rite Benevolent Foundation provided a $60,000 front end infusion of funds. In the rest of the non-profit world, this would be a god-send.

Yeah, things aren't as they were. But they are a lot better than what most non-profits are facing. Our hurdles are lower than most. All we have to do is take flight.


"...with the purchase of this cookbook you have helped to change children's lives by opening the world of reading to them."

-from Our Most Loved Recipes
Youngstown Learning Center

We eat, drink and sleep this program!

In 2006, I participated in a series of training sessions to provide support to the boards of our Learning Centers. One session was held in New Castle, PA. Evelyn Dearing, then Chair of the Youngstown board of directors described a new fundraising program they had completed - a cookbook with lots of local recipes and even a section in the back where the students contributed recipes and stories of their success. I bought a copy. It has been a fixture in our Lexington office since then.

Well the team at Scottish Rite Charities from time to time peruse this book. Someone came up with the idea, "Why don't we have a pot luck luncheon using only recipes from this book?" Well, This Monday was the day. Bridget stated us off in the morning with Apple Pecan Muffins (page 165). I made started lunch Crab Bisque (page 57). Our main menu consisted of Chicken Roll-ups (page 138) and Broccoli Salad (page 48) made by Maryann and Bacon Cheese Potato Skins (page 20) courtesy of Leslie. Catherine provided Pumpkin Cake (page 203) for dessert. If that wasn't enough, Bridget completed the feast by making Cookie Dough Brownies (page 241) which came highly recommended as it was a blue ribbon winner at the Canfield Fair.

Lunch, which for this staff is usually cold sandwiches or leftovers eaten over the keyboard, was transformed Monday into something wonderful. We took our time together to talk and laugh and relish the tasty treats our friends in Youngstown collected to benefit our work to help children with dyslexia.

In the midst of the effort we are making to secure the future of our Learning Centers, its easy to overlook the joy we should all take from our successes and the people who work with us. Please keep that in mind as you help your Center. Take a moment and smile. The transformations you are making possible today are inspirational.

And if you need any more help, you can find the Cookie Dough Brownie recipe that launched us into sugar induced bliss here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rebranding Update

Rebranding...The Votes are in

There is a book recently published titled: The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations. The book, written by James Surowiecki, posits that the knowledge, perspective and experience of many can under certain circumstances contribute to better thinking than can the work of a few.

The rebranding process may well prove to be an example of this belief in work.

First, let me thank the many of you who have to date offered your advice to this process. Your suggestions were offered with sincerity and varying levels of passion.

Ultimately, 29 of 55 boards responded to my survey request (it's always the same ones that don't respond). This is what can be concluded:

- There is widespread concern over the name "Cornerstone." This concern includes:
  • Competition with a college and national evangelical ministry
  • Abandonment of our Masonic heritage
  • Lack of uniqueness in the name
Additionally, usage of "tutoring" over "center" is a concern in Pennsylvania where efforts are underway to be included in a state funding program that does not support tutoring centers.

- The name 32nd Degree Masonic Learning Centers is very unwieldy. While several LC boards have stated a preference to keep this name, a number of those don't use the full name in their public communication.

- The issue about keeping the bear logo is contentious. The discussion can be summed up by the conversation I had at a LC board meeting a couple weeks ago. The board members who were Masons strongly supported the bear logo and could not understand the suggestion that it does not reflect the age range of our users nor that older boys might find it embarrassing. They were quite surprised when the board member whose teenage son graduated the program explained that as much as the boy regarded the program he "would not leave his house" wearing the bear.

So the logo dilemma remains one of internal, largely Masonic esteem for the bear and utility of the logo when directed at external audiences.

As a result of this entirely healthy discussion, your collective intelligence has moved the rebranding process - we will NOT use "Cornerstone" in our name. Furthermore, unless circumstances in Pennsylvania change categorically against our efforts to qualify for their state funding program, we will no longer consider "Tutoring" in our name.

Now we have 4 new choices based on the recommendations forwarded to us over the past 2 weeks. Please let us know your thoughts:

a. 32nd Degree Masonic Learning Centers for Children
b. Scottish Rite Dyslexia Centers
c. Scottish Rite Centers for Children with Dyslexia
d. Compass Centers for Children with Dyslexia

I have asked each Board Chair to respond, but please feel free to comment (let us know your LC)

Further more, we recommend the development of a new logo for public consumption, but would continue to use the bear as a symbol of Masonic support of the Learning Centers.

What do you think?
a. I think that makes sense
b. I disagree. Here's why:

As we continue to profess through this blog, your input makes our charity smarter and stronger. On behalf of us all, thanks for your participation.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

News You Can Use

Give.. You'll feel like a Million Bucks

This posting comes from the new book by Dr. Thomas J. Stanley, the author of The Millionaire Next Door. His new book is, Stop Acting Rich…And Start Living Like a Real Millionaire. In it Stanley breaks down the difference between how we think millionaires act and consume and how the majority of them really do act.

There appear to be a number of very relevant observations in this book (which I have not read, but now intend to). The most salient to me is the statistic Dr. Stanley presents that millionaires are more apt to give 10% of their income to charity. Apparently, there is a relationship between this habit and the avoidance of "impediments to wealth," which the author defines as expensive homes, cars, designer clothing and such.

Another tidbit from this book is that 25% of millionaires living in houses of less than $300,000 gave away 10% of their income annually. Of those living in houses of $1,000,000 or more the percent that were this generous was 25% less.

Furthermore Stanley's research finds that those who gave away 10% or more recorded that they were happier than the group as a whole.

The book also points to educators as a surprisingly robust source of millionaire. About 385,000 of our teachers have reached the status of millionaire. In short, the book sems to say that living prudently and finding joy in what you give to others is the roadmap to wealth and happiness.

Good advice!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


"How lonely it must be for a boy not to have a man to talk with, or a man to provide some type of inspiration and direction."

-Frank S. Land
Founder, DeMolay International

October 12 marked the birthday in 1244 of Jacques DeMolay, the best known prior of the Knights Templar and the Order's historic martyr.

The Knights Templar were one of several martial orders predominantly organized to seize and protect the Holy Land and Christian interests in the Middle East and elsewhere, to protect pilgrims and to convey financing of the noblity of Europe who when on Crusades.

DeMolay saw work in Acre, but rose prominently on the island of Cypress where the Knights Templar had a strong fortification.

The strength of the Templars truly was amplified by their role as fiduciaries for kings seeking to "liberate" the cities of the Holy Land. This power became their downfall as Phillippe IV of France became heavily indebted to them. During the schism of the Catholic Church in the 14th Century, a Papacies was seated at Avignon, France. This Pope - Clement - was considered by many to be under the control of King Charles. On Friday, October 13, 1307 Jacques DeMolay was arrested and most Templars hunted down and all Order property confiscated under seemingly trumped up charges of heresy and scandal. The elderly Prior was tortured. He ultimately confessed and urged his Templars to confess as well. In 1312 the Order was abolished. The following year, DeMolay, now having spent almost six years imprisoned, was sentenced for life. He then recanted his confession and was burnt at the stake the following year.

This is the story of chivalry and courage that inspired nine boys, encouraged to start a club based on improvement and camaraderie by Mason Edwin S. Land in 1919, to choose the name "DeMolay."

Though our effort differs greatly from the one prompted by "Dad" Land, we could easily restate his quote:
How lonely it must be for a child not to have the ability to read or effectively write, no comprehension of our bounty of written resources to provide some type of inspiration and direction."

Now, as then, Masons and like-minded people are working together to help our future generations.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ideas That Work

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Another Walk Idea...

Note: I am taking a week's break from discussing the rebranding process. I gave the board of governors' chairs until this Wednesday to respond to the survey in that was featured last week. I received a number of well-thought responses. I still have yet to receive response from roughly half the board chairs and hope they will respond by tomorrow. Remember if you don't respond, you will have to abide by decisions made from the input of others.

This time of year is the typical conducting our dyslexia walks. It amazes me that the walks are currently in their sixth year of operation. As with any event proposed for use in many locations, it is successful in some places and not the best thing in others. As with any event, a successful walk relies on enthusiastic volunteers, a decent body of people who will sponsor the event and participate in it, and a manageable site to hold it.

There are a lot of walk-type events. In some cities there are so many that gaining a foothold may seem impossible. Fortunately, there are ways to tweak the walk so it reaches a slightly different audience. Also there is an almost infinite universe of special events that might better suit you.

In this case the Waterbury Learning Center's volunteers successfully tweaked the model.

Chairman of the Waterbury LC, Charles Yohe, write and explained how the in the Hartford area, they decided to conduct a Walk/Run:

"The Valley of Hartford, AASR decided they wanted to do something on an annual basis in support of the Learning Center and the chairman of the Family Life committee, who is a 5K participant decided that they should do something different from a Family Life perspective. So, on July 25, 2009, the first ever 5K Race/Walk was sponsored by Valley of Hartford in Newington, CT. One hundred forty-eight runners took part in this first year event and all expressed a desire to come back and bring their friends along next year. We even had a runner from San Francisco, CA who was visiting in the area.

"The total donation to the Learning Center after expenses came out to almost $4800. This was due in large part to the generous support of sponsors and the donations of food items for the participants. I donated my sound system, music and support as a mobile DJ and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. We had support from the DeMolay as well as spouses and family members. There was also a Child ID event on site as well.

"The event chair told me that he was contacted by the owner of a weight loss clinic who was going to encourage his clients (50+) to come and walk. The entrance fee was $15 per person and we had a professional chip timing system which we leased for the day. The plan is to make this a yearly event close to the last Saturday in July (2010 is July 24th). The local police and EMTs were on hand and were very complimentary on how well the event was run. The town of Newington has several 4'x8' billboards to announce various items of interest and gave the AASR the free use of one of these billboards in the center of town.

"So, in additon to the Walk for Dyslexia Awareness, we now have a 5K Run/Walk. We've already held one 'post mortem'/advance planning session for next year's event, with another session scheduled for October 18th. The current plan is to lease the timing equipment for the next 2 years and then purchase our own system which can then be leased out to other organizations who are holding 5K or 10K races. A timing system basically pays for itself in 3 years, even if it is not leased to others."
Great work! As a fundraiser for two hospitals, I organized Run/Walk events. They are generally successful in bringing more people to the event if you advertise the run in running publications and web sites ( and are 2 well known sites). Walkers and sponsors are really the reliable sources for funds, but an event with a good crowd keep the excitement high and brings people back year after year.

Remember too that scheduling is essential. If there is a huge walk or race already scheduled for the day you want, you might give the established event the date. Chances are your walk/run will suffer from the competition.

Please send me any innovations you have used to help your walk event succeed. This spring we may host a webinar incorporating your good ideas.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

News You Can Use

Taking loss in perspective

I write this after having read an article about recent decisions at Harvard. Bloomberg News recently reported that Harvard Management Co., the endowment investment arm of the Ivy League school is in the process of jettisoning a number of their outside investment managers.

It appears Harvard is retrenching after its recent experience in the market. Last year the Harvard endowment lost 27 % of its value, a really huge drop that has serious implications for is current and near term plans.

Over the years, Harvard has been pointed to as an example of how to invest. They bragged a sixfold return from 1990 to 2005. Over the fiscal year ended June 30, their endowment lost $10 billion. Yes, BILLION.

This loss, combined with the very illiquid nature of many of their investments, has put unusual pressure on the university. Expansion projects have been imperiled, cut or halted.

I saw that the average return on our Board Restricted Funds for the Learning Center Fiscal year that ended on August 31,2009 was -7.6%. Negative return (losses, to you and me) are always hard to stomach. Sometimes a little perspective can make one feel better, though. It is a tribute to our investment strategies that we didn't lose more in this economy than we did.

When you consider the plight of our smart peers at Harvard, you can appreciate that our BRFs are pretty well managed.

Read the Bloomberg article here.

JUST IN: (10/9) The New Yort Times, obviously in fear of being scooped by the Idea Hub, just ran a feature on the cutbacks a Harvard. No cookies for Crimson!