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!