Family story inspires volunteerism for local dyslexia center

Tutoring and other services offered to students

Learning disabilities in children are generally diagnosed as brain disorders and have often been grouped together for decades. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that the term “dyslexia” was first used to specifically describe children who have difficulty learning to read through traditional methods and instruction.

The Children’s Dyslexia Center in Dayton was established in 1999 and began with just four students. Known then as Learning Centers for Children, it started as charitable work of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite. Today it is part of a network of 40 centers across 13 states under the direction of Children’s Dyslexia Centers, Inc. Seven centers are located in Ohio, including one in Dayton.

Barbara Pelfrey of Miami Township has been involved with the center since 2016, inspired personally by her granddaughter, Lucy, who was first diagnosed with dyslexia at the end of her third grade year.

“Lucy was going on to fourth grade but could only read at a first-grade level,” Pelfrey said. “That’s when our family got more involved in the subject of dyslexia.”

Pelfrey was raised in Kettering and graduated from Fairmont East in 1966. She and her husband raised their two daughters there and in 1985, Pelfrey joined the Order of the Eastern Star, a group with a mission to improve and enhance local communities.

“I got in contact with Donna (Donahue), the center’s director, and she really helped me to understand what was going on with Lucy,” Pelfrey said. “We were looking for ways to get her assistance and help her progress so she wouldn’t keep failing.”

Pelfrey became an active volunteer for the center and joined the board. She recently took over the position of board chair. She is now advocating for the Dayton center because of Lucy and everything she has learned about dyslexia.

“Dyslexia is not only a problem with brain processing,” Pelfrey said. “It also affects the mental health of children as they get to the point where they believe they are stupid and can’t learn.”

Pelfrey’s granddaughter had so much difficulty that she was always crying and saying she didn’t want to go to school. Lucy couldn’t do homework and, in fact, couldn’t figure out how to start working because of her reading issues.

“Lucy started at Bishop Leibold School in the fourth grade,” Pelfrey said. “They have a reading lab there that really helped her.”

The Children’s Dyslexia Center of Dayton now has a staff of 10 and eight tutors in paid positions. Located in the lower level of the Dayton Masonic Center, the center serves a maximum of 25 students annually and currently has a two-year waiting list. Tutoring services are offered at no charge to students and their families and it serves children through the 12th grade and living in Montgomery, Butler, Hamilton, Preble, Clark, Greene, Shelby and Darke counties.

It is estimated that 75-80% of children placed in special programs for learning disabilities are dyslexic. And about one out of every five people has been diagnosed with dyslexia. So the need is great.

“We are at capacity because of the space and our classrooms,” Pelfrey Said. “We offer professional training to all our tutors as long as they come in with a bachelor’s degree.”

The center also offers training to teachers in classrooms throughout the Miami Valley.

“A common misconception about dyslexia is that children see words and sentences backwards,” Pelfrey said. “But that’s not it. It’s just the way the brain processes the words on the page.”

Children with dyslexia can’t easily identify written words and can’t always pronounce them. In order to be put on the center’s waiting list, prospective students must have an official diagnosis by a psychologist and be tested by the center’s director.

Those who do complete the program often credit their success to the tutoring they received. Pelfrey described a young man entering his junior year at Centerville High School struggling because of his reading issues. He was counseled to join the military rather than going on to college.

“He came to us and went through our program for two years,” Pelfrey said. “He was not only able to go to college, but today he has built a successful professional career.”

To help keep this nonprofit organization running and serving as many children and families as possible, Pelfrey and the board work to plan fundraisers and handle the annual budget.

On Nov. 20, the center will be hosting “Murder Mystery at the Temple Casino,” with proceeds going to support the programs and services it offers.

“We’ve had wine tasting and other smaller events before, but we wanted to put together an event that had a bit more substance,” Pelfrey said. “We want every child to be a success story.”

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