Elizabeth Wilkerson
c/o Scottish Rite Childhood
Language Center at Richmond, Inc.
Richmond, Virginia

Therapy teaches children with a wide variety of learning differences how to communicate.

For Holly Jesensky and Rachel Singleton, the Scottish Rite Childhood Language Center at Richmond, Inc., means fun and games. But the fun they have there has a serious purpose—helping them communicate better with the rest of the world.

A not-for-profit clinic founded and supported by the Richmond Scottish Rite Bodies, the Center celebrated its sixth anniversary last October with a record of helping more than 1,000 children like Holly and Rachel.

Learning How: Robin Olivier works with (from left) Rachel Singleton and Holly Jesensky at the Scottish Rite Childhood Language Center at Richmond, Inc., Richmond, Virginia.

Sally Jesensky, Holly’s mother, says “I cannot say enough nice things about it here. It’s like a real family, and the children just think they’re coming to play.” Holly, age 4, is working on consonant blends found in words like “sprite,” and her older brother, Joshua, was also a client of the center.

Similarly, Rose Singleton says, “This place has been a life-saver for us. Hunt, our 6-year-old, has a communication disorder that has delayed his speech and language, and a hearing loss has just been diagnosed as well. Whenever we get in the car to go to the center, he says, ‘Mommy, go see Robin?’”

Robin Olivier, Director of Clinical Services, notes that about 40 children, most in the infant to 7-year-old range, are being seen regularly at the Richmond clinic right now. The length of treatment varies. “Some children are here three or four months and—boom—they’re out, and some children receive services for several years. Factors, such as age, diagnosis, and individual or family motivation are involved. Children learn language through play. We evaluate their speech and language skills, and we try to build any area of weakness. Early identification is important, and age two or three is perfect for identifying children for language help. That’s the ideal time to build their speech and language skills—before school age, because if you wait until then, they’re behind with their peers, and they have all the social ramifications that go along with it.”

Each child must be referred to the center by a physician, although family members often make the first contact. Fees are based on a family’s ability to pay. The Richmond center, according to Page Taylor Hardage, Center Administrator, makes up only 15 to 20 percent of its annual $250,000 operating budget from fees. In addition to the Scottish Rite support, the center receives donations from individuals, corporations, and organizations like the Rotary Club of Rich- mond, the Eastern Henrico Ruritan Club, and foundations such as the Richard and Caroline T. Gwathmey Memorial Trust. The center is not a United Way agency, but United Way donors can designate the center to receive their pledges.

“This is a communicating world, and I don’t know that people who have the gift of good communication skills can even imagine what it’s like for those who don’t,” Hardage notes. “You see children who are not able to communicate with you at all, then they move on, and you get to watch it. It’s like watching the world opening up for them.”

Rachel Singleton, Hunt’s sister, is a friendly, outgoing 11-year-old. She has a form of mental retardation and has been going to the center for five years. According to her mother, “Rachel initially had very little expressive language. Since she’s been coming here, we’ve really been working on some articulation and expression problems. I think it’s important to have more public understanding of speech and hearing problems. Early intervention is so important because so many of these children are labeled bad or incorrigible when they just don’t understand what’s going on in their environment.”

The above article is reprinted, edited for length, from the October 27, 1996 Richmond Times–Dispatch, where Elizabeth Wilkerson is a staff writer. It was published as “Center gives child way to speak out.” 

Please remember the Scottish Rite Foundation, S.J., USA,
with your gifts and in your will, 1-800-486-3331.