A Chance To Grow is proud to be a part of Northeast Minneapolis, a vibrant community that nurtures the arts, its businesses and the vital work of nonprofit organizations that serve the neighborhood. The area’s community organizations have played a critical role in helping us meet our mission for decades. We’d like to introduce you to three of our most ardent Northeast supporters: Kiwanis Club, The Exchange Club, and the Lions Club. These are local chapters of national organizations. In Northeast Minneapolis, these all-volunteer organizations work hard to raise money to support organizations like ours, as a way to ensure that we can meet the needs of our neighbors. Their support over the decades has given us a chance to grow.
One member, Al Morelli – a longtime friend of ACTG – remembers how the club first got involved with us in 2001.
“They were having a golf tournament and looking for volunteers to help with the event. So five of us from the Kiwanis went out and they gave us jobs at each hole selling raffle tickets,” said Al. It was the first year for us, so we didn’t really know what was going on. After that first year, I thought, hey, I could really raise some funds for these guys.”
Al got the Kiwanis Club to donate $500 to the event the following year, and used those funds to purchase raffle prizes. “We set up a tent and made it look like a carnival and then we sold tickets for chances to win all this stuff. And it worked! We raised about $1,200 that year just on one hole! And each year after that, I got a donation from the club and it just kept growing!”
Thus began a beautiful partnership. The Kiwanis continued to support ACTG’s golf event over the next 18 years, raising thousands of dollars for ACTG’s programs and services. When, post-pandemic, we decided to end the golf event, the Kiwanis stayed with us, by sponsoring our annual Race for the Children, and – with Al’s help – donating wonderful items for the Silent Auction.
“We liked what A Chance To Grow was doing, helping kids with special needs, so it was easy to get the club to support it, and it’s been great ever since,” said Al.
Learn more at www.facebook.com/NEmplsKiwanis/.
Nationally, the Exchange Club has Programs of Service that focuses on helping children. For the Northeast Chapter, volunteers put on a variety of fundraising and activities with a special emphasis on youth programs, child abuse prevention, community service and good citizenship. They not only support ACTG through annual donations, they also help organizations like East Side Neighborhood Services, My Very Own Bed, the Crisis Nursery, and La Oportunidad. In addition, they make annual awards via the ACE Scholarship Awards, the YMCA Youth Citizenship Award, and a civics contest. Like the Kiwanis, the NE Exchange Club has supported ACTG for decades with thousands of dollars in annual grants, and this year, they are serving as a sponsor for The Race For The Children.
“We’re very proud to be the recipient of one of their Victory Shrines,” says Vicky Stein, ACTG’s Director of Development and a member of the Exchange Club’s Board of Directors. “The Exchange Club does such important work in the neighborhood, and it’s all donated time by an incredible group of dedicated volunteers. What began as local businessmen meeting for lunch has grown into a service organization that strives to meet a wide range of community needs. We’re lucky to have their support.”
Learn more at https://eastmpls-exchange.org/.
The Northeast Minneapolis Lion’s Club is a place where individuals join together to give their valuable time and effort to improve their communities and the world. ‘Lions serve. It’s that simple.’
“Their donations have made it possible for us to provide vision care to thousands, as well as donating meals to our Turnquist families around the holidays,” said ACTG’s Executive Director, Erica Dickerson. “The partnership has been such a positive one that it prompted me to get involved in the Lions Community Foundation Board as a member, allowing us to give back even more to the community that has been home to ACTG for more than 20 years.”
Additionally, Lion's Club member, Marty Zaworkski, has served as the MC of the The Race for the Children for the last handful of years. We're excited to announce that he will return to host this year's event on August 20 at Canterbury Park!
Learn more at https://nelions.org/.
Together, these organizations have donated countless hours and dollars to support the prosperity of the Northeast Minneapolis community. We are forever grateful for all the support they’ve shown us over the years, it has helped us become who we are today. It is worth noting that each of these organizations are volunteer-run, and would welcome new members to help them meet their missions. We are honored to call them not only our partners, but members of our ACTG family.
Jo began her illustrious academic career in 1958 as a physical education teacher in Mankato. She moved up to Minneapolis and began teaching at North High School and next moved to Wayzata where she served as a physical education teacher and trainer for elementary teachers. She always believed that physical education was a key factor for children to reach their full potential, and was recognized by the Croft Association for her methods that combined music, math and physical education. In 1974, she was one of five teachers that received the “Outstanding Elementary Teachers of America” award.
“Traditional public school’s Physical Education programs were focused on games and sports,” said Jo, “but I felt the curriculum must have an emphasis on developmental benchmarks. There is a need to advance through skill levels methodically, or skills that were missed will show up later in their lives.” With this in mind, Jo established an adaptive physical education course for students that were less physically skilled – the first state funded program of its kind in Minnesota.
Jo was then invited to teach at the Cooperative School Rehabilitation Center (CSRC) in Hopkins, a cooperative program sponsored by the University of Minnesota for students with cognitive impairments, who until then, had not been enrolled in school or an appropriate program. This experience allowed Jo to see firsthand what impact the lack of education had on students with disabilities. During her time at CSRC, she returned to school and earned a Specialist Degree in Administration to address the educational equity gap at a higher level.
In 1972, Jo was invited to lead a summer course at the University of Minnesota for educators looking to get into the Special Education field, where for two summers, she taught them the importance of motor memory and the impact it could have on an individual’s future cognitive abilities. After receiving another degree, she accepted the position of Director of Special Education for a four-district cooperative comprised of Waconia, Watertown, Chaska and New Germany. After several years in this role, the Minnesota Department of Education hired her as the Special Education West Metro Regional Consultant (SERC), where she worked with 22 school districts.
In 1974, Jo became involved with a landmark piece of legislation that guaranteed all children, including those with disabilities, receive a free and appropriate public education in every state. In 1975, the 94th Congress passed Law 94-142, which improved how children with disabilities were identified, evaluated the success of these efforts, and provided due process protections for children and families. The law supported more than 1 million children who had been excluded entirely from the education system, and countless others with only limited access to appropriate education.
This propelled Jo into her next position as the Assistant Director of Special Education at the Minnesota Department of Education, where she focused on the implementation of these newly enacted federal laws. She continued to advocate for parents, students, teachers and programs throughout the duration of her career, which spanned more than 35 years and included stops in Fridley, Osseo and Mahtomedi, until her retirement from traditional districts in 1993.
It was about this time that she began her involvement with the growing charter school movement. She was contacted by the Metro Deaf School, which sought her help in starting the first charter school in the nation for deaf students. Not long after, Bob and Kathy DeBoer approached her to advise them on the development of ACTG’s New Visions School.
”I really liked the fact that A Chance To Grow was trying different and unique therapies - things I couldn’t get into traditional public schools,” said Jo. “I guess I have the same philosophy as Bob and Kathy: developmental movement is key to higher learning and all children, regardless of ability, should be given every opportunity to reach their full potential.”
At the time, New Visions was struggling financially due to unequal funding for students in charter schools. While traditional districts received funds from taxes and levies, charters were not eligible for those funds. It was very difficult to provide programs for students, pay salaries for teachers, and pay for leases to keep the school open. Jo, along with Bob DeBoer and Bobbi Cordano of Metro Deaf School, met with a member of the legislature and convinced her to provide lease-aid based on the number of students enrolled. This legislation dramatically increased charter school funding and was a major win for charter schools around the state.
Over the next 17 years, Jo continued to volunteer her time to help improve ACTG’s financial stability, as well as the organization’s leadership structure. She served as a consultant, helping to streamline the outpatient therapy clinic’s medical forms and intake process, as well as organizing the department procedures and schedules. More recently, she helped Bob and Kathy prepare to retire, facilitating a smooth transition for the new Executive Director, Erica Dickerson.
“For many years, Jo’s been a wonderful volunteer who has helped build this organization in ways most people don’t know,” said Bob. “She’s done remarkable work on behalf of special education across the country and we are so grateful that she saw value in our mission and felt inclined to share her talents with us.”
These days, at the age of 87, Jo continues to support A Chance To Grow’s mission by referring countless families to our clinic.
“I see how grateful parents are when they see their kids make progress, and their willingness to drive far distances to participate in their innovative programs,” she said. “It’s not just the interventions that they offer, it’s the relationship and trust that parents and children enjoy with the dedicated and knowledgeable staff at A Chance To Grow that make it special.”
Hadley is a shy but sweet teenager who loves her family, friends and especially her dog, Buddy. From the beginning, school hasn’t come easy to her. Her parents first noticed something was amiss in second grade when they’d try to do homework with her and she’d cry and beg not to do it. Her writing looked more like a toddler’s handwriting and she couldn’t seem to stay focused on the class material. Her parents were worried – they knew she was smart, yet she struggled in virtually every subject in school, especially reading and math. They were determined to get her the help she needed and began searching for answers. A full neurological evaluation yielded diagnoses of ADHD and Dyslexia.
In 7th grade, her parents made the difficult decision to pull her from the school she knew and send her to a private school that specialized in students with learning challenges. But after two years, they hadn’t seen much progress. Says her mother, Ali: “A lot of people told us that this school was going to change her life, but it hasn’t.”
“At that point, we’d tried everything with very little improvement,” said Ali. “I had an epiphany that something had to be off in her brain that needs to be fixed at a base level. It felt as if her neurons weren’t firing, pathways were blocked. I couldn’t shake this belief that we had to find the root cause. Otherwise, we will just keep spinning our wheels, losing thousands of dollars in the process.”
Not knowing what else do to, Ali turned to Google. “As I went down the Dr. Google rabbit hole, I learned about primitive reflex integration, something I’d never even heard of but sounded like it could be causing some of Hadley’s challenges. Eventually I came across A Chance To Grow.” She immediately emailed Kelly Pittman, Director of ACTG’s Neurotechnology services, and during their first discussion, she knew that she was on the right track. “Talking to Kelly that first time was so refreshing because she totally understood our plight, having dealt with this type of stuff both as a parent and professionally.”
As she learned more about ACTG’s clinical services, Ali was shocked and disappointed that she’d never heard of the services that ACTG offers. “The holistic, natural, brain-based therapy made total sense to me. For the first time ever, I knew that we’d found a better path.”
"For the first time ever, I knew that we’d found a better path.”
First, Hadley began neurofeedback with Kelly to help her brain self-regulate more efficiently. “It’s very common for people to get stuck in a stress response on a daily basis,” says Kelly. “This can show up in a child’s behavior as “hypo” or “hyper,” either shut down or over-aroused. Neurofeedback addresses this, often improving social and emotional regulation along with academic skills.”
Next up is Neuro Integrative therapy, an approach developed at ACTG that combines several interventions that collectively promote brain growth and social, physical and emotional development through purposeful movement. The goal is to establish efficient neurological connections between the brain and the systems of the body to improve higher-level functioning.
Kelly also recommended that Hadley undergo functional auditory and vision screenings. These differ from the routine screenings where, when a child passes, it’s assumed that their hearing or vision is fine. But functional problems with eyes and ears that can seriously impede the ability to learn are not picked up by routine screenings. Says Ali, “I was floored to learn that vision played into learning as much as it does. We knew Hadley could read, but she still couldn’t comprehend. Now I know. Learning is 80% visual and if the eyes are misaligned or not tracking correctly, it can often be mistaken for ADHD and Dyslexia.” Hadley had a functional eye screening and sure enough, ACTG‘s testing found her eyes were a big part of her challenges. Due to her misaligned eyes, she’d skip words which heavily affected her comprehension. “As ACTG explained to me, she was having to work so hard just to stay aligned in reading words and lines, her brain wasn’t able to comprehend what she was reading. Hence, the enormous academic struggles. There is even speculation that Dyslexia might be a misdiagnosis all together.”
Hadley was also diagnosed with an auditory processing disorder (APD), which affects the ability to understand speech. Someone with APD might be able to hear well, but the auditory input is not correctly interpreted by the brain.
Although happy that she finally has answers that make sense, she wonders why it took her so long to find ACTG. “Never once in all of these years did a doctor say anything about brain-based therapies,” Ali says, the doctors just recommended medication. “I don’t understand why the medical community couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me about these other therapies and methods.” Hadley is 13 now, and if Ali and her husband had known about ACTG and their brain-based approach years ago, it might have changed the trajectory of her life.
"I hope anyone who is on their own neuro-diverse struggle finds ACTG. It’s the best-kept secret and I want everyone to know about it."
Now Ali wants to make sure that people who have neuro-diverse family members are aware of it. “I hope anyone who is on their own neuro-diverse struggle finds ACTG. It’s the best-kept secret and I want everyone to know about it. They truly want to help Hadley reach her full potential and I’m confident we’re in the right spot now, but even more than confident, I am so, so grateful.”
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