From the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Oct 27, 1996

Center gives child way to speak out
Development of language skills essential for success, director says

BY ELIZABETH WILKERSON
Times-Dispatch Staff Writer

LEARNING HOW. Robin Olivier works with (from left) Rachel Singleton, 10, and Holly Jesensky, 4, at the Scottish Rite Childhood Language Center. The Center on Hermitage Road will celebrate its Fifth Anniversary Friday with a record of helping more than 1,000 children communicate better.
LEARNING HOW. Robin Olivier works with (from left) Rachel Singleton, 10, and Holly Jesensky, 4, at the Scottish Rite Childhood Language Center. The Center on Hermitage Road will celebrate its Fifth Anniversary Friday with a record of helping more than 1,000 children communicate better.

For Holly Jesensky and Rachel Singleton, the Scottish Rite Childhood Language Center 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 will celebrate its fifth anniversary Friday with a record of helping more than 1,000 children like Holly and Rachel. “I cannot say enough nice things about it here,” said Holly’s mother, Sally Jesensky.

A lifesaver for us

Holly, 4, is working on consonant blends found in words like “sprite.” Her older brother, Joshua, also was a client of the Center. “It’s like a real family, and the children just think they’re coming to play,” Jesensky said.

“It’s like watching the world opening up for them.”

“This place has been a lifesaver for us,” said Rose Singleton. “Hunt, our 5-year-old, whenever we get in the car he says, “˜Mommy, go see Robin?”

Robin Olivier, Director of Clinical Services, said about 40 children, most in the infant to 7-year-old range, are being seen regularly at the clinic right now. The length of treatment varies. “Some children attend three or four months and then are dismissed, and some children receive services for several years,” she said. Factors, such as age, diagnosis, motivation and family motivation, are involved.

“Children learn language through play,” said Olivier. “We evaluate their speech and language skills and try to strengthen any areas of weakness.”

Early identification is important, and age 2 or 3 is ideal for identifying children needing language intervention, Olivier said.

“That’s the optimum time to build speech and language skills – before school age. If children are not identified early, they will be behind their same age peers and may experience the negative social ramifications that often go along with communication disorders,” she said.

A national mission

Each child must be referred to the Center by a physician, although family members often make the first contact with the Center. Fees are based on a family’s ability to pay.

The Center makes up only 15 to 20 percent of its annual $250,000 operating budget from fees, said Page Taylor Hardage, Center Administrator.

“It’s like watching the world opening up for them.”

In addition to the Scottish Rite support, the Center receives donations from individuals, corporations, and organizations like the Rotary Club of Richmond, 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 said.

“You see children who are not able to communicate with you at all and then they move on and you get to watch it. It’s like watching the world opening up for them.”

Rachel Singleton, a friendly, outgoing 10-year-old, has been going to the Center for four years. Her diagnosis is mental retardation, her mother said.

“Initially she had very little expressive language,}” said Rose Singleton. “Since she’s been coming here, we’ve really been working on some articulation and expression problems.” Hunt Singleton is diagnosed with a communication disorder that has delayed his speech and language, and a hearing loss has just been diagnosed as well, Singleton said.

“I think it’s important to have more public understanding of speech and hearing problems,” she said. “Early intervention, early diagnosis 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.” All have met national standards, and hold the Certificate of Clinical Competence.

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Oct 27, 1996