This feature article was originally published on the front page of the Mitchell County News. We’ve omitted the camper’s last name and for this online version, but are delighted to share Ben’s exciting news and support him in his selfless donation campaign to help send a friend to Camp Spring Creek. Please read this touching story, and spread the word if you feel inspired. Our campers never cease to amaze us and Ben’s hard work might just pay off!
Spruce Pine, North Carolina – January 30, 2015 – Ben, a 5th grade student at Bowman Middle School, launches a county-wide campaign to raise $3,350 to send a fellow student with dyslexia to Camp Spring Creek in Bakersville, NC.
At the end of Ben’s 4th grade school year, his tutor and co-founder of Camp Spring Creek, Susie van der Vorst rewarded him with the opportunity of a lifetime: In recognition of Ben’s hard work as a dyslexic student struggling with reading, the Camp Spring Creek Board of Directors agreed to send Ben to camp for 4 weeks as a day student, completely free of cost. The gift was valued at a little over $6,700—a financial impossibility for Ben’s family. He graciously accepted the gift.
Recently, Ben decided to pay that gift forward by raising funds to help a fellow student with dyslexia attend camp. “I’m dyslexic and there are other kids like me at school. I went from the C list to the A/B honor roll this year,” says Ben. “At camp, I learned that I could achieve things. I didn’t even think I could start typing. I could barely read. I thought that I was stupid. I want to help raise money for kids at my school or other schools around Mitchell County to help them so they can go to camp and experience what I experienced.”
Susie and Steve van der Vorst, co-directors of the camp, have agreed that the camp will supply matching funds to cover half the tuition for up to two local children. If Ben’s fundraising efforts raise $3,350, one child can attend Camp Spring Creek as a day student for 4 weeks. Double that, and two Mitchell County children with dyslexia could receive guidance, tutoring, confidence-building, and outdoor experiences specifically catered to meet the unique needs of children with dyslexia—a learning difference that affects 1 in 5 children worldwide. Although the cost of day camp did not increase this year, it remains high because of the level of training the staff and tutors attain, in addition to one-on-one programming.
This school year, Ben is excelling, in no small part because of his team of 5th grade teachers at Bowman and the tangible gains he made at camp. Camp Spring Creek is one of only three certified camps in the United States that offers Orton-Gillingham tutoring, a specialized approach that teaches the structure of language using multi-sensory learning experiences. Ben’s reading abilities leapt two grade levels in just 4 weeks of camp, and now he enjoys books at the 5th and 6th grade mark. “What blows me away is that now I’m reading these sports books about people who didn’t believe in themselves but ended up growing up to be All Stars. Also, one of my favorite books is Summer of the Monkeys.” In addition to an academic and outdoor curriculum, the camp emphasizes community, social skills, and building self-confidence by teaching children to advocate for themselves. “It felt really good to see that there were other kids like me at camp,” says Ben. “I got to meet people from all over the world—Janusz was from South Africa and one person was Danish and there was a girl there from Turkey…”
To date, Mike Brown Subaru Dealership has donated $200 to the cause and also posted a video on Facebook that went viral—yielding thousands of hits. Arts Centered of Bakersville has joined the pledge, with several other promises for support coming in via email. Melisa Cadell, Ben’s mother, has been helping Ben learn about how to approach businesses. “Ben told me he thought he could write a letter talking about some of his struggles,” says Cadell. “We worked on the letter and I wrote one as well. I wanted the experience to be powerful for Ben, but I also wanted it to be powerful for people who received the letters. We knew that meant the letters should be hand-delivered.”
Together, Ben and his mother have been driving around town. Ben enters the business and presents his best introduction, then share his letter. The accompanying letter from Cadell emphasizes that Ben is not only asking for funds, but also offering to present to local business or organizations, such as the Rotary Club, so that more people become informed about dyslexia. “The stigma that my son and other dyslexic students are finding the most difficult to maneuver is that they are often categorized as unable to learn at the normal classroom pace,” says Cadell. “Reading is such an important component in testing and because of this, dyslexic students are often retained and or placed in classes that do not expect much from them. The students are aware that the classes are leveled and they know when they are being moved around because of something ‘different.’ We are fortunate that Ben has amazing an amazing team of teachers that have really gone out of their way.”
Still, Ben will likely spend much, if not all, of his education years working many times harder than children without learning differences simply to “keep up” in an education system that lacks proper funding to access to the best learning models. Although equal education for children with dyslexia has been federally mandated since 1975, in poorer districts of the country, progress is slow. “There are limited opportunities for the public schools in our area to assist these students due to the lack of public funding and properly trained tutors,” says Cadell. “Dyslexia is neurologically based and creates difficulties in processing of information. I’ve been on both sides, as a parent and as a former teacher, and I know that when each child requires a different method of learning, things in the classroom can get really complicated, really quickly.”
With a little more luck, effort, and compassionate giving, Ben might just reach his goal to send a fellow dyslexic child to Camp Spring Creek for one month. When asked if the second scholarship might be given to him, both Ben and his mother fervently declined. While they can’t afford to send Ben back to camp, their motivation remains focused on helping others. For information about the camp, to invite Ben to your business for a free dyslexia awareness presentation, or to make a donation toward the local scholarship, please call 766-5032 or visit this page.