Mom hails Masons’ mission

Posted July 03, 2009, at 7:35 p.m.

On a subzero January morning in 2004, I stood on Main Street in Bangor with a reporter’s notebook clasped in my frozen fingers and watched the stunningly beautiful, eerie and tragic site in front of me.

Hundreds of others also gathered as firefighters struggled to control the flames that ripped through one of the downtown’s most historic and beautiful buildings at 116 Main St.

It was sad on many levels and newsworthy not just because of the loss of such an important landmark — which served as home for the Masons — but because of the spectacular effort that went into trying to save it and the images that went around the world as the millions of gallons of water thrown onto the blaze turned the building into a virtual ice palace.

With all that going on, I still felt a personal sadness and sense of frustration as the flames and water laid ruin to the brick structure and all of its contents.

For somewhere deep inside that frozen, ashy mess was a manila envelope with my daughter’s name on it.

Since the first grade my daughter had struggled to read. She was bright and attentive with a quick memory, and we as her parents, as well as her teachers, worked to understand the difficulty she had in reading short grade-level words and sentences.

Teachers sent her home with extra-short books to read at night. She spent time with a special reading teacher. We were told that she would be just fine, but perhaps we should read to her more.

As she made her way through elementary school, it was more her memory, her willingness to pay close attention in class and her common sense that kept her on track academically. It continued to be clear that as bright as she was she could barely read.

When she was 12 years old and entering the sixth grade, we finally sought help, and after a lot of testing a pleasant doctor at Eastern Maine Medical Center sat us down one day and said, “Your daughter is dyslexic.”

She’s actually reading on the level of a second-grader, he added.

I had hardly heard of the word and had no idea what it really meant.

I remember trying to explain it to my daughter in a way that would not upset her.

“It’s OK,” she assured me. “It’s just nice to know that I’m not stupid.”

The simple definition of dyslexia is that it is an impairment in the brain’s ability to translate written images received from one’s eyes into meaningful language.

Finding help for children with dyslexia can be as frustrating as the condition itself.

Yet for 12 years, the Scottish Rite Children’s Learning Center in Bangor has been quietly changing the lives of those children.

The learning center is run by the Masons and a network of volunteers who teach the Orton-Gillingham Intervention Program.

Each year it tutors about 40 area children free of charge.

There is almost always a waiting list.

Just before that bitter cold January morning in 2004, I had sent in the paperwork to get my daughter on that coveted list.

I was terrified that our last chance for help had gone up in flames along with the priceless artifacts inside.

But like the phoenix, the people at the learning center rose to the challenge, moved into some nearby office space on Harlow Street and continued their work.

My daughter was fortunate to get into the program eventually. It was twice a week for three years.

It has been a rainy summer, in case you haven’t noticed.

For a very large part of it my 16-year-old daughter has been sitting on the front porch reading one book after another.

When she was first diagnosed with dyslexia, the evaluator cautioned against her ever taking a foreign language, saying it is normally too difficult for dyslexics. While at times certainly challenging, this fall she’ll start her third year of French.

So hats — or fezzes — off as this deserving and largely unknown group moves into its new home on the former Bangor Theological Seminary campus.

reneeordway@gmail.com

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