Dictionary.com defines family as “a social unit consisting of one or more adults together with the children they care for.” So, when I describe the Kids Enabled community as “family,” I can be taken quite literally. As KE’s director, I (along with many other adults) care for children who struggle with learning differences. I feel a certain camaraderie with fellow moms and dads in the KE family, and this is what makes my job so satisfying and worthwhile. I would like to introduce you to one of my family members, Jena Young, and her organization, the RiSE Scholarship Foundation.

I met Jena in person almost a year after we first e-mailed each other about a KE article I was writing about a RiSE Scholarship recipient. After I met Jena “for real,” it was like we had known each other for years. We actually grew up down the street from each other but never met since we attended different schools and had different friends. Now we are in the same school; one that accepts all parents of children who struggle with learning differences. We have the same friends and run in the same circles. We are connected through our journeys and will always be.

From the start of our friendship, our most striking similarity was our common desire to lift up our children and set them on the road to success (when I say “our” children, this encompasses all children who struggle with learning differences). I help children and families through Kids Enabled, and Jena has the RiSE Scholarship Foundation. We believe in the connections that all in the learning differences community share and this makes for a great friendship! We jokingly say that we are solving the problems of the world “one lunch at a time.” Not because we are “ladies who lunch,” but because we realize that the challenges the learning differences community faces are too big to tackle in one fell swoop, but rather, one scholarship at a time, one article at a time, one resource at a time.

Jena and her husband, Steve, started out looking for real life examples of students who struggled, yet succeeded. They believe it is important for our children to have others to look up to and emulate. While they found wonderful examples in Walt Disney and Albert Einstein, they wanted to find success stories that hit closer to home. As the Youngs contemplated how they wanted to encourage success for these kids who worked so hard and faced such struggles, they were confounded by the statistics:

  • As many as 1 out of every 5 people in the U.S. has a learning disability.(National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities – http://www.nichcy.org/pubs/factshe/fs7txt.htm)
  • 44% of parents who noticed their child exhibiting signs of difficulty with learning waited a year or more before acknowledging their child might have a serious problem. (Roper Starch Poll – Measuring Progress in Public and Parental Understanding of Learning Disabilities)
  • 27% of children with learning disabilities drop out of high school. (23rd Annual Report to Congress, 2001)
  • Only 13% of students with learning disabilities (compared to 53% of students in general population) have attended a 4-year post-secondary school program within two years of leaving high school. (National Longitudinal Transition Study, 1994)

But, along with the statistics, they also uncovered stories of hope, where students persevered and overcame the odds. Steve and Jena decided to add to the success stories by focusing on the positive and empower more kids to reach their potential. The acronym RiSE stands for Rewarding Individual Success in Education. My appreciation for this foundation – one that exists simply to reward hard work – is deep and heartfelt! You can learn more about Jena’s work at RiSEscholarshipFoundation.org, and also look for the RiSE Scholarship Foundation table at the 2013 Kids Enabled Resource Fair on January 27th.