Walt Disney said, “You can design and create and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it takes people to make the dream a reality.”
Not rides. Not Food. Not Fireworks.
Their connections are magic.
Walt Disney knew that.
Linda Goodness also knows this first hand.
She watched her smart, funny, creative, happy-go-lucky son, Matthew, completely change once he began kindergarten. He became an "unhappy, depressed and anxious child," she recalls. The question was why? She knew he was struggling to learn how to read, so she sought answers. Eventually, he was diagnosed with dyslexia. Yes, dyslexia affects reading and writing and all of those things, but Linda noticed an emotional side that is rarely discussed. It's something a passing stranger wouldn't notice, a problem unseen. She was loosing her son. "They feel so alone," Linda explains, "like they are the only ones going through this."
She sought help. "It was the IDA (International Dyslexia Association) conference in 2009 at Disney where Matt became an advocate who owned his dyslexia and wanted to help others," says Linda. "It was a really special trip we took his Junior year in high school."
Matthew came home from that trip with an idea. Project D.E.B.U.N.K. (Dyslexia Educational Bandwagon, Uniting Noteworthy Kids), he called it. "It seems so much of the focus is on the academic and the 'fixing'," Linda says, "that will always come across to kids as if something is wrong with them. The tutoring is needed, yes, but if we don't also pay attention to the emotional side of dyslexia, we can do all of the tutoring we want, but we will lose them."
The idea began to roll. "What about having a family gathering that encourages kids to be themselves?," Matthew brainstormed with his mother. This idea began with a spark, and it soon ignited into an inferno. The Disney Family Gathering was born. With the help of social media, Linda and Matthew connected to the growing grassroots movement, Decoding Dyslexia, and secured enthusiastic sponsors including Learning Ally, Siemens, and PostShare.com. "They were patient and helpful with all the planning. This was a new event and we had a lot of unknowns that made planning the first time a little more difficult," says Linda.
Finally, the dates arrived.
April 30th - May 2, 2014.
Kids from all over the nation poured into Disney expecting to meet the mouse! What they did NOT expect was to meet, and make friends with an NFL star! Former Tennessee Titan Jovan Haye flew in from Nashville with a mission - to let each and every one of them know they are special. You see, Jovan has dyslexia too. "I know what you are going through," he tells them, "never give up."
Looking around the room, one by one, magic began to happen. The spark of the idea transformed into sparkling children's eyes!
“I noticed a change in him when he was listening to the guest speakers” says parent Heather Winters of her son, Roy, age 11, "they made the kids feel special, like they are part of a special group of really special smart people." She adds, through tears, "he never felt like that before.”
Other famous people from this special club joined in, including author Ben Foss, director Harvey Hubbell, and Dr. David Hunt.
They told kids of their own struggles, and signed a "pledge to be real"-- to never hide again.
Between river rides and mouse ear ice cream, art work inspired by Learning Ally's 1in5 Initiative tapped into deep emotions. "Kids made masks with one side being how they feel about themselves, and the other side being how they feel the world views them," recalls Linda. Words like “slow” and “stupid” nestled beside "strong" and "brave" on the same masks. “It impacted him to see that it affects people differently,” says Kristin Kane of her son, Noah. “You can see the light bulb.”
Learning Ally's Deborah Lynam, who is also the parent of a child with dyslexia, got emotional. "Seeing all of the connections and friendships blossoming - it was such an honor to support this amazing experience for families. Bringing people together to provide support and camaraderie is the key to helping kids thrive emotionally." She adds that the setting itself, directly at the base of Spaceship Earth at Siemens' VIP Center, "made the kids feel like rock stars! We were thrilled to have them generously support our families!"
The really cool thing is, it wasn't only kids with dyslexia who were changed.
Kristin Kane also brought along her two daughters, who do not have dyslexia, as part of the family vacation. Anna, age 15, had a profound moment when she realized people thought she, in fact, had dyslexia too. “Mom, at this point, I can’t tell who is and who isn’t,” Kane recalls her daughter confiding. “It was eye opening for her, and she took what she learned back to her high school to run her own awareness campaign.” Does that sound familiar?
Linda remembers when her own teenager, Matthew had that same dream. A dream that is now a reality, and is affecting so many.
“After that trip it changed his life,” Heather says of her son, Roy. Years of worry melt into relief as she continues, “and he realized he has this amazing brain. Now, he really thinks he’s smart. No, not thinks, he KNOWS he’s smart! It was life changing! He knows he's not alone.”
To learn more about Project D.E.B.U.N.K. check out their website.
If your child is struggling with the emotional side of dyslexia, reach out to a member of Learning Ally's Parent Support Team. To schedule a 30-minute phone consultation, visit www.LearningAlly.org/Parent or call 800-635-1403.
"Project D.E.B.U.N.K. thanks sponsors Learning Ally, Siemens, and PostShare.com, volunteers Deborah Lynam, Jovan Haye, Ben Foss, Harvey Hubbell and Dr. David Hunt, and donors Susan Barton, the Dyslexia Training Institute, Learning Ally, Ben Foss, Jovan Haye, Harvey Hubbell, Goodness Vacations, Millie Goodness and others for our drawings at the end of the event. We could not have made the event so successful without ALL the support from the many listed above." ~ Linda and Matthew Goodness