Links to Learning: Empowering Through Support and Education

15 years ago, options in the Belleville / Quinte area for children with learning disabilities or special needs were slim: the Quinte Learning Disability Association had information to offer, but few resources and no space.

Joan Burton, then president of the Association, knew this was a problem — and, with a core group of volunteers, took steps to fix it. “I started a think tank to consider how to start a one-stop/all disorders resource centre.”

The result? The Links to Learning Resource Centre launched in 2000. Last month, the organization was recognized with the June Callwood Outstanding Achievement Award for Volunteerism.

“Joan has provided us with so many useful resources from the program over the past few years,” says Cara Pinchuck, Program Coordinator for Stevenson, Waplak & Associates, who notes that they first met Joan because one of her daughters attends Applewood Academy.

“It’s wonderful to see her efforts recognized with this award.”

A place to turn for help, resources

Burton says the resource centre promotes empowerment through support, education, information and materials. “We educate parents to be the best advocate for their child as they can be. They can borrow material to better-understand their child’s disorder, and we can link them with other agencies if the need arises.”

All of this is made possible through the hard work of volunteers.

“We are completely volunteer-run,” Burton says. “We have many who have committed a great deal of time and energy over the course of the Centre’s 12 years and are still active.”

For families who participate in the Links to Learning program, these committed volunteers have been a real gift. Angela Dobson says both her daughter, Cassidy, and her son, Thomas, have excelled in different ways since they joined programs in September 2011.

Soaring past autism’s limitations

Nine-year-old Thomas has autism; although he’s very intellectual, cerebral palsy prevents him from using his hands. Learning to read has been an ongoing challenge.

“Thomas learns by listening, and uses a computer program that reads to him. He’s in grade three and listens to books above a grade five level — he’s very smart, but his school had given up on teaching him to read,” Dobson explains. “But he’s so interested in learning, he understands beyond what the computer program can deliver.”

By teaching him audibly — and reading books by his favourite author, Jay Ingram — Dobson says a tutor at the Centre has helped Thomas get an increasingly firm grasp on reading, and taught him skills so he can learn on his own. “His tutor has truly been a Godsend.”

Devouring books for a little friendly competition

A key initiative for Links to Learning is Reading Rocks, a three-part program that combines tutoring, group sessions and a reading program — with prizes when goals are reached. It was developed by Burton’s daughter Melanie when she was 12, and it has been the perfect motivator for Dobson’s 7-year-old daughter.

“At the beginning of the school year, Cassidy had gaps in her reading abilities,” Dobson says. Now, she’s almost past her grade two level in reading ability.

“She is so motivated by the reading challenge; she has a friend in her group she competes with,” she explains. “Cassidy chooses to read every night before bed. Homework used to be such a chore, but now she actually does it herself; she understands how to learn.”

For more information about the services and resources available through Linked to Learning, visit their website at LinksToLearning.ca or call 613-968-8700.

*In the Photo: Board members from Links to Learning posed with the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Charles Sousa, after the awards ceremony. Pictured from left: Melanie Burton, Minister Sousa, and Joan Burton*