RiteCare program helps children find their voice

Apr. 16—ATLANTA — An estimated 200,000 of Georgia's 2.5 million children ages 1 through 17 have some form of speech or language deficit, according to The Scottish Rite Orient of Georgia, and the organization and its Foundation are working to help those children find their voice through the RiteCare Program, which provides low- or no-cost intervention support to families in need.

"Clinicians involved with the RiteCare program are grateful for the support. We have seen parents hear their children speak and say I love you for the first time because of the RiteCare program," said Erica Wilson, M. ED, CCC-SLP, Clear Speech, LLC.

Language is the foundation of all communication, said Gene Jernigan, president of The Scottish Rite Foundation of Georgia. "It affects how we experience the world, express ourselves, and understand information; it impacts how we communicate ideas, retain and recall information, and interact with others. For a child, it is essential to their classroom and academic success."

Jernigan said the foundation's goal is to provide funding to offset the costs, allowing more children to be served at RiteCare's seven partners across the state, including one at Valdosta State University.

"Speech and language services can get expensive quickly, even for high income families," said Dr. Matt Carter, Ph.D., director of Valdosta State's Speech-Language and Hearing Clinic. "Speech and language research shows that early intervention is key. Ninety percent of children with reading difficulties will achieve grade level if help is received by first grade. Seventy-five percent of children who do not receive help before age nine will continue to struggle. Treatment takes four times as long to achieve success if delayed until fourth grade instead of kindergarten."

In some areas of Georgia, the wait for service can be as long as four years due to lack of resources and funding, The Scottish Rite Foundation said in a press release. Thanks to The Scottish Rite Orient of Georgia Masons and The Scottish Rite Foundation of Georgia, Inc. who have been supporting RiteCare speech and language disability clinics for children since 2007, more help is on the way. Beginning April 5, the Foundation has launched a $3 million campaign to help serve more children.

RiteCare programs are currently in seven locations across the state — Georgia Southern University, Valdosta State University, University of West Georgia, RiteCare Clinic at Scottish Rite Medical Center in Sandy Springs, Therapy Specialists of Georgia in Macon, Clear Speech, LLC in Atlanta, Apparo Academy in Augusta and The Autism Learning Center in Columbus. Efforts are underway to raise funds to serve more children and families through expanded support in current clinics and eventually seeking potential new partners in other parts of the state, the foundation said.

"Wherever you see the RiteCare icon," Jernigan said, "families can recognize it as a sign that support is available to help their child by removing communication barriers that may hold them back in life. It signifies that a partner is in your community who will help support you and/or your child financially and emotionally with low- or no-cost speech/language interventions. Often, we help defray the cost over what insurance doesn't cover. This is the way Georgia Scottish Rite Masons shine our light into our local communities."

What do RiteCare Clinics provide? Without early detection, many treatable disorders are overlooked in childhood.

Each RiteCare clinic offers different services based on what the particular community needs. Some of the services include literacy evaluations, tutoring services, targeted screening services, educational sessions for parents/teachers/community stakeholders, continuing education for speech-language pathologists, clinical hands-on experience for speech and language students, phonics, dyslexia and autism support, language support for stroke victims, hands-on graduate student group language therapy sessions, hearing, speech screenings and evaluations for PreK and Head Start classes, integrating speech and language via summer camps, summer literacy programs, hearing screenings at local businesses and community events, advocacy for speech & language programs at local community career days, and more.

You can help make a life-changing difference. Visit www.gascottishrite.org to donate or to learn more.