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A Leap of Faith

Pat Shafer retired in 2016, but that didn’t stop her from teaching. Following two decades as a reading teacher in public and parochial schools, the idea of no longer sharing the gift of literacy with students was unfathomable.

“I retired because I wanted more time to travel, but I knew I couldn’t leave working with kids behind,” shared Pat, a Wilson® Dyslexia Therapist (W.D.T.) and Fundations® Presenter for Levels K-3. Recognizing tremendous need in her community, Pat combined her passion for helping struggling readers with her extensive experience in Wilson programs to establish a bustling nonprofit tutoring center in Green Bay, WI.

Pat’s idea to open On the Mark Dyslexia Clinic in 2018 was met with an outpouring of community support—starting with her church, Union Congregational United Church of Christ (UCC)—the moment she proposed the idea.

“They believe that this is a matter of justice for students with dyslexia, and really wanted to support what I was trying to do,” Pat explained. The clinic is housed in the church’s basement at no charge. Grants from the church and the National UCC, as well as donations from area churches, businesses, charitable foundations, parents, and community, provide funding to maintain the clinic. They also provide resources for Wilson Reading System® (WRS) tutor training and student materials.

At On the Mark, Pat and her team of 12 tutors provide free WRS instruction to students with dyslexia who otherwise would not have access to the intensive instruction they need. Pat named the clinic in memory of her son, Mark, who died of a brain tumor at age 13. The clinic’s name, she said, also aptly defines her conviction about the effectiveness of Wilson programs.

“Wilson is something I have fought for because I believe it’s the most complete program to cover comprehension, fluency, reading, and spelling. I just think it’s the best and I’m really committed to it.”

Pat is equally adamant that finances should not prevent bright kids with dyslexia from learning to read and succeed academically. “Students with dyslexia have a right to read just as other kids do.”

In 2019, the clinic served 46 students, up from 24 the previous year. This year, 57 attended summer sessions after Pat diligently put extensive precautionary measures in place due to COVID-19. Protective masks, plexiglass barriers built by Pat’s husband Bruce, hand sanitizer, social distancing, and other safety measures remain in place this school year.

Grateful parents and colleagues often speak of Pat’s limitless energy and passion for raising awareness about dyslexia to ensure students are seen and understood.

“Pat truly exemplifies what it means to be an amazing teacher and person,” shared Cheri Dietrich, one of the clinic’s tutors.

“Pat started On the Mark because she saw the needs of so many students in the area. However, she didn’t stop with just opening the clinic and serving as the executive director. She is also an incredible teacher. She has helped so many students with dyslexia soar to new heights in their reading and writing. She selflessly gives her gift of teaching each day, asking for nothing in return.”

As for Pat, the rewards of her vocation are immeasurable.

“My cup is full from how much these parents feel I am helping their kids,” she shared. “It really takes a village. I’m just touched and amazed by the teamwork and generosity that make this happen. When I need something, it shows up. It’s a leap of faith.”

(This article originally appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of The Decoder.)