Kansas Dyslexia Advocates Honored as Small Business Humanitarians of the Year

Jeanine Phillips (L) and Gretchen Andeel (R) (Photo: John Whitman Photography)

When Jeanine Phillips and Gretchen Andeel started the Fundamental Learning Center 16 years ago in Wichita, Kansas, they had one goal is mind: to provide training for teachers so they could effectively support dyslexic kids in a state that didn’t even recognize the existence of dyslexia.

The road they have travelled since took them to Washington, D.C., this spring, where they were honored as Small Business Humanitarians of the Year at the Small Business Council of America’s (SBCA) 34th Annual Congressional Awards Reception.

“What in the world!” was Phillips’ disbelieving response as she accepted the award before several members of Congress and other high-powered Washington dignitaries.

In addition to the award, Phillips and Andeel were presented with a check for $5,800 to support their non-profit education center. “We started our first year with a $35,000 budget and it is now $1.3 million, all in order to educate children and teachers in a state that refuses to recognize still today that dyslexia exists,” said Phillips.

The two women’s journey was chronicled by the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity in a piece that drew the attention of SBCA members, leading to the decision to honor them with the award. As that piece recounts, Phillips and Andeel, both former teachers, came together as a result of their mutual frustration over finding help for their dyslexic children. That led Phillips to seek dyslexia intervention training and eventually open the Fundamental Learning Center with Andeel.  A few years ago, they expanded to include a new school for dyslexic children, Rolph Literacy Academy.

The families of both women accompanied them to the D.C. event, including Phillips’ dyslexic son Cooper and Andeel’s dyslexic daughter Katie.

Jeanine Phillips and Gretchen Andeel at the SBCA awards dinner with Phillips’ dyslexic son Cooper and Andeel’s dyslexic daughter Katie. (Photo: John Whitman Photography)

The reception also was attended by a bipartisan group of government leaders including Senators Jerry Moran (R-KS), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jim Risch (R-ID) and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).

The event featured a new video about the Fundamental Learning Center and the Rolph Literacy Academy, which ends with an aspirational call to expand the Center’s efforts nationwide and help more children embrace the benefits of their dyslexic brains. “Dyslexia is a superpower, waiting to be identified,” says the film’s narrator.

In her remarks, Phillips discussed her ignorance of her own dyslexia until a college professor pointed it out in the late 1970s. “That was the first I had ever heard of it,” she recalled. But when she told her dad about what to her was a welcome discovery, “he said he didn’t think I was dyslexic. He said he thought I was just flaky…I like dyslexia better.”
Updated June 20, 2017

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