Giving Back


Started in 1988, the Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Learning Disabilities Association has worked to provide educational tools so all children can be successful learners.


When Stevie Wonder gave an impromptu speech at this year’s Grammy telecast, boldly declaring, “We need to make every single thing accessible to every person with a disability,” it was music to the ears of people like Tracy Barrett and Pam Hense.

Over the years, the two Lake Forest moms have been steadfastly working to raise awareness of the Lake Forest‐Lake Bluff Learning Disabilities Association (LF‐LB LDA), a local nonprofit comprised of parents and teachers that provides educational support and resources for children with special needs and their families. Since it started in 1988, the organization has raised six figures, with over $325,000 coming from its grant program, benefitting schools in districts 65, 67, 115, Lake Forest Country Day School, and the School of St. Mary‐and the future seems bright for further advancement.

“Once you see Hollywood including everybody, then it seems more accepted,” says Barrett, LF‐LB LDA president, listing a long line of celebrities and CEOs who have successfully overcome dyslexia, ADHD, Asperger’s, and autism to find incredible success. People like Richard Branson, Vince Vaughn, and, it’s been said, Bill Gates. Even the character of Sheldon on “Big Bang Theory,” who Barrett likes seeing portrayed with personality and heart. “Like them, we want to help turn our children’s differences into strengths, and we are working with the schools to do just that.”

Barrett, whose own children prompted her to join the organization, estimates that about 25 percent of the Lake Forest and Lake Bluff community needs and receives some type of support at school. LF‐LB LDA is hoping to reach this entire population via their services, which includes a regular speaker series for parents and the “Make A Difference” grant program that donates specialized equipment for kids from kindergarten through high school. “The percentage is much higher than people might expect, which is why we want to make sure everyone knows we are here.”

One way they do so is with the popular Spring Marché fundraiser and silent auction, held every two years, which returns April 28 to the Lake Forest Club. “It’s a social occasion that really strives to complement our mission of providing a sense of community,” says Hense, event chair. The Parisian‐themed e v e n t is two‐fold with a daytime shopping boutique offering a raffle, bistro lunch, and various Vendors selling jewelry, children’s clothing, and eco‐safe beauty products, among other items for Mother’s and Father’s Day and graduation gifts.  An evening Ladies’ Night Out portion pairs the shopping experience with themed cocktails and passed hors d’oeuvres, raffles, silent auction, and a fun game of chance. All the proceeds raised go directly towards the LF‐LB LDA’s “Make A Difference” grant program.

The grants have become even more important as the state’s financial situation has left special education budgets particularly vulnerable. Over the years, the LF‐LB LDA has donated a number of impactful items, including stand‐up desks, ergonomic Hokki stools, sit and go balls, special rocking chairs, sensory tools, books, stationary bikes, and iPads and also contributed money for a climbing wall and collaborated with the Lake Forest High School Foundation on TEACCH, a learning program for high school students on the autism spectrum.

One of the most exciting developments was last year’s grant for a dedicated sensory-modulation room, called the “Go Zone,” at Deerpath Middle School East.  It will open in September 2016 just as the fifth and sixth graders return for the new school year.  Inside is over $13,000 worth of equipment, including swings, chairs, and sensory-activation tools, that will be used for supervised movement breaks that can help “wake up the senses to be prepared for successful learning,” says Hense.

“We are beyond excited about this because it’s the first of its kind in the district,” adds Barrett.  “ It will be able to be accessed by any child who needs a sensory input break.”

That part is key, they say.  While the LF‐LB LDA’s mission has always been to support special needs students, “really we have seen our initiatives adopted by everyone,” says Barrett.  She provides an example of standing desks, which the LDA first donated six years ago, “Now the stand up desks can be found throughout our schools, offering benefits to all our students.”

To that extent,the LF-LB LDA’s next goal is working towards removing the stigma of learning disabilities by championing a new term : learning differences.

“It’s an antiquated approach to say ‘disability,’ that’s 1950s lingo and we want to put it aside,” says Hense. “Every child, whether they have special needs or not, has a different way of learning and approach, and the world is finally catching up with that idea. It’s exciting that we are leading the charge in some of these things and that the school districts are so welcoming and really have started to take us on.”

In so doing, more and more parents like Barrett and Hense have felt supported, too.

“We want parents to know that they are not alone.  We are here to listen, offer ideas, and share experiences.  There’s a lot of experience with the moms on the board, we share commonalities in our journey, and the resources and specialists they use,” says Barrett.  A recently enhanced website also has a resource center with recommendations for things like camps and books that can be useful, too.

“We want our Lake Forest‐Lake Bluff kids to always feel they are just as smart and just as talented as their peers,” says Barrett. “They simply need the proper tools to learn more effectively. “

To find out more information about the Lake Forest‐Lake Bluff Learning Disabilities Association, and to buy tickets to the Spring Marché, visit

This article is reprinted with permission from “Giving Back” by Selena Fragassi. Forest & Bluff, April 2016, 62-63.