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Expanded philanthropy during pandemic has lasting impact for clients and speech-language pathology students at ASU clinic


Members of Phoenix Scottish Rite Foundation Mike Bernhardt, Curtis White and Tony Darin present checks to College of Health Solutions development officer Alma Strasser.

Alma Strasser, director of development for the College of Health Solutions, accepted several donations from the Phoenix Scottish Rite of Freemasonry Foundation earlier this year to support ASU Speech and Hearing Clinic programs and scholarships for speech-language pathology students. Pictured (from left): Phoenix Scottish Rite Foundation board members Mike Bernhardt, Curtis White and Tony Darin. Photo courtesy of Mike Bernhardt

November 05, 2021

In March 2020, COVID-19 shut the doors to the ASU Speech and Hearing Clinic at the College of Health Solutions, but it didn’t end services to clients. A generous donation from the Phoenix Scottish Rite of Freemasonry Foundation allowed the clinic to pivot to telehealth services and keep providing therapy to those in need despite stay-at-home orders. The Masons also funded four scholarships to support graduate students training to be speech-language therapists.

Building blocks of success

“Around 20% of kids in America have challenges on some level with speech or reading,” said Mike Bernhardt, a member of the Scottish Rite Phoenix chapter and one of the board members for the chapter’s charitable foundation. “These are very capable kids, and we’re very proud to be serving them because there’s a connection between the ability to read, the ability to learn and the ability to be free-thinking.”

Fellow Mason and board member Tony Darin works with Bernhardt in the Scottish Rite Foundation and notes Scottish Rite has been committed to children’s learning success for more than 100 years. In the 1950s, that commitment expanded to include supporting speech and language therapy for children. Today, Scottish Rite Masons fund nearly 180 RiteCare Centers, clinics that provide therapy for a range of childhood communication issues. Literacy is also a focus for the Masons.

That’s why Bernhardt and Darin’s chapter reached out to Kelly Ingram, clinical professor at the College of Health Solutions, four years ago and began supporting the Summer Program for Elementary Literacy and Language (SPELL). “

This program is for children who are falling behind the state’s standards for reading,” Ingram explained. “It’s essentially a therapy camp, and the Scottish Rite provided scholarship funds for families who cannot afford to send their children to the camp.”

A pandemic pivot

SPELL camp provided daily, three-hour sessions at the clinic until 2020 forced remote learning.

“It’s hard to keep a second grader’s attention for three hours in an online format, so we had to shift what we were doing,” said Tracey Schnick, the clinic’s business manager. “We shortened some of our programs, which reduced the cost of them a bit.”

Then, to keep delivering services to clients who might be struggling financially due to pandemic job cuts, Ingram and Schnick asked the Scottish Rite team if they would provide a gift to cover a broad variety of clients in need.

“They said ‘yes,’ and that allowed us the freedom to provide a wide range of services that could not be covered any other way,” Ingram said.

Thanks to Scottish Rite’s support, 86 patients received free group and individual treatment for a total of 220 telehealth sessions throughout the summer in 2020.

“They were a huge part of our success, and we are so thankful that with their help we were able to provide services to those in need last summer,” Ingram said.

Training therapists for tomorrow’s kids

Shifting to online service delivery was essential not only for the clinic’s clients — telehealth services were also a lifeline for College of Health Solutions graduate students. As part of their training, speech-language pathology students work one-on-one with clients and the children who participate in SPELL camp.

“Support from the Scottish Rite literally saved last summer for our own students because they need a certain number of hours of clinical work,” Schnick said. “They can do some by simulation, but a lot of the hours have to be with actual clients. Without the telehealth services the Scottish Rite funded, we don’t think we would have been able to fill summer schedules, which could have delayed these students' graduations by a semester or more."

Along with keeping programs running, the local Masons also fund the Scottish Rite Graduate Fellowship, a gift that is helping four master’s degree students pay for their studies this year.

“Having a stipend like that means many graduate students can concentrate on their studies rather than having to work. This allows them to spend more hours at an internship site,” Ingram said.

None of the students selected for the fellowships this year had any personal ties to Freemasonry, but that doesn't matter to the Scottish Rite donors. As Darin pointed out, all the scholarship recipients were great students and highly professional.

“They’re philanthropic themselves,” Bernhardt added. “We look at that because it reflects our values.”

Talking to Bernhard and Darin, it’s easy to see how proud these men are of the good work Masons do.

“Masonry is the largest fraternity in the world,” Darin said, adding that Scottish Rite Masons support many philanthropic causes, including hospitals, recovery efforts for victims of catastrophes, and, of course, helping children with learning and language challenges so they can thrive in the classroom and reach their highest potential. In the U.S. some 550,000 men are Scottish Rite Masons, and this branch of Freemasonry has chapters worldwide.

Faculty and staff at the ASU Speech and Hearing Clinic are grateful for this dedicated group’s support, which has made a difference for so many clients as well as College of Health Solutions students.

“It’s been really great to partner with the Scottish Rite team,” Schnick said. “They’re passionate about helping kids with speech and language disorders. It’s so nice to have support from a group that truly shares our values and goals.”

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