Foundation Fills Special Needs of Challenged Kids

Zackery Dubois, 10, studies spelling on the iPad he received from the Robbie Foundation to help with his schooling. (John Patriquin/Staff Photographer)

It pays for technology or treatments that will improve quality of life, but the demand is starting to outstrip funding.

Dayton – Zackery Dubois’ fingers move rapidly over the screen of his iPad, flipping back and forth between Google Earth and the educational games that recently captured his attention.

An iPad might be considered a luxury for some, but for 10- year-old Zackery it’s an opportunity to become engaged in learning for the first time. He received the new technology in March from the Scarborough-based Robbie Foundation, a nonprofit with a mission to help children with special needs by providing equipment, technology and therapy treatments not covered by insurance.

Zackery, a fourth-grader at Dayton Consolidated School who reads at a kindergarten level, first used his teacher’s personal iPad in class. His mother, Judy Dubois, said she recognized right away the value of a tool that would help her son become excited about learning.

But a $500 iPad is an expense the Dubois family never could have afforded without the Robbie Foundation. Norman Dubois works 55 hours a week, while his wife stays home to take care of their five children, four of whom have autism. Zackery is especially interested in science, but is well behind his peers in writing and reading skills. Many of the educational applications he uses on the iPad center on learning and understanding words.

“He’s more interested in learning now. He’s more interested in finding out how things are said and what they mean,” Dubois said. “He also tends to concentrate more. This grounds him.”

That, said Robbie Foundation founder Lynn Gierie, is the type of story she likes to hear. The foundation is named for her 13-year-old son, Robbie, a seventh-grader at Scarborough Middle School. Robbie has cerebral palsy and is completely dependent on others for his daily needs. He uses special equipment to move around and communicate with his family and friends.

“He expressed to us the desire to give back,” Gierie said. “He wanted to give back out of a grateful heart. He has friends who don’t have what he has.”

Two years ago, she and her husband, Bob, honored his wish by creating the foundation. Since then, the foundation has assisted nearly 40 families by buying adaptive equipment, technology and therapies that help improve quality of life. The foundation has dispersed more than $10,000 in the past two years, including $7,000 in the past month.

Gierie said the foundation is seeing a steady increase in the number of requests from families across the state. Twenty five families applied for assistance last month.

“We have not to date had to deny any requests, but I don’t know how long we’ll be able to maintain that without community support and donations,” she said.

The foundation will host a fundraising golf scramble June 25, followed by a tennis tournament and benefit gala in the fall. Gierie said 95 percent of money raised goes directly to children, while the rest is used for administrative costs such as marketing. The Gierie family contributed about $5,000 to establish the foundation and fund requests from the first few applicants. The foundation is run by a volunteer board.

In addition to the fundraisers, Gierie is looking to partner with a grant writer to seek additional funding sources. The goal, she said, is to continue to help families bridge the gap between what insurance pays for and what children with disabilities actually need.

“We’ve met a lot of parents of children with special needs that don’t necessarily have the resources to provide everything that’s needed for children and their quality of life,” she said. “It’s been a wonderful thing to be able to see the appreciation and the children really benefiting from this.”

Using his iPad is fun, Zackery said. His mother frequently downloads new apps recommended by his teachers to help with words, math and social skills.

“I do my games when my parents aren’t paying attention,” Zackery said. “They’ll think I’m on YouTube when I’m really playing my learning games.”

Dubois said it is hard to express how appreciative she is of the Robbie Foundation for providing the iPad – which she brought home to Zackery on his 10th birthday.

“It makes him feel like he’s accomplished something and he’s proud of it. He wants to keep going,” Dubois said. “With the use of technology, he’s going to go places.”

Portland Press Herald | By Gillian Graham, Staff Writer

Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: | Twitter: grahamgillian