Chanler Holden – Cause: St. Lillian Academy

Chanler Holden’s dreams for her son have evolved into a unique school that helps children with a variety of special needs.

Like every mother, Chanler Holden wants only the best for her children—beginning with a good education to meet each of the three boys’ individual needs. Finding the right school for her second son, Wiley, was far from easy, however; born with Down syndrome and apraxia, Wiley needed therapeutic and special services that weren’t available in local faith-based schools.

That’s when Holden and Sandy Marinello, whose daughter Lily Grace also has Down syndrome, decided to take action.

“We were just sitting and talking about the dreams we had for our children,” Holden says. “We knew the importance of providing a structured program that would address the academic and therapeutic services that are so vitally important to children with speech and language disorders. Talking eventually moved us to ask why we couldn’t take our vision and make it a reality for our children.”

Holden and Marinello had unique talents that would serve their idea well. Sandy is an educator with a school-management background, and Holden is a graphic designer who could handle marketing and promotion. All they needed to complete their new school concept were financial resources and professional therapeutic support.

“With a blessing from God, we were connected with an amazing donor who shared our vision,” Holden says. “We knew then that this was a calling for us.”

After four years of preparation, including assembling a team of committed therapists and laying the administrative groundwork, St. Lillian Academy opened its doors in August 2011. The Christian school for children with speech and language disorders and learning disabilities now serves 26 enrolled students, including Wiley and Lily Grace. The school’s holistic approach allows families access to multiple tailored services in the same friendly environment.

“St. Lillian Academy is providing more than school,” Holden says. “Our program is an overall wellness program. It is so rewarding to hear parents talk of how it has changed their families’ lives.”

Holden’s current contributions to the school include handling advertising and marketing campaigns, designing the school’s website and printed materials, and organizing an annual fundraising event called “Cheers for Children.” “I stay continuously involved throughout the year,” she says.

And how does she fit these activities into her professional and family schedule? “The only reason I have time is because my own child with special needs is at St. Lillian, so my time is not spent running around town for therapy,” she says. “I have more time now than I ever did before.”

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How is your cause making a difference?
The school is providing a faith-based, therapy-infused education for children with speech and learning disorders.

What do you love about the volunteer efforts that you do?
I love seeing our children thrive in school and the community.

How would you like to inspire others?
Find a cause that comes from your heart. It is there that you will find motivation to make a real difference.

What is something we don’t know about your cause?
We would love for everyone to save the date for our second annual Cinco de Mayo “Cheers for Children” fundraising event, set for May 4, 2013. Further down the road, we will begin a larger capital campaign to raise money to expand our campus.