Caragan Olles, 16, of De Pere, Wis., a junior at Notre Dame Academy, co-founded a nonprofit organization in 2013 that has raised more than $145,000 to provide special tutoring for students with dyslexia, create dyslexia resource centers in three public library systems, and educate teachers and parents about this reading disability. In elementary school, “I came home many days crying because I felt I wasn’t as smart as my classmates,” she said. When she was finally diagnosed with dyslexia in third grade, she and her family were shocked by the lack of information about the disorder, and how uninformed her teachers were. Luckily, Caragan was able to get phonics-based tutoring for several years that enabled her to succeed in school. But she worried about all the kids whose families couldn’t afford that expense. So Caragan and her older brother started “Bright Young Dyslexics” to help students with dyslexia get the extra help they need.
Caragan began to raise money by selling handmade bracelets, chocolates, baked goods and passes to a “dress down day” at school, as well as by hosting fundraising dinners at local restaurants. She also developed a website with information about dyslexia, and formed a youth advisory board of middle and high school volunteers – now totaling 36 – who help her fundraise and plan events. In addition to paying for tutoring and library resources, Caragan’s nonprofit conducts in-school programs to educate teachers about learning disabilities, and simulation events to show what it’s like to have dyslexia. Bright Young Dyslexics expanded its reach from Northeast Wisconsin to the entire state several years ago, and is now offering a “dyslexia awareness kit” to students across the country who want to educate their own communities about dyslexia.