Scottish Rite speech centers carry on in tough times Greenville’s Smith Center, others help children free of charge

Greenville News, Greenville, SC. – By By Ann Green

As a foot soldier in the struggle against communication and language disorders, speech language pathologist Martha McDade has quite a few war stories to tell.

These stories, however, end with lives changed for the better and children rescued from the abyss.

So when times get tough, as they are now for service organizations everywhere, McDade thinks back on some of the children helped over the years.

McDade is director of the South Carolina Scottish Rite Centers for Childhood Language Disorders, with centers in Greenville, Columbia and Charleston.
Besides the administrative and fundraising aspects of her job, she also does evaluation and therapy work with children.

She recalls the triplet boys who didn’t talk much when they first were brought to the center in Columbia, but grew into happy, mischievous youngsters.

Then there was the girl literally taught to talk by McDade.

“She must be about 25 now. I remember years after she stopped coming to our center attending her bat mitzvah and listening to her recite in Hebrew and watching her graduate from high school as an honor student,” McDade said.

The Greenville center, the John I. Smith Center, is at 817 Cleveland St.

It serves on average about 45 children a week with the help of three speech pathologists.

There is no charge to the families of youngsters helped at the Scottish Rite centers; services are provided through donations to the Scottish Rite Foundation.

The youngest child at the Greenville center is between 18 months and 2 years old, and the center will work with youngsters until age 6.

They come to the center with a wide range of communication disorders, from articulation problems to mild, moderate or severe language disorders. “We see children who stutter and some who are on the autism spectrum,” McDade said.

She added, “We don’t have any trouble finding kids. All three of our centers have waiting lists. If we had more money and more staff, we could serve more children.”

A native of Illinois, McDade said she knew growing up in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin what she wanted to do in life.

“I knew I was going to be a teacher of some sort. It just got tweaked a little bit when I got to college,” she said.

Around the fifth grade, she decided she wanted to be a special education teacher.

“I knew children who were special ed students. I volunteered in some special ed classes and taught a special ed Sunday school class. Then in college I took my first introduction to speech disorders class, and I knew that was it.”

Her husband, also a speech pathologist, took a job at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, which is how McDade came to the Palmetto state.
She explains that Scottish Rite Masons in the Southern jurisdiction decided that their philanthropy was to provide services to communicatively handicapped children. Each state then decided how to undertake that mission.

“In 1987 in South Carolina, the first center opened in Columbia. I was hired to run that program, and they decided to serve pre-school-age children. The Greenville center opened in 2001, and the Charleston center about five years ago,” she said.

As for those tough times, McDade has seen a lot of those lately.

“We are just hanging on. We are at reduced staff, serving fewer children than we served a couple of years ago. In these economic times, non-profits and programs that live by donations are at the end of the feeding chain when you think about how programs survive. When families cut back, charitable donations are the first thing to go,” she said.

Operating on an annual budget of $140,000, it costs $750 a day to run the John I. Smith Center, and the cost to provide therapy for one child for a year is about $4,000, McDade said.

“We are going to stay open next year, but our budget is the same as it was about five years ago. We haven’t replaced staff for the last three years as staff members have left. We know other non-profit organizations are closing down, and beyond 2010, we don’t know,” she added.

Because they aren’t charged for services provided to their children, parents donate supplies to the centers.

“We put up a note when we need a new printer, toilet paper, paper towels, stamps. We try never to buy those kinds of materials out of our operating budget,” the director said.

“We haven’t purchased major therapy materials in about three years. We just can’t buy anything new. We pay for the speech pathologists’ salaries and that’s it. If anything breaks down, we stick a note up and hope we don’t have to replace it out of our budget.”

McDade put in a seasonal plug for Sertoma Christmas tree lots, which support the centers.

In addition, a major fund-raiser for next year will be a gala March 26, followed by a clay shoot March 27.