Kids called her stupid. Teachers put her down in class, calling her lazy. Fellow students set up a Twitter account to mock her. All this happened because Caragan Olles has dyslexia. The condition causes people—by some accounts, one in five students—to have difficulty reading, and Caragan was diagnosed with it in third grade. She could have merely resigned herself to her fate, but Caragan Olles didn’t do that.
Before the diagnosis, she believed the taunts and insults. “I came home many days crying because I felt I wasn’t as smart as my classmates,” says Caragan, recalling her K-2 years. After she was diagnosed, she and her family realized how few people understand the condition.
In 2013, then 10-year-old Caragan and her older brother, Carter, who has given her much love and support over the years, set out to change all that. They founded a nonprofit organization called Bright Young Dyslexics.
While Caragan’s family could afford tutoring, she knew that many others couldn't. “I basically looked around the community and started to see how many dyslexic children there were,” she says. “Knowing the troubles that I had with dyslexia and the troubles I’ve gone through trying to find tutoring, it makes me feel some sort of responsibility to help these kids get the tutoring that they need but might not be able to afford.”
Caragan began to raise money—selling handmade bracelets, hosting fundraising dinners at local restaurants, and forming a youth advisory board to help solicit funds and plan fundraising events. Within five years, Bright Young Dyslexics had raised almost $200,000 and was offering programs to educate not only students but teachers as well. Caragan herself has personally coached over 2,500 people, helping them understand dyslexia.
Bright Young Dyslexics offers four things:
- a funding award to help families afford tutoring and other resources
- two-hour dyslexia simulations to help teachers and others experience dyslexics’ frustration and stress (“People come out of that very emotional because they had no idea what these kids were going through.”)
- individually tailored teacher in-service trainings
- a dyslexia awareness kit
Bright Young Dyslexics started as a small Wisconsin organization and now serves others all across the country. Caragan speaks at conferences, facilitates trainings, implements reading resource centers in libraries, and makes classroom presentations. The ridicule hasn’t stopped. Just recently, a teacher made fun of her in his class, but Caragan is staying the course. “The most rewarding aspect of this is when a parent or a teacher comes up to me and says, ‘Wow. You really opened my eyes about how dyslexics learn or what it really is.’”