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$100,000 Gift Funds Speech-Language Programs in MU School of Health Professions

April 23, 2009

Story Contact:  Emily Smith, (573) 882-3346,

COLUMBIA, Mo. - A recent gift to the University of Missouri School of Health Professions (SHP) will fund the Robert G. Combs Language Preschool and scholarships for children in the MU Speech and Hearing Clinic. On Thursday, RiteCare Valley of Columbia, the philanthropic division of the local Scottish Rite Freemasons, donated a $100,000 endowment to the school. Since 1999, RiteCare has given more than $360,000 to fund the preschool and speech and hearing clinic scholarships.

RiteCare clinics provide diagnostic evaluation and treatment of speech and language disorders, as well as learning disabilities. Freemasons who belong to RiteCare Valley of Columbia geographically cover more than 40 counties in Missouri, from Rolla to Kirksville and from Marshall to Hannibal.

"One of the best ways to offer service to broad areas is to partner with universities that have communications disorders programs," said Duane Dimmitt, RiteCare board president. "The partnerships create a twofold philanthropy - helping young children who struggle with communication disorders and educating students who will work in the speech, audiology and literacy fields throughout Missouri."

The Robert G. Combs Language Preschool is a joint effort between the SHP Department of Communications Sciences and Disorders (CSD) and RiteCare. It is staffed by CSD student clinicians who are supervised by SHP faculty. The preschool serves mid-Missouri children and their families and is a learning and training lab for MU students.

The school enrolls children ages 3 to 5 who have speech and language delays. Classes are offered throughout the fall, winter and summer semesters. Since opening in 1999, the preschool has served more than 130 families.

"Mid-Missourians, including members of RiteCare, have a history of showing empathy and benevolence to individuals in need," said Dana Fritz, director of the preschool. "They recognize the importance of helping children who struggle to communicate. The support we've received from RiteCare has been extraordinary. With their partnership, the preschool has a bright future."

There has been increased recognition of the importance of evaluating and treating childhood speech and hearing disorders at the earliest possible stage, according to the Scottish Rite. Children with communication disorders are more likely to improve if they receive help at an early age.

"The opportunities the preschool and clinic offer our students to learn while providing children with needed communication support are what make our speech-language graduates so highly sought after in today's job market," says SHP Dean Rich Oliver. "The success stories we see in both of these programs make us very proud. They wouldn't happen without the help of the Scottish Rite."

Faculty and staff in the Department of Communication Science and Disorders at the University of Missouri are proud of its long and distinguished history and of the high quality of its graduates and students. The department has one of the oldest continually accredited programs in speech-language pathology in the nation and offers the only doctorate program in speech-language pathology in Missouri.

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