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Alan Pesky ’56 helps provide brighter future through Idaho nonprofit

By Deb Schlosser

In the 1970s, Lee Pesky ’87, son of Alan Pesky ’56, was diagnosed with a learning disorder. The family’s experience afterward was the impetus for the founding of the Lee Pesky Learning Center after Lee’s death in 1995.

“Lee had started a chain of bagel stores, met a lovely young woman, and then fell ill with brain cancer,” says Alan Pesky. “Within two-and-a-half months he was gone. Our family wanted to do something that would help others in his name and keep his name alive. We chose something that grew from his experiences as a child with a learning disability.”

The Lee Pesky Learning Center in Idaho began in 1997 and is the leading facility of its kind in the country, touching the lives of hundreds of children each year. Thirty employees are spread between campuses in Boise and Hailey and an Albertson College Clinic in Caldwell. Another facility is scheduled to open this year at a new YMCA in Ketchum.

“The center strengthens reading, writing, and math skills with an emphasis on helping those with learning disabilities,” says Pesky. “It provides assessment and counseling, as well as training for schools and educators. In addition, it offers literacy resources, and classes in social and study skills, writing workshops, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.”

About 200 individuals come to the center for assessment and remediation each year. Since shaping legislation in 1998, the center has trained hundreds of teachers statewide to teach literacy using research-based strategies. The center also works in partnership with public schools to foster reading, writing, and mathematical literacy. And it has distributed more than 21,000 copies of Early Literacy Tips to new mothers in every Idaho hospital. A Spanish version is now reaching the state’s growing Hispanic population.

Pesky notes that 80 percent of prison inmates have one or more learning disabilities, and if these had been addressed, the convicts may not have resorted to illegal behavior.

Pesky is chairman of the board for the nonprofit and his wife Wendy runs its biggest fund-raising event, which last year brought in $300,000. The center has a $1.7 million annual budget, receiving much of its funding from individual donations, foundation grants, and congressional appropriations.

Pesky had found it difficult to deal with a system that had no idea how to help his son.

“Lee was diagnosed before there was a real understanding of learning disabilities,” he says. “There was no one available to help with the anguish and frustration for a child and his family when the child is bright, and yet has something that blocks them from fulfilling their potential. At one point they tried to convince us that Lee should leave the public school and go to a special school. It took tremendous time and energy to fight that, but we did, and he got the extra help he needed. A neurologist was finally able to diagnose the problem. Most people in a similar situation weren’t able to get that far, largely because there was a lack of related resources and knowledge at the time.”

The Lee Pesky Learning Center is not the only place that has grown through the family’s generosity. In 2005, the Association of Fundraising Professionals named the Peskys Outstanding Philanthropists of the Year for their contributions to nonprofit organizations.

“I have always been a big believer that it important to give to society in order to make the world a better place,” says Pesky. “It is in my nature to stay involved in the things that touch my life. That is why I have stayed involved with Lafayette. My time there was a wonderful four years that laid the groundwork for my career and I wanted to give back.”

Pesky served on the Lafayette Board of Trustees for 15 years. He is the father of Greg Pesky ’90. Alan and Wendy Pesky sponsor the music department’s artist-in-residence program, which brings to campus renowned musicians who share their performance and teaching skills with students in the classroom and on the concert stage. They provided funding for the Hillel House’s Pesky Family Chapel and Multi-Purpose Room, as well as donating in Lee’s memory a Torah scroll and the ark in which it resides.

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