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HELP earns its spot as one of three ClackCo finalists for Better Business Bureau Torch Award

This is the first of three stories profiling Clackamas County-based finalists for the Better Business Bureau Torch Award for small businesses.

Help Elevate Learning Processing, a Lake Oswego-based nonprofit that tests, evaluates and treats clients of all ages with learning and processing challenges, is one of three Clackamas County-based organizations selected as finalists for the Better Business Bureau Torch Award for Oregon's Small Business of the Year.COURTESY PHOTO: HELP - HELP Executive Director Susan Leckband (left) and Assistant Director Charlene Smith (right).

HELP is not a tutoring program that helps students with subjects like math or science, rather it is a comprehensive, one-on-one skill-building program focused on helping clients understand the way their brain processes information so they can understand the unique way they learn.

"We work with kids, adults, seniors, anybody who has either a learning challenge or a processing issue," said Executive Director Susan Leckband. "A lot of times, it's just somebody who is a smart person who has difficulty being organized or remembering things, they tend to feel a little scattered."

When clients come in, they are able to purchase a testing procedure called the Multiple Abilities Profile, which Assistant Director Charlene Smith said assesses how the client's brain uniquely processes information through a series of cognitive games over the course of two to three hours.

"Depending on how they answer during this assessment, it produces results with a colorful bar graph showing if you're an auditory learner or a kinesthetic or visual learner, and it breaks each one of those down," Smith said. "At a minimum, you walk away knowing how your brain is truly processing that information."

Smith, who has been with the organization for 15 years, added that taking the MAP test does not commit a client to the program, but gives them information on how their own brain processes information, which has alone given several clients a boost of confidence as well as a foundation upon which they can begin building their own unique learning habits.

"This information is empowering," Smith said. "If you choose to continue and do the program with us, we can improve these things, but if not, it allows you to know where your strengths are, where your weaknesses are, and helps you to advocate for yourself."

Leckband, who has been with the organization for 20 years, said clients often walk away not only with a better understanding of how to approach academics, but also daily tasks and procedures.

"There's a lot of life approach skills that they learn how to organize and how to break big things into smaller bites, so that it's more manageable," Leckband said. "There's something that we call 'paralysis by analysis,' meaning when somebody has a big thing that they have to do, like cleaning the house, how do you start if you can't figure out where to start? They just generally procrastinate and that's another common thing that we deal with around here is teaching them how to take those first steps."

Smith added that although HELP did not experience a huge uptick in service requests during the COVID-19 pandemic, the reason it was able to stay in business was because many still had the need to understand how they processed information.

"When it did become 100% virtual learning for everyone, which is not a one-size-fits-all, there was still that need for people to call in — even adults, because they had to now organize themselves better and continue to work while their child was at home," Smith said. "We had both adults calling for their children, or for themselves, just to help get through the pandemic, and the new environment in which they and their children had to work and learn."

Now in its 37th year in business, HELP is located on the former campus of Marylhurst University, now called Marylhurst Common, and has kept the same MAP test fee of $98 dollars since the organization was founded in 1984.

"We are a true not-for-profit, we are all here because we love the program, because we love being able to see the changes in the individuals that we work with," Leckband said.

Clients do not require an official diagnosis to seek HELP services, Leckband said, adding that their organization is not a medical facility and they cannot diagnose a learning challenge themselves. Many clients come seeking services after experiencing a debilitating injury such as head trauma or a stroke, or sometimes a parent is simply worried about their student who has fallen behind in school, Leckband said, emphasizing that clients' challenges have "nothing to do with intellect."

"We work with very, very smart people," Leckband said. "It just has to do with the way that their brain takes in information, sequences that information, holds onto that information and is able to retrieve it."

Smith said she decided to apply for the BBB award as a way to make more people aware of the unique services HELP offers.

"We've been around for 37 years," Smith reiterated, "as parents and people are still searching for ways to change the way they learn and improve themselves without medication. Our name just wasn't out there enough."

Smith said some clientele had difficulty finding HELP after the acronym was updated from Help Eliminate Learning Problems to Help Elevate Learning Processing and winning the award would be another way to let people know the organization is still there.

"It was important for us to get this new name out there and to let people know we're leaders in this field, we're still here, and we're still a not-for-profit," Smith said.

As small business directors themselves, Leckband and Smith said they frequently support the network of small businesses in their own community.

"We try very hard to support small businesses ourselves and I think it's really important that people continue to do that," Leckband said. "We've seen so many restaurants, hair salons and others go out of business during this pandemic. Another reason we wanted to join Better Business Bureau is because there's a lot of small businesses there that we can network with now and then they can in turn support us. So I think that the small business community really needs to pull for each other."

The 2021 BBB Torch Awards will take place Thursday, Oct. 28 at 1 p.m., streamed live on BBB's YouTube channel.

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