On Starting A Non-Profit To Support Children With Learning Differences

Published: January 21st, 2021
Heather McGehearty
Founder, StandUpLD
from Addison, TX, USA
started September 2016
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My name is Heather McGehearty, and in 2016 my husband Eric and I founded StandUpLD after our eldest son and twin boys were diagnosed with dyslexia. As with most parents whose children have been diagnosed with any learning issue, it comes as a shock. It certainly shook us up, even though both Eric and I have learning differences. Eric is dyslexic and I have dyscalculia, which is to math, in the simplest of explanations, what dyslexia is to reading. Eric and I had worked with and through our respective learning differences our entire lives, which certainly enabled us to better understand the many challenges that any children with faces. And, of course, we wanted to do as much as we could to help provide the best possible opportunities and outcomes for our children.

Within the next few years, our 4th child would also be diagnosed with dyslexia. We were all in! We were fortunate to receive guidance from a similar non-profit organization out of San Francisco but knew that we wanted to create an organization that could help children and their families who were closer to home here in North Texas. So, we decided to start StandUpLD. It’s a non-profit support network for parents and educators seeking resources to support and inspire children with learning differences.

We think it’s important for children with learning differences to be able to stand up for themselves and understand that they bring a lot more to the table than they likely imagine. Thankfully, we’re at a much better place as a society when it comes to understanding learning differences and the many, many challenges children who have them face. It’s also important to remember that children with learning differences have a very distinct advantage over others who don’t face some of the crippling challenges they have had to deal with. It’s called resiliency.

The resiliency of children with learning differences is often lost on those who don’t have, live with, or raise someone with a learning difference. How can they not be resilient? They have to work incredibly hard and understand how to deal with hardships at an early age. They’re used to things not being easy, but understand that there are issues you simply have to fight through. This resilience is incredibly valuable and is something they take with them throughout their lives. We all face challenges, and if you haven’t had to work through them daily, they may appear as mountains, ones that seem insurmountable. For a child or adult with a learning issue, that mountain is merely a mohill, just another in a long line of ones they’ve had to scale.


What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

We named our organization StandUpLD because we wanted to empower children and their parents by giving them a voice and helping them have the confidence to stand up for themselves and acknowledge their learning differences; to own it. There can be such a tremendous sense of isolation for children with learning differences. And with that, of course, often comes depression, which children with learning differences experience at greater rates than the national average. Imagine the sense of inadequacy a child feels when they’re working as hard—usually much harder—than others in the classroom but those efforts aren’t bringing results. What’s more, it’s not uncommon for a learning issue to be mistaken for a mental health issue. You can imagine how that mislabeling can affect self-esteem, depression, and escort in a host of other issues they face once they reach their teen years. According to Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, there is a significant overlap in learning differences and substance abuse.

Something is only a failure if you don’t learn from it. If you do and can use that knowledge to your advantage, it can hardly be called a failure.

Without access to proper remediation and organizations like StandUpLD—and others with similar missions—children in at-risk communities who have a learning difference are even more likely to fall into negative and self-destructive behaviors. As an example, 48% of today’s prison population has dyslexia. Those children, along with any child challenged with a learning issue, is why StandUpLD is truly a heart mission.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

Once our dream for StandUpLD was in place, it was time to dig into what would make it succeed and identify any potential pitfalls. We conducted a lot of research online and spoke to many professionals at local private schools whose charter is to educate children with learning issues. We knew this would be very important for several reasons, especially when it came to developing a curriculum for not just children, but their parents and educators, as well.

StartUpLD was primarily self-funded at the beginning, which meant we had to get creative on several fronts. This is where Eric’s experience in digital marketing and with Globe Runner really helped. I can’t imagine the hard costs we would have incurred had we not been able to lean on his success in digital marketing.

And we became well versed with some great learning differences resources, including legislation like Wrightslaw here in Texas, which works to help people with disabilities who need legal assistance. Also, the National Center for Learning Disabilities and The Learning Disabilities Association of America.

Describe the process of launching the business.

When we founded StandUpLD, we knew that our experience in digital marketing would be a strong foundation on which we could build StandUpLD. In 2009, Eric started Globe Runner, a Dallas-based digital marketing agency, and its success in helping clients grow their business perfectly translated into ways in which we could bring awareness to StandUpLD. From website building and SEO to social media and email campaigns, we had the knowledge and resources to make our dream become a reality. Our followers and engagements on social media have steadily grown. Please follow us on Facebook, and on our YouTube channel.

Naturally, our first order of business was to create the hub of our engagement universe—the StandUpLD website. Eric’s SEO experience, combined with tenured and talented SEO team members at Globe Runner, helped ensure people looking for resources to help their child could find us.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Our experience in digital marketing has helped us tremendously to ensure we get the most breadth and depth possible when it comes to getting the word out. We provide a monthly newsletter and regular social posts. We like to make sure that we’re not posting just for the sake of doing so. We ensure that each message carries with its content or a link to content, that is educational and enlightening in some way.

We use YouTube quite a bit, as well, which is especially important now that we have had to social distance and limit face-to-face interaction due to COVID-19.


Speaking of the pandemic, StandUpLD, as has almost every organization and company throughout the world, had to really shift our tactics once it began. And, like with all organizations, it was an unexpected roadblock we had to deal with. Naturally, it required us to transform the workshops and speaker engagements into virtual, online events. But, ironically, it became somewhat of a blessing. Now, we feature speakers from around the country and have followers watching from around the globe. And once we get past the pandemic, we will continue to offer many of these virtual events. Also, virtual events have worked out well for parents who want to attend these events but can’t due to their work schedules or time constraints. Now, they can watch StandUpLD programming from the comfort of their home. It’s a perfect example of how challenges can often present the best opportunities.



Another great event we have used is through northtexasgivingday.org. It’s a wonderful organization that puts on North Texas Giving Day, an 18-hour, an online giving event that empowers local citizens and companies to give back to local nonprofit organizations on a single, easy-to-use platform. Just this year, they raised almost $60 million through over a hundred thousand donors, which benefited over 3,000 nonprofits. Yes, we were one of them.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

The future of StandUpLD is bright and very exciting. Our goal is to provide a curriculum that can be used by others to help run workshops, conduct parent meetings, and roundtables, and feature inspirational speakers. In other words, to do in other areas precisely what we do here in Dallas and Fort Worth. There are a lot of children out there with learning differences. We want to help as many of them, their parents, and educators as possible.

Our workshops are wonderful, empowering events that are also a great way for children to meet others like them. We host these events for children of all ages. There are many creative workshops, as well, which perfectly aligns with children who have learning differences. In case you didn’t know, children with learning differences can be incredibly, amazingly creative. You’ve probably heard a few of these names, each of whom has a learning issue: Justin Timberlake, Steven Spielberg, Keanu Reeves, Jay Leno, and Orlando Bloom, just to name a very few. According to Bloom, “If you have kids who are struggling with dyslexia, the greatest gift you can give them is the sense that nothing is unattainable. With dyslexia comes a very great gift, which is the way that your mind can think creatively.”


The list of people who have, or had, learning differences is staggering, and those are just a few in creative fields. How about these—Winston Churchill, Charles Darwin, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Richard Branson, and Charles Schwab. Again, those are just a few.

For example, closer to home, Eric has a Master of Fine Arts and is a skilled sculptor. His work has appeared in galleries and private showings, and he has had numerous commissions.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

As a founder, it is always tempting to do everything yourself. You have an idea of exactly what you want to create, so there’s a tendency to have tunnel vision without using many of the resources around you. However, it’s an easy way to burn out quickly. We had a moment early on when one of our events didn’t go as well as we would have liked, and we almost threw in the towel. We were burned out, our event didn’t come off as we had imagined, and it felt like there was nothing left in the tank. Thankfully, we persevered, but if we had it all to do over again, we would formalize volunteer roles to spread out the workload and reduce the risk of burnout.

That’s an important thing to remember when you’re beginning a company or creating a non-profit organization. Use your resources. While it’s not always easy asking for help, it always amazes me how giving people are of their time and energy. If you’re afraid of asking for help you need to get over it. It’s truly a win-win. You get the assistance you need and people get the good feelings that come from helping an organization dedicated to helping children with learning differences.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Thankfully, there is an array of phenomenal resources out there for children with learning issues and their parents and educators.

There’s a tremendous weekly podcast out called Dyslexia Explored, which is available on the app store. Its most recent guest features Dr. Fernette Eide, who co-authored a fabulous book called The Dyslexia Challenge. A great resource is The International Dyslexia Association. They have local chapters throughout the world. You can even track related legislation by the state on their site.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?

One of the best tips I could give somebody creating a business or non-profit is to not be afraid to fail. As I mentioned earlier, Eric and I were disconsolate when an event didn’t go as planned. But we used it as a teaching experience. Something is only a failure if you don’t learn from it. If you do and can use that knowledge to your advantage, it can hardly be called a failure.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help. The vast majority of people will appreciate your asking. It’s flattering when somebody reaches out for your help, especially when it’s getting an opinion or trying to learn from something based on your experience. That’s called wisdom. People like to pass it on.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We are always looking for volunteers to help advance the mission of StandUpLD. It’s an incredibly rewarding experience. Helping children with learning issues develop their voice and watching their parents realize that everything is going to be OK is a thrill. Again, this is a passion project.

Where can we go to learn more?

You can access several fantastic resources on our website if you would like to know more about learning differences and to find organizations helping children with learning differences. They all help and further our mission to give children that voice they need to stand up and own their learning difference, and to help pave the way to a happy, successful, and fruitful life. If you’d like to volunteer at StandUpLD, please let us know how you’d like to help by visiting our Get Involved page. For more information about StandUpLD, please visit our contact page; we’d love to hear from you. And if you’d like to donate StandUpLD, you’re welcome to do so here. We greatly appreciate your support.

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!