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Promise to daughter a life-changing moment Woman of Distinction nominee hopes to bring awareness to

Five years ago, Cheryl Hoffman’s life changed as she helped her then-Grade 6 daughter with homework.

Since Grade 1, Kersten had struggled with reading and writing. That night, the frustration led her to run from the room in tears.

Hoffmann had always suspected Kersten suffered from dyslex

ia, but years of working with psychologists and educators had failed to confirm her fears.

She followed Kersten to provide comfort.

"She was crying and asked, ‘Why am I so stupid?’" recalled Hoffman, who lives in Windsor Park. "It broke my heart."

Hoffmann promised her daughter that she would personally find a way to help.

That promise eventually led her to start a new business, KC Dyslexic Learning Centre, as well as the non-profit Friends of Dyslexia, which helps fundraise for children whose families can’t afford access to tutoring.

Hoffmann is now one of 10 Manitobans — and the only southeast Winnipegger — nominated in the education, training and mentorship category for the upcoming 2012 YMCA-YWCA Women of Distinction awards.

Following her promise to Kersten, Hoffman reached out to American dyslexia expert Susan Barton, and emerged with both a diagnosis and a method to help her daughter — only to have her daughter’s school explain they couldn’t help, as the method was not part of its approved curriculum.

So Hoffmann tutored Kersten herself. By Grade 8, Kersten was reading at the appropriate age level, while in Grade 6, she had been reading at a Grade 2 level.

Hoffmann, a trained computer programmer, said the decision to start KC Dyslexic Learning Centre was a "moral obligation."

Although dyslexia — a language-processing disorder — is a recognized medical condition, there is very little help from the government in terms of funding or services.

"Dyslexic brains need a certain way to learn to read and spell," she said. "The reason I started this centre is no one would help."

That lack of funding is also why Hoffmann started Friends of Dyslexia.

"We have families that can’t afford to get help," she said.

Hoffmann was nominated for the Women of Distinction award by Marie Hopp, a tutor at the Learning Centre.

"Personally, to me, she’s been an inspiration," Hopp, a West End resident, said of Hoffmann.

Hopp commended Hoffmann for all she’s done to help Kersten, and praised her for raising awareness about dyslexia.

"There’s so many myths about it," Hopp said. "By getting more and more people to recognize it is learning disability, she’s making a world of difference."

Hoffmann said she was surprised that opening the centre, which is located in St. Boniface, would be viewed as an award-worthy accomplishment.

"I just feel like it was the right thing to do," she said, adding she often feels lucky.

"It’s bittersweet. (Kersten) had to struggle and go through it, but now we have this centre and are helping families."

The 2012 Women of Distinction Awards will be presented on Wed., May 2.

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