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Grace Mutzabaugh: NILD's Founder

On this remembrance, she enrolled in Elizabethtown College in 1954 to become a teacher. She went on to found a school in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and began to encounter bright children who were unable to read. By 1960, Grace moved to Virginia and served on the staff of Norfolk Christian Schools as classroom teacher, reading specialist and eventually administrator of the Lower School. During this time, she received a Master’s degree in Remedial Reading at the University of Virginia.

In 1973, while Deborah was giving educational therapy in the basement of her home, Grace was pleading with the administration of Norfolk Christian Schools (NCS) to “do something about these children”. Shortly thereafter, Rev. John Dunlap, pastor of Tabernacle Church in Norfolk, received a letter that would result in the first meeting of Grace and Deborah. These two determined ladies had a mutual passion to help children succeed in school. Out of this meeting, a work of great consequence was born.

Grace brought the training Deborah had given her in New Jersey back to Norfolk, Virginia and launched a program to help struggling learners at Norfolk Christian Schools. Twenty-three parents were eager to immediately sign up for this assistance. The 1973-74 school year began with Grace and her three newly trained teachers/educational therapists in a pilot study. Each of the teachers took on two educational therapy students after school beyond their fulltime responsibilities in the classroom. Grace worked with three students after school and on Saturdays. The next school year saw the opening of a new department known as” Discovery” with four educational therapists serving 17 students.

Grace knew that she needed support, leading to an Advisory Board that was formed in the fall of 1974. Grace took three more teachers to Deborah Zimmerman in New Jersey for training in August 1975. Returning to school in September of that year, 28 students in grades one through twelve were served. Deborah informed Grace that it was time for her to start training others. The first official workshop was offered in Norfolk during the summer of 1976.

Before long, other parents and teachers from around the country were asking for the program to be replicated in their schools. In 1982, the Norfolk Institute for Learning Disabilities (NILD) was born.

The birth pains were intense.  Grace tells her story in A Work of His Grace (2000). Opposition and ridicule were woven into Grace’s daily experiences, but she persevered through the trials and saw her “child” safely delivered. She had begun to realize that even though she was not a missionary on foreign soil, she had found great joy in the work of rescuing lives from frustration and failure. She used to sign her letters, “Your missionary to the LD world”. Grace fully believed that God had answered her earlier request that, “If you show me a program that works, I’ll give the rest of my life to it.” (p 26)

Over the next 30 years, Deborah and Grace witnessed a great movement begin. From the small educational therapy station in Deborah’s basement to literally thousands of therapy stations around the world, these pioneers were thrilled to see schools embracing this work, teachers finding answers that applied in their classrooms and parents rejoicing in the help their children were receiving. The respect they held for one another remained throughout their lives.

The investment of these two lives, well lived, has been extraordinary. Because of their faithful pursuit of help for struggling learners, a wave of hope now literally encircles the globe. Their convictions have stood the test of time. Children can be built rather than repaired. Grace and Deborah’s diligence in the face of many obstacles, barriers and skepticism has yielded great fruit.