Jen Parra, Lexercise therapist and founder/owner/executive director of Multisensory Reading Center, says she had a “run-of-the-mill childhood.” Born and raised in the Denver area, she grew up doing the “normal” things, without a clear sense of where her life might take her. She earned a BA in History at Thomas Edison State University and tried her hand as a paralegal and an escrow officer and considered a career in real estate law. That was what Jen calls her “pre-kid life.”
Taking time off to stay home with her kids, Jen knew she’d go back to work but didn’t have a clear career direction. Her first step was to teach Sunday school. “I loved teaching,” Jen says. So she returned to school, got a teaching certificate, and became a special education resource teacher in Texas, where she now lived with her family.
“The year I started teaching,” Jen explains, “my son started kindergarten and had a lot of issues with reading. I didn’t know what to do. I was a first-year teacher. I could see him struggling, and I could see similar problems among the first graders in my resource group.” Since the state of Texas offers dyslexia therapy in schools, Jen turned to local therapists and mentors and suddenly was immersed in the “whole world of dyslexia.”
At the same time, she reflected on her childhood and remembered that her bright, math-savvy brother had struggled in school, and had trouble with reading. Though his problem wasn’t given a name at the time, in retrospect, Jen could see that he fit the classic profile of a person with dyslexia.
After five years as a resource teacher, Jen did the now-obvious thing: she returned to school. This time, she earned a Master of Education degree with a special emphasis in dyslexia at Midwestern State University and also became a Certified Academic Language Therapist. (She is also a Certified Dyslexia Therapist with the International Dyslexia Association and a Licensed Dyslexia Therapist in the state of Texas.) Suddenly Jen had new tools to address familiar challenges. Using her son as a “guinea pig” with great results, Jen went to work as a dyslexia therapist in the Allen Independent School District.
Again, she loved it. But after five years, Jen found herself facing some physical challenges. “I loved what I was able to do,” she says, “working with kids and families, helping them get appropriate accommodations, and really changing the trajectory of their school path. But I couldn’t keep up physically with the classroom pace.”
Jen was heartbroken. “I thought my career was over. If I couldn’t keep up in the classroom, how could I maintain an in-office private practice?” Leaving her position would mean losing income, losing health insurance, and losing the network of support she had grown accustomed to in the school system. “We had two kids entering middle school, with college costs in the future.” Jen was scared.
Then she happened to see an email about Lexercise. “It was a light at the end of the tunnel,” Jen says. In a leap of faith, she contacted Sandie, started her own business, Multisensory Reading Center, and was soon working as a Lexercise therapist. “This came at exactly the right time,” Jen recalls. “I could work at my own pace and continue to do what I really loved: creating lifelong readers.”
After about a year, with a growing caseload, Jen started getting inquiries from other dyslexia therapists. Her team grew, and today, after just four years, the Multisensory Reading Center has 13 clinicians serving more than a hundred students all over the world on the Lexercise platform alone. They also provide Orton-Gillingham based tutoring for ages pre-K to adult, and Jen trains therapists to work in teletherapy and provides ongoing professional development and support to dyslexia therapists.
“It completely blows me away,” Jen says, “what an incredible reach we have and what a wonderful, wonderful partnership we have with Lexercise.”
“It was the hardest thing I ever did: to admit that I needed to make that change instead of holding onto what was comfortable, and to make the change without knowing whether it would work out.” But of course, it has worked out, Jen explains, “I’m in a better place, I get to do what I love, and my reach is so much greater. We’re lucky in Texas; we have dyslexia therapy in the schools. But a lot of places are devoid of resources and we’re able to help these families understand and overcome their challenges, to bring them hope and the change that they need by doing what we’ve been trained to do. It’s more than a career. I really view this as a ministry.”