By Todd Cohen
RALEIGH, N.C. — Since it opened in 1965, the Frankie Lemmon School and Developmental Center in Raleigh has provided over 1 million hours of free education and support for preschool and kindergarten children with special needs and their families.
Now, the nonprofit school has hired a new president to oversee the school and its fundraising foundation, and to develop a strategy to support an expansion to serve more children in more grades, including traditional students.
“To begin to raise more money and begin to expand the school, we need to engage more people in the community to support our services,” says Dan Bruer, who joined the school on Nov. 12 as president, a new position.
Operating with an annual budget of $1.2 million and a staff of 17 people, the school serves 45 children, says Bruer, who previously was the Raleigh-based deputy director of strategic partnerships for the League of Conservation Voters in Washington, D.C.
Frankie Lemmon receives about 40 percent of its operating funds from the state to support children referred by the Wake County Public School System under a contract to provide tuition-free instruction to eligible children from all socio-economic levels.
While it operates in space at Hayes Barton Baptist Church, enrollment includes 17 children the school began serving this school year at the Jordan Child and Family Enrichment Center, a childcare program operated by the Methodist Home for Children.
Frankie Lemmon serves children with mild-to-moderate disabilities, mainly Down syndrome and autism, and it focuses on language and communication skills, and motor functions, providing occupational and physical therapy in addition to a traditional pre-school curriculum.
The school generates the bulk of its funding from its annual Triangle Wine Experience, and an annual fund drive, both currently chaired by Eliza Kraft Olander, co-founder of Apple Gold, parent company of franchised restaurants.
The three-day Wine event, which will be held the first week in February and will feature winemakers and chefs from around the world, dinners at Triangle restaurants and an auction, last year netted $800,000.
And the annual drive, which ends January 8, aims to raise at least $200,000.
But with more requests from parents than it has openings, and with demand from parents to add more grades, Frankie Lemmon wants to diversify its funding base, which currently consists mainly of parents and other individual donors, as well as foundations and corporations, says Bruer, who previously was capital campaign manager for Triangle Land Conservancy and Raleigh-based director of development for the Mid-Atlantic states for the American Red Cross.
“There’s a desire and a need from parents to also look at what we can do to continue services beyond kindergarten,” he says.
Bruer says Frankie Lemmon will develop a plan by next July to map its strategy, and invites anyone who wants to know about the school to visit.
“We’re going to be working with the school system, as well as other organizations in the community we partner with,” he says, “to support special needs children and their families.”