Turning a Disability into a Professional Tool

Camp Vision co-founder Marcus Soutra ’06
Camp Vision co-founder Marcus Soutra ’06

You’ve heard the old saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” KSC alum Marcus Soutra ’06 has certainly done just that, and his very special brand of lemonade is helping learning disabled (LD) students on campus and at local schools.

Diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactive disorder) in third grade, Marcus had a tough time in school because he just couldn’t learn normally or meet the classroom expectations. “I just didn’t feel good about who I was, because, at a very young age, I’d been told I was disabled,” he remembered. “I looked normal, and felt intelligent, but once I got into the classroom, I felt disabled.”

Fortunately, Marcus had supportive parents and a few understanding teachers along the way, and he made it to Keene State, quite an accomplishment for a LD student. His first year here was rocky, though, because he was ashamed of his disability and didn’t want anyone to know about it. But then he met people such as Jane Warner, director of Disability Services, who helped him get the right accommodations for his needs. “I started to realize that my LD wasn’t such a terrible thing because I could get help with it and do fine in school. My grades started to rise and my self esteem did too.”

Marcus majored in secondary education and social studies. He attended a seminar while he was student teaching and ran into Steve Bigaj, the associate dean of Professional Studies, who told Marcus about Project Eye-to-Eye, an organization that uses college students with LD to mentor younger kids with LD. “I read Jonathan Mooney’s [the Eye-to-Eye cofounder’s] book, Learning Outside the Lines, and it was basically my story,” Marcus recalled. “I thought, ‘I’ve got to bring this to Keene, because students here need to know about it; people in the community need this kind of help.’ So after graduation, I started coming up here and running Eye-to-Eye once a week.”

Marcus went on to become the national program director of Project Eye-to-Eye, where he’s responsible for managing and cultivating chapters nationwide. There are now 30 chapters in 16 states, and Marcus manages half of those chapters. Locally, Eye-to-Eye works with kids at Franklin Elementary School and the Jonathan M. Daniels School.

In 2007, Marcus, along with Amber Bergeron ’07, founded Camp Vision here at KSC, a week-long summer camp where counselors and kids can come together to build self esteem, the most important foundation for successful learning. The Camp, built on proven Eye-to-Eye principles, benefits both counselors and kids. “We’re finding that the role of being a mentor is as transformative in a person’s life as being mentored,” Marcus said. Both parties are struggling, and both need help. The mentors get a big boost from helping someone navigate similar challenges, and the kids, who often feel like they are doomed to failure in the classroom, are delighted to meet a cool college student who’s overcome LD and achieved success.