(Heather Desjardins receives her Bootstrap Award as Founder of the Year. Left to Heather is Marla Ruta, administrative coordinator of The Open Door, and on the right is Leigha Brigham, trainer and student screener. Photo: J. Donald Lafontaine)
Heather Desjardins was recently honoured by receiving a Bootstrap Award as Founder of the Year. Heather is a local business owner here in Stittsville – The Open Door Educational Services. They work with students (one-on-one and in-home) who have learning disabilities.
The Bootstrap Awards feature a series of interviews with founders and leaders of the capital’s finest self-financed companies and are produced by The Ottawa Network and Smart & Biggar law firm. They are held in collaboration with the Wesley Clover Network’s ‘Tech Tuesday’ networking event.
The Open Door uses specialized programming and focus in teaching reading and spelling and have a great success rate. Many of the students are ones who have slipped through the cracks of the system and people have all but given up on them.
(Heather Desjardins. Photo: Jennifer Brigham of Phillipson and Baum Photography)
Heather’s training and education is as an educator, but she left her secure job in special education to start the business. She is also the immediate past chair of the Learning Disabilities Association of Ottawa-Carleton (after serving multiple terms as the chair of the board of directors).
Heather started her path as an English teacher with the intention of specializing in working with gifted students. She said, “I loved the idea of getting into the nitty gritty details of literature and poetry with my students”. She went on to say, “however, as soon as I got into the classroom for my first teaching practicum, I quickly realized that I was consistently drawn to the marginalized students, to the ones who were acting out, struggling, and refusing to hand in their assignments. I quickly changed directions and started focussing on special education”.
She was doing a significant amount or research in preparation for a master’s course on dyslexia at the University of San Diego, and kept being struck by the data and how many students were slipping through the cracks and the life-long negative impact thereof. Heather decided that more was needed to be done and she should do it – to help more students than she could reach working in one school.
Heather ended up leaving her secure job to start The Open Door Educational Services www.theopendoor.ca. Since then she has been able to educate parents and teachers with talks on dyslexia; organized a free large-scale dyslexia seminar with an internationally-known specialist as the speaker; and been able to help hundreds of struggling students.
Heather opened her business here in Stittsville because it is “the community in which I chose to live and raise my family”. The business is home-based at her residence and has been open for over 5 years. Heather says, “the business has only ever grown by word of mouth. Not on principle (that would be strange to me), but because we always have a wait list of students and have trouble keeping up with the demand. So we have just let it grow organically by word of mouth, and try our best to keep up!”.
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