Groves Academy celebrates 40 years with a familiar face.
Henry Winkler knows firsthand the struggles of living with a learning disability.
The actor, best known as "The Fonz" on the 1970s sitcom "Happy Days," was diagnosed as being dyslexic when he was 31 and only after his stepson was tested for a learning disability.
"I learn through my ears," he explained. "I have to hear stuff because reading is so difficult for me."
Winkler's willingness to share his story is why he'll be headlining a fundraiser later this month for Groves Academy in St. Louis Park, a private school for children with learning disabilities, language disabilities and attention deficit disorder.
Winkler has spoken about his struggles with dyslexia at similar events all over the country for the past 15 years. He said the message may vary slightly, but basically goes back to the same philosophy by which he lives his life: "If you will it, it is not a dream." The quote, first brought to his attention by a piece of fan mail, holds a personal meaning.
Beyond acting, Winkler has been a director, producer, philanthropist and author. In 2003, he collaborated with Lin Oliver to write a series of children's books about a fourth-grade boy, Hank Zipzer, who is dyslexic.
In a recent interview, Winkler talked about how becoming an author was one of his proudest moments, because it proves there are no limits to what someone with a learning disability can accomplish. "I tell my story when I go to visit children from second to 12th grade and I ask, 'Do you have trouble in school?' Maybe a few will raise their hands. By the end, when I'm done talking, they all want to be dyslexic."
Students at Groves sent Winkler a video to convince him to come to their school. One line that stood out to him: "We are comfortable here." Now Winkler is coming, and the school couldn't be more grateful.
"We've seen a lot more interest in this year's event," said Heidi Freisinger, the school's development and events coordinator. So much more interest, in fact, that attendance for the event is expected to nearly double that of previous years. She estimated that 800 people will come to see Winkler and support the school, in comparison with last year's 450.
Freisinger said the school expects to raise a minimum of $550,000 at this year's event, but more likely in the $600,000 to $700,000 range.
Also making the event possible are more than 100 parent volunteers. Krista Bergert chose to send her fifth-grade daughter to Groves because of the special attention kids receive there.
"They have so many incredible outreach programs," she said. "They understand the way her brain works. It's been a huge benefit."
For his part, Winkler is more than happy to help raise money for the school. "It just seemed like a perfect fit."
Stephanie Audette is a University of Minnesota journalism student on assignment for the Star Tribune.