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Wisdom Inspired by Learning Differences (W.I.L.D.)

09/24/2014 06:33PM ● Published by Hood Magazine

By Paola D. Vermeer, Founder of W.I.L.D  

W.I.L.D., “Wisdom Inspired by Learning Differences,” is a mentoring program for school-aged students with learning differences. The thing that makes W.I.L.D. unique is that students are mentored by college students who have similar learning challenges. This allows for a special relationship founded on common ground that grows by sharing both the challenges and successes of having a learning disability in the school environment. A special sense of unity is cultivated by this program. W.I.L.D. mentors and mentees meet as a group once a month and do art or science projects together. These interactive projects are conducive to conversations that may otherwise be more difficult to initiate. In addition, the projects are a lot of fun! W.I.L.D. events last year included making pottery bowls at the Washington Pavilion’s clay studio for their annual “Empty Bowls” event, making superhero capes, isolating DNA from fruit in the PROMISE lab, and making our own W.I.L.D. t-shirts.

Two community grants, one from the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation and another from First Bank and Trust, not only enabled W.I.L.D. to get off the ground in February 2014 but also apply for non-profit 501c3 status, which we were awarded in August 2014. As a 501c3 organization, W.I.L.D. can obtain sponsorships that will ensure this program remains free. Finally, a generous donor provided the funds for our own W.I.L.D. website: (, an excellent way to spread the word about W.I.L.D. and keep mentors and mentees connected.

How has W.I.L.D. benefitted its mentees? One mentee says “W.I.L.D. is really fun and makes me feel like I fit in. We do a lot of cool activities. The teachers are all really, really nice. I have made a lot of new friends with the kids there. W.I.L.D. helped me a lot in school.” Another mentee adds, “It is cool to meet other people who share similar experiences with our education system. The mentors are all really good with kids.” Mentors equally gain from their W.I.L.D. with a feeling of “paying it forward.” Many mentors recall having someone significant in their life who was critical during challenging times in grade school, and now they can offer that same type of support to their mentees. W.I.L.D.‘s biggest challenge remains identifying mentors, and we will continue to work with local colleges and universities to spread the word about this new program and allow new mentors to “pay it forward.”


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