U.Va.'s Curry School Dedicates Sheila C. Johnson Center for Human Services

October 26, 2010 — Imagine a place where the multiple challenges a child faces in school are no longer identified and categorized as separate, unrelated issues, problems or concerns. Imagine a place that offers people of all ages comprehensive clinical services for speech and hearing, reading, learning and psychological well-being.

That's what businesswoman and philanthropist Sheila C. Johnson did in envisioning a center for human services, and then making it a reality with a $5 million gift.

The new Sheila C. Johnson Center for Human Services, which opened this fall, is based in the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education. It brings together four of Curry's evaluation and treatment clinics for the first time: the Speech-Language-Hearing Center, the McGuffey Reading Center, the Center for Clinical Psychology and the Personal and Career Development Center.

At Monday's dedication, Curry School Dean Robert Pianta told the audience of faculty, staff, students and guests gathered in the atrium of Bavaro Hall that the occasion was a "landmark moment in the history of Curry."

"Sheila Johnson's vision led to this center," he said. "She understood its importance, and we're indebted to her generosity and her vision."

Pianta then introduced the speakers for the dedication – U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Johnson's mother, Marie Crump.

"The Curry School is a leader among education schools," Sullivan said. The Johnson Center will be the "top psycho-educational treatment center in Virginia" and is "unlike any other center in the country," she said. It offers "treatment and research and world-class services."

McDonnell followed Sullivan, and joked that he'd missed being at U.Va. "I haven't been here since Friday," when he was on hand for the South Lawn dedication. He added, "If you can raise the money to open a building a week, I'll keep coming back."

McDonnell saluted Johnson, the co-founder of Black Entertainment Television and a newly appointed member of U.Va.'s Board of Visitors, for "her love for children and desire to have all impediments torn down to make the best education possible for all children." He noted that 60 families already have been treated at the center this fall. "That will soon reach into the hundreds and thousands as the center helps families throughout the state and beyond," he said.

Johnson was unable to attend the dedication due to a family emergency. Crump attended in her absence.

"I can't find the words to express how I feel about being with you this morning. I'm proud to represent my daughter," she said. "She believes in education. ... This is why she supports and champions the Curry School. This center is a service for everyone – children, students and adults."

Crump said it reminded her of when her daughter was growing up. "Our house was open to everyone. Sheila opened her home to all," too.

"An open place where people can get the care they deserve is what human services is all about," Crump said. That's the "heart of the Sheila Johnson Center," she added.

More than a shared reception area and waiting room, the center will become the premier psycho-educational treatment center in Virginia, according to the center's website.

For the first time, parents will be able to bring their children to one location for an array of assessments. A child with difficulty reading, for example, may well need an evaluation to determine the likelihood of a contributing attention deficit disorder, emotional disorder, language disability or some other problem.

The center's clinics will be able to combine their expertise to develop a single, cross-disciplinary treatment plan that addresses the whole person – adults and children – an approach sometimes found in health care, but rarely available to address the educational needs of children.

Psychological, educational and counseling services inclusive of diagnostic evaluations, therapeutic intervention, consultation and career planning are provided by graduate students and licensed health care professionals. Evaluation and treatment of speech, language and hearing issues along with auditory processing, autism intervention and post- stroke and brain injury treatments are offered. The McGuffey Reading Center furthers clinical and empirical research in developmental reading and prepares graduate students to serve as reading-language specialists.

— By Rebecca Arrington