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Volunteer of the Week

Leslie Esposito - Focus on Dyslexia

by Marilyn McMahon

Dyslexia was unknown to Leslie V. Esposito until 10 years ago. Now, he spends most of his time volunteering to educate the community about the learning disability that hampers a person's ability to read.

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"My wife Joan had the problem, which I discovered soon after we were married. We didn't realize what it was," Esposito said. "She was almost a recluse, and I thought it was because she was shy or because she was from England. I noticed that she had trouble writing."

The problem came to light when Esposito's stepson, Joel Brand, began to have problems at Cate School. When it was suggested that Joel might be dyslexic, Esposito and his wife went to a seminar to learn more about the disability.

"One of the first things we learned is that dyslexia can be inherited. As the speaker described other symptoms, we realized Joan was dyslexic, too," said Esposito. "I had been in education a long time, but I knew nothing about the learning disability."

Tests at Santa Barbara City College's Learning Disabilities Center confirmed the Espositos' suspicions that she had dyslexia and attention deficit disorder. After the diagnosis, Joan Esposito continued to work at the SBCC Center, learning how to read, spell and use computers.

Several years later, the couple decided to focus their time and energy on making people aware of dyslexia. They established the Dyslexia Awareness & Resource Center.

We began the center with a $2,500 grant from the local Soroptimist Club. We used the money to get our nonprofit status," said Esposito, who juggles his work as a real estate broker with his volunteer commitment as executive director and director of development for the center.

His wife serves as program director and travels all over the country giving talks and advocating on behalf of dyslexia.

The couple staff the center, which is located at 928 Carpinteria St, Suite 2, above Mid-State Bank.

"We probably have the largest library on the West Coast - books, audio and videotapes, thousands of articles - with information about dyslexia," Esposito said. "We work with schools and teachers and individuals."

Plans are in the works already for the third annual seminar, "The Vision and the Task," scheduled Jan. 30,1999, at SBCC. The first two were sellouts.

"We get top speakers from all over the country. Dr. Mel Levine from the University of North Carolina will speak about dyslexia and attention deficit disorder in January," Esposito said.


A resident of Santa Barbara since 1988, Esposito moved here after spending 16 years in the priesthood as a teacher, vice principal and principal in Catholic high schools.

"I was born in San Pedro, Calif., the oldest of seven children in a good Italian Catholic family," he said.

He earned his bachelor of arts and master of divinity degrees at St John's College in Camarillo. Esposito also has a master of science degree in administrative management from Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles and is studying for his doctorate of education degree at Pepperdine University in Los Angeles.

"Although it was a difficult decision' I decided to leave the priesthood after meeting Joan while I was visiting friends in Santa Barbara. I did a lot of praying I realized I was lonely," Esposito said. "We fell in love and were married Christmas Eve 1987 at All-Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Montecito."

He is a former member of the Ventura Optimist Club and former member of the Phoenix House board of directors. Other than his work with the DARC, Esposito is actively involved with Montecito International Rotary Club, serving as president last year. His grandfather and father were past presidents of the Rotary Club of San Pedro.

For his "long record of public service" and his contributions to the community, Esposito was presented with the Rotary Club's prestigious Paul Harris Fellow award.

"The Rotary Club has been very supportive of DARC," Esposito said. "For example, the club has provided the center with matching grant funds. Thanks to a recent grant from Rotary International, we were able to buy books, audio and visual tapes for dyslexic readers who use the public library."

If you were to ask Esposito what he considers his proudest accomplishment, it would probably be the career success of his stepson. Despite his problems with dyslexia, Joel Brand, now 28, is an anchorman with Channel One, the network for high schools.

"Joel travels to hot spots around the world. He just returned from Kuwait. During the war in Yugoslavia, Joel was a foreign correspondent for Newsweek and the London Times," said Esposito.



Originally published in The Santa Barbara News-Press

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