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Tustin School for Brain-Injured Children to Reopen

Donations and loans will allow the facility formerly known as the Alex Center to reorganize.

August 30, 2003|Claire Luna | Times Staff Writer

Nearly $500,000 in donations and loans will allow a Tustin school for severely brain-injured children that closed last week after financial troubles to reopen at the same location this fall, founders announced Friday.

Parents of the Alex Center's 21 students have been scrambling to find a new school for their children since the closure was announced July 1.

The center for brain-injured children, one of four in the country and the only one on the West Coast, was founded two years ago by the parents of Alex Tempel, now 17, of Laguna Niguel, the school's namesake.

The school, which will reopen Sept. 8, will be called the Tustin Center and immediately serve about a dozen students. After the facility is certified by the California Department of Education, enrollment is expected to return to more than 20 as children get permission from their local school districts.

"As of two weeks ago, we were still a little tense as to whether we could pull this off," cofounder Scott Tempel, Alex's father, said Friday while moving new furniture into the school. "It's created a new energy now that we've succeeded."

The Irvine-based Samueli Foundation, started by Broadcom cofounder Henry Samueli and his wife, Susan, has donated $50,000 and loaned $300,000 to the center, and told Tempel it may donate as much $300,000 more in two years. For every $3 in outside donations the school receives, the Samueli Foundation will forgive $1 of the loan.

Private donors and corporations have given an additional $50,000 and the nonprofit Miracle Foundation has given $30,000.

The center also receives funding from school districts which authorize students to attend specialized facilities because they are unable to provide the requisite care.

The former center closed because of management problems, which Tempel said will be solved with the formation of the Laguna Niguel-based Brain Injury Foundation, which will run the new center.

Laura Hammett, whose 10-year-old son Bryan was the Alex Center's second student, said the facility helps disabled children in ways regular schools cannot. If students couldn't attend such a school, which provides speech, physical and occupational therapy, most would have to stay home with a nurse, said Hammett, of Costa Mesa, one of the center's board members.

Bryan has made "amazing progress" at the school, she said. He used to act up and was unable to function in a regular classroom. Now the boy can hold a pencil, sit still for schoolwork, make eye contact and express himself.

"We have a service for children who are truly, truly disabled, whose districts cannot meet their needs," Hammett said. Eventually, the board would like to reopen a residential portion of the school, she said.

The campus, at 165 N. Myrtle Ave., will hold an open house from 3 to 6 p.m. Friday for interested families. The Tustin Center has a strong focus on behavioral issues. Children have learned to read, walk and speak under the center's tutelage, Tempel said.

It seems symbolically fitting to Tempel that the center's name will change. "It's gone beyond Alex now," he said. "It's reached out to other families and positively impacted their kids, too."

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