Wake Forest Mom Wins IKEA's Contest to Improve the Life of Others


Published:

What would you do if you won $100,000? Wake Forest mom Melissa Matthews was cooking dinner Jan. 2 when she got a call telling her that she had just won a year-long sabbatical worth $100,000 in an IKEA contest designed to improve the life of others.

The mother of a 3-year-old with Down syndrome, Matthews says she saw firsthand how technology helped children with special needs at her son's school. The Frankie Lemmon School in Raleigh serves kids with intellectual disabilities, and iPads helped her son's classmates communicate their thoughts using pictures so that eventually they could utter their first words. Matthews' project, which won the most online votes in IKEA's national contest, spelled out how she would extend the reach of technology to help children with special needs.

Although the contest had more than 1,000 entrants, Matthews won the grand prize because she gained a loyal following of people who voted for her day after day, at home and around the world, for a month through Dec. 23, 2011. Local school kids, church congregations and parent groups all voted for her, and the experience of being embraced by so many people was moving, she said in a recent interview.

"Obviously, winning the prize is such a dream come true. It's just wonderful," she said. "But the concept itself has been such a gift in its own right. When you find out that you have a child with special needs, as a parent, you worry that your child will be accepted by the community and included in activities. It was such a blessing for us at Christmastime-for all the parents at the school, we were saying-to have such community support."

Janet Sellers, Frankie Lemmon's executive director, described the support as "huge." "I was thrilled," she said. "We had people voting in Canada, Japan, Germany and certainly all of the U.S. It was very cool for some of the connections that we made with people."

People voted who knew and loved the school, she said, while others simply voted because they saw the contest online. "Some of them had children with Down syndrome, and perhaps that was why. And the Triangle Down Syndome network sent it out every day, just to remind people to vote. It was a big, big, following."

Matthews says one of her favorite moments during the contest came after her aunt who works as nurse in a hospital in Wisconsin sent out an email with a link to Matthews' online video about the Frankie Lemmon project to the hospital staff asking them to vote. One of the doctors who got the email was staying in the hospital with his wife who had just had a baby born with Down syndrome, which came as a surprise.

After the couple saw Matthews' video showing the kids Frankie Lemmon school, the new mom said, "Oh my gosh, 'I want to talk with this girl.'" Matthews recalls.  "This mom called me and she was like, 'It was so neat. We were in a state of shock and then we saw this video. And what we saw was everybody was smiling and happy, and the kids were so cute and smiling and happy and learning.' And she said, 'thank you so much for that video.'"

Matthews' winnings will be used to help the school buy more devices, such as SmartBoards and iPads for use in the classrooms. Currently, children must wait their turn to use the iPads to express themselves. Cutting that wait will open up new worlds for the children, Sellers said.

"Every child deserves to have a voice, and that is part of what the iPads give them," she said. "But they are also getting social skills because they are able to interact with the other children. They are getting self confidence because they are being understood. It increases their play skills. ... When the communication piece is in place, it just helps builds all these other skills also."

Matthews has designated 20 percent of her prize money to go toward a new school building fund for the Frankie Lemmon School, Sellers said. The school, which currently serves 25 children in-house and 15 more through outreach, is looking for a new building in the next couple of years. Matthews also plans to launch a website to help to share Frankie Lemmon's curriculum and invite teachers across the country to share their own ideas for helping special-needs children.

She compared winning to the effects of a pebble thrown into a stream. "There are ripples of good things that will come from this contest," she said. "It is so outreaching."

On a more personal note, Matthews says she's very excited about meeting Dr. Martha Beck, The Oprah Magazine's life coach, who will be giving her a life-coaching session at a spa resort in Phoenix, as part of the winner's package. Beck also raised a child with Down syndrome and wrote a book about her experience called "Expecting Adam: A True Story of Birth, Rebirth and Everyday Magic." Although the two women have never actually met or spoken, Matthews says Beck's book was a comfort to her when she was pregnant and discovered that her baby would have Down syndrome.

When Matthews finally meets Beck, she's hoping the author will travel back in time to share with her any life lessons she learned as a young mom.

"I was thinking how I wish I could go back in time and tell myself certain things, like when I found out that Aidan would have Down syndrome," Matthews said. "There are a lot of things I would like to say, to go back and say to myself, and what I'd like to ask her [Beck] is, 'If you could go back in time and talk to yourself when your child was 3, what would your advice be?'"

130x141-Special-Needs-Kids-cover.jpgIf you need Triangle-area resources for your child with special needs, see our Special Kids guide.

Whether your child has physical, mental or emotional disabilities; developmental delays; or chronic or life-threatening illnesses, you'll find local resources along with personal stories and advice.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Content

Weekend Family Fun Across the Triangle

Sept. 20-22: Saturn viewing, Bugfest, an author visit and outdoor activities at Bond Park.

8 Scenic Drives in North Carolina for Families

North Carolina is home to many scenic routes for families who enjoy road-tripping.

7 Great Places to Take a Fall Family Photo in the Triangle

From North Raleigh to Apex, try one of these scenic spots for a fall family portrait.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

September 2019

Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about tummy time alternatives, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to...

Cost: 24.00

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Website »

More information

Join Mindful Families of Durham, a Buddhist-inspired spiritual community that supports area parents, caregivers, and their children in the practice of mindfulness and the understanding of the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Sponsor: Mindful Families of Durham
Contact Name: Adam, Laura, Josh, Sumi
Website »

More information

Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about carry positions, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to crawl,...

Cost: 24.00

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Website »

More information

Celebrate Latino culture in Durham.

Cost: Free

Where:
Compare Foods Parking Lot
2000 Avondale Dr.
Durham, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy sweets from over 20 vendors for humans and pets.

Cost: Free

Where:
City Market
214 E. Martin Street
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Sponsor: Jay's Italian Ice
Telephone: 919-780-4169
Contact Name: Jay Jones
Website »

More information

Discover Historic Yates Mill—a place of business, community, and exciting local history! Watch a brief slideshow, then explore the inner workings of the mill itself and witness the power of...

Cost: $5/Adult, 4$/Senior (60+), $3/Child (7-16), 6&Younger Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

See Peppa Pig and her friends embark on a new adventure in this live stage show. Purchase tickets online. 

Cost: $29.50 and up

Where:
Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

See Peppa Pig and her friends embark on a new adventure in this live stage show. Purchase tickets online. 

Cost: $29.50 and up

Where:
Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Practice your ABCs and develop your fine motor skills through games and hands-on activities. Play a letter game and go on a scavenger hunt!  For ages 18 months–3 years (with an...

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
View map »


Sponsor: Crowder County Park
Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

These programs are open to students 6–12 years old. Parent/guardians are welcome to stay for the program or drop-off. Preregistration is required. Discover the amazing world of mushrooms and...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Join park staff for an informal fishing experience for the whole family. Bring your own poles or borrow one of ours through the Tackle Loaner Program. Bait and basic instruction are provided. All...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
Website »

More information

Robert Gibbs discusses his latest book, "Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation." Ages 8-12. Purchase the book from Quail Ridge to reserve two seats for the event and a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Quail Ridge Books
4209 Lassister Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Join us to make moveable miniature skating figures that light up!  Space is limited. To register, call 919-245-2532. Grades 3-5.

Cost: Free

Where:
Orange County Main Library
137 W Margaret Ln
Hillsborough, NC  27278
View map »


Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 919-245-2539
Contact Name: Libbie Hough
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

We are Voted BEST consignment sale in the Triangle and TOP 10 in the NATION!! Our sale features Children's Clothing including a wonderful boutique section, costume section, and coats section,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cary Towne Centre
1105 Walnut St
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Sponsor: Kids EveryWEAR Consignment Sale
Contact Name: Gail Walker
Website »

More information

Enjoy a free sunset movie by the picturesque Lake Raleigh. Take a picnic blanket, lawn chairs and a non-perishable food donations (human and pet) on Fridays in September to NC State's...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Raleigh Meadows
Campus Shore Dr.
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Sponsor: VisitCentennial
Telephone: 704-651-3179
Contact Name: Jude DesNoyer
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Each year more than 30,000 visitors come to BugFest to experience over 100 exhibits, crafts, games and activities. This year's theme is beetles. Interact with entomologists and other scientists...

Cost: Free

Where:
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
11 W. Jones St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Telephone: 919.707.9800
Website »

More information

Each year more than 30,000 visitors come to BugFest to experience over 100 exhibits, crafts, games and activities. This year's theme is beetles. Interact with entomologists and other...

Cost: Free

Where:
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
11 W. Jones St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Telephone: 919.707.9800
Website »

More information

Take part in a pop-up Stroller Barre class followed by a nature scavenger hunt for kids and socializing for moms. Suitable for pregnant mamas. Take a sturdy stroller (no jogger needed!),...

Cost: $5

Where:
Piney Wood Park
400 E. Woodcroft Pkwy
Durham, NC  27713
View map »


Sponsor: FIT4MOM West Raleigh Durham
Telephone: 984-329-5970
Contact Name: Jenine N Pearson
Website »

More information

Give rugby a try. Take part in tag rugby pick-up games every Saturday morning at Baileywick Road Park, near the Second Shelter.  No experience necessary. All ages. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Baileywick Road Park
9501 Baileywick Rd
Second Shelter Field
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh Redhawks Rugby
Contact Name: denise travis
Website »

More information

Please join us for our 27th annual Triangle Festival of Hope & Walk to De-feet Dementia at Knightdale Station Park. The 1-mile walk through the park, or 1/4 mile shorter version, will begin...

Cost: Free

Where:
Knightdale Station Park
810 N First Ave
Knightdale, NC  27545
View map »


Website »

More information

Family fun for all ages includes more than 100 delicious food and craft vendors, free children's activities, live demonstrations and all genres of music from local and regional bands. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Main Street Creedmoor
301 N. Main St.
Creedmoor, NC  27522
View map »


Sponsor: City of Creedmoor
Telephone: 919-764-1013
Contact Name: Angie Perry
Website »

More information

We are Voted BEST consignment sale in the Triangle and TOP 10 in the NATION!! Our sale features Children's Clothing including a wonderful boutique section, costume section, and coats section,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cary Towne Centre
1105 Walnut St
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Sponsor: Kids EveryWEAR Consignment Sale
Contact Name: Gail Walker
Website »

More information

Visual artists from near and far will showcase their work, and 75 performing arts groups provide continuous music, dance and entertainment throughout the festival including extended Saturday...

Cost: $5 suggested donation; free for children under 12

Where:
Durham Arts Council
120 Morris Street
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Sponsor: Durham Arts Council
Telephone: 919-560-2719
Contact Name: Susan Tierney
Website »

More information

Step back in time with our 19th-century costumed interpreters and watch the millstones at work grinding corn into meal. Tour fee: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (ages 60 & over), $3/Child (ages 7-16),...

Cost: $5/Adult, 4$/Senior (60+), $3/Child (7-16), 6&Younger Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Enjoy local bands, arts and crafts vendors, car show, kids' area, fun contests and games, plus a barbecue cook-off contest featuring veteran cooking teams.

Cost: Free

Where:
River Park
114 E. Margaret Ln.
Hillsborouh, NC  27278
View map »


Website »

More information

This family-oriented event includes corn milling demonstrations and costumed tours of Yates Mill, and other event activities including a fun children’s scavenger hunt activity, live music and...

Cost: Free, though there is a $3-5 fee for mill tours

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

For almost 200 years, farmers brought their wheat and corn to what is now Yates Mill to have their grains ground into flour and meal. Today, you can stop by the Yates Mill visitor center to see a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Take the family for Caribbean food, live music, a Kids Zone, bounce house, face painter and more. 

Cost: Free

Where:
West Point on the Eno
5101 N. Roxboro St.
Durham, NC  27704
View map »


Website »

More information

Step back in time with our 19th-century costumed interpreters and watch the millstones at work grinding corn into meal. Tour fee: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (ages 60 & over), $3/Child (ages 7-16),...

Cost: $5/Adult, 4$/Senior (60+), $3/Child (7-16), 6&Younger Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Celebrate diversity in Wake Forest with live performances, traditional cuisine and family entertainment. 

Cost: Free

Where:
E. Carroll Joyner Park
701 Harris Rd.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Live bands showcase this event that also features a kids zone, vendor village and food trucks.

Cost: $11.25 – $20

Where:
Raleigh Little Theatre's Rose Garden and Stephenson Amphitheatre
301 Pogue St.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Live bands showcase this event that also features a kids zone, vendor village and food trucks.

Cost: $15 advance tickets, $20 at the door. Free for ages 5 and younger

Where:
Raleigh Little Theatre's Rose Garden and Stephenson Amphitheatre
301 Pogue St.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

The Teen Advisory Board invites you to meet up with other gamers to mingle, snack, and test your skills for prizes! Guests are welcome to bring their own controllers/fightsticks. Register by...

Cost: Free

Where:
Orange County Main Library
137 W Margaret Ln
Hillsborough, NC  27278
View map »


Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 919-245-2539
Contact Name: Libbie Hough
Website »

More information

East Cloud Kungfu hosts a Parent's Night Out event, featuring a safe environment for kids as they about the wide world of kungfu.   Check it out!...

Cost: $25 first child, $20 each additional child

Where:
East Cloud Kungfu, LLC
5655-A Western Blvd
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Sponsor: East Cloud Kungfu, LLC
Telephone: 252-646-7053
Contact Name: Imari Colon
Website »

More information

The Clayton Center presents country crooner Billy "Crash" Craddock in concert. Sing along with Crash as he belts out his biggest hits, including Knock Three Times, Rub It In, Ruby Baby, Broken...

Cost: $25 plus taxes & fees

Where:
The Clayton Center
111 E. Second Street
Clayton, NC  27520
View map »


Sponsor: The Clayton Center
Telephone: 919-553-1737
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Directories

Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Annual Guides

Education Guide

The 2018-19 Education Guide offers 678 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools, academic resources and an Exceptional Child special section.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. In our 2019-20 issue, explore 1,028 resources for family fun.