A Great Read
Reading Write Alaska counts on First National to build business, become a bestseller for customers
“Hundred Acre Wood.”
A walk through Reading Write Alaska is akin to a visit to many of literature’s famous and favorite fictional locations. Love of books, reading and learning almost comes alive, which is exactly how owner Heather Walton wants it.
“We take a different approach to teaching, one that really works and turns light bulbs on in the brain,” Walton said.
Walton started Reading Write Alaska (RWA) out of the garage of her family’s home nearly seven years ago. The pediatric speech pathology company diagnoses and treats a variety of speech, language and learning impairments at offices in Anchorage, Eagle River, and Wasilla. RWA is comprised of both speech-language pathologists and certi ed teachers with expert training and knowledge in all areas of language and learning, including dyslexia.
At the Anchorage location, each classroom/office space is named after a spot well known in children’s literature like Cinderella’s Castle and Hogwarts.
“We believe in a multi-sensory approach toward treatment and do our best to make learning fun,” Walton said. “The names of those rooms is just a pleasant twist on those stories and books we all love.”
Since 2014, Walton and RWA have counted on First National Bank Alaska to help them do what they do best.
“I really knew nothing about running a business when we started,” Walton said. “Fast forward to now, and it’s nearly impossible to put a value on what it means to work with a bank you know has your back.
“First National has provided such a stark difference than what we experienced with other institutions here in Alaska. I sing the bank’s praises often.”
A clear career path
Walton said she knew early on in life she wanted to be a speech pathologist. She received her bachelor’s degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders from Auburn (Ala.) University and went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of Montevallo (Ala.) in Speech Language Pathology. She moved to Anchorage in 2010 and is raising a family in the state’s largest city.
All told, Walton has spent 12 years active in the public school system both Outside and in Southcentral Alaska, working with students of all ages.
“I gained a passion for language-based learning disabilities through my work experience in the schools,” Walton said. “But in some ways, the day-today operations of the schools don’t always allow students to get the exact services they need. I knew there were parents out there seeking alternatives.”
“One foot in front of the other”
Once the seed was planted to start her own business, Walton didn’t hesitate to ask for help. From properly billing insurance, to start-up costs and payroll, she knew what she needed to learn.
“I put one foot in front of the other and dug in,” Walton said.
The journey took her to First National Bank Alaska’s door when it was time to expand and eventually purchase her own facility in 2014. Walton was introduced to Rachel Carlson, now the manager at the bank’s U-Med Branch near the University of Alaska Anchorage.
“Heather is a marvel to watch,” Carlson said. “To think of all she’s accomplished in only seven years, starting in her garage to now owning her own building, operating in three locations and employing more than 30 people.
“Heather and RWA epitomize what’s best about small business in Alaska.”
Carlson and Walton have enjoyed building their friendly relationship these last few years. Walton knows she can call on Carlson with any questions, while Carlson regularly visits RWA just to see what’s going on.
“The bank’s slogan, ‘We Believe in Alaska,’ seems like a bit of an understatement,” Walton said. “Not only do I feel like First National believes in me, but really invested in me and took what I want to accomplish seriously.
“I know I can lean on Rachel and other bankers when needed. It’s great to have a team of supporters behind you.”
The future holds promise
Walton said RWA is still growing and has a wait list of children and their families who want to work with the pathologists. More expansion in the future is a possibility.
“It’s difficult to keep up with the demand,” Walton said. “But we feel like the business is established and we’re not going anywhere.”
Now that she’s the boss, Walton is only able to keep a small caseload. But she has an excellent read on her business.
“My heart will always be with the kids, but I’ve hired some great people so I’m supremely confident in the support they’re getting,” she said. “It’s been a great run so far and we feel like we’re doing exactly what we should be doing.”
Visit readingwritealaska.com to learn more about Reading Write Alaska.