A nonprofit, Watkinsville-based organization focused on helping children with disabilities thrive is seeking support from community members and businesses as it plans for the future.
Extra Special People, Inc. (ESP) was established in 1987 by Martha Wyllie and serves eight counties in northeast Georgia.
After a quarter century, the demand for services from ESP continues to grow and the organization is in need of a larger facility that can accommodate more area families.
Nearly 200 stakeholders gathered to hear about the organization's plans at a luncheon held at the Georgia Theatre on Oct. 20.
Presently ESP serves 150 families, but for every two children assisted, the organization must place one applicant on a waiting list because of a lack of resources. The dream is to serve hundreds more, said Laura Whitaker, executive director since 2006.
The organization is seeking a 10-acre plot of land on which to construct a 25,000 square foot fully accessible building. ESP hopes to establish an endowment fund, expand its summer camp and year-round programs and raise money for the new building in Oconee County. The projected cost is several million dollars.
ESP holds a seven-week summer camp, the last week of which is spent at Camp Twin Lakes. Campers have the opportunity to build confidence and social skills away from home. Over the last five years, it grew to provide year-round services, including after-school programs and a family support group.
The organization wants to add a music and art therapy rooms, a teaching kitchen, a wheelchair accessible garden, sensory room, sports fields, therapy rooms for private therapists, classroom space, family counseling space and changing rooms for children in wheelchairs.
Jeff Corriher, the father of two boys who participate in ESP programs, says his kids have a sense of purpose, thanks to ESP.
"Anytime a child walks through the door at ESP they are rock stars. They're absolute superstars," he said. "They are loved from the moment they pass through the threshold."
Corriher described the transformation as magical, and Whitaker agreed.
"More children deserve the opportunity to feel that ESP magic," she said.
A bit of the magic was felt at the luncheon when a group of children charmed the audience with a presentation and dance, and handed out stones, hand painted with red hearts.
"They're often forgotten, they're often underestimated, they're often ignored. But they are given the chance to shine," remarked veteran sportscaster Chuck Dowdle, who played host.
"These families face superhuman challenges every day," board member Toni Swan said. She said she understands what families go through because her 11-year-old daughter Samantha has special needs.
"When I pray at night, I pray for you," she said to those in attendance. "I pray for the people whose kindnesses [my daughter] will have to rely on for the rest of her life and well past my life. I pray that you will be filled with the grace of God and treat her well."
For more information about ESP, visit www.extraspecialpeople.com.
Watch for an upcoming article profiling executive director Laura Whitaker --coming soon!