By ZACK OWENSBYThe Wilson Post
Children who live daily with disabilities have in a place in Wilson County where they can go to be just like every other kid and experience things they haven’t yet had the chance.
Unfortunately, they all can’t afford the expenses, but leaders hope you will help.
Every summer, Lebanon’s James E. Ward Agricultural Center plays host to special needs children from ages 5 to 21, allowing dozens of them to grow to become empowered during the six-week Empower Me Day Camp.
The Empower Me program, created in 1999 by a group of pediatric therapists to address the lack of adequate opportunities for children with disabilities, aims to add enrichment to the lives of special needs children in the greater Nashville area. In addition to the Day Camp, the program also offers other camps during the year, Empowering Through Education and Empowering Opportunities Programs to help enhance their quality of life.
Children with all disabilities are welcome by a trained and specialized staff. Children with autism, cerebral palsy, cancer, epilepsy, Fragile X Syndrome, post traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, blindness, deafness, microencephaly, schizophrenia and physical/sexual abuse victims are all welcome.
The Day Camp consists of six week-long themes that guide the activities for the children. Planned already for this year are Talent Week, Tropical Week, Cowboy Week, Sensory Week, Carnival Week and Space Week.
Due to space limitations at the fairgrounds, only 24 special needs children can attend. The waiting list grows each year; this past year 56 families were turned away.
Working with a group from Leadership Wilson, Empower Me Executive Director Michelle Hill wants to inform the public that all donations from the month of April go directly to the children’s Day Camp fund, allowing kids who can’t afford to go to camp the opportunity to experience it.
Leaders estimate that 42 percent of families need assistance with their fee, $250 per week per child. The total fee for a week is $750, but public and private funding offsets $500 of each child’s cost.
But that’s often not enough for families who struggle with the expense of raising a special-needs child.
So every donation in the month of April goes directly to a child’s fee.
A church in Watertown sponsors a child whose family attends services there which allows him to attend all six weeks of the camp. Different families at the church take turns serving as sponsors.
Children with all types of disorders have attended the camp, although the facilities at the Ag Center are not “disability friendly,” lacking adequate space, air conditioning, storage, kitchen, changing areas and medical facilities.
Leaders said their goal is to build a state-of-the-art facility to meet the growing demand of special needs kids in the area, but the immediate goal is to get every child who wants to attend camp to attend.
To donate or for more information, send to P.O. Box 672, Lebanon, 37088, call 453-0005 or visit www.EmpowerMeDayCamp.com.
Empower Me is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and United Way Member #3202.
Staff Writer Zack Owensby may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.