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Challenged Child and Friends school holding open houses to welcome community, boost awareness
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A student at Challenged Child and Friends in Gainesville eats during snack time Friday. The Gainesville school is hosting a series of open houses to raise awareness in the community about the services it provides. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Challenged Child and Friends Fundraiser

What: 5K and 1 mile fun run and walk
When: 1 p.m. March 1
Where: Riverside Military Academy, 1941 Riverside Drive, Gainesville
How much: $25-30
More info: www.challengedchild.org or 770-535-8372

Challenged Child and Friends is holding a series of open houses in hopes of increasing awareness and enrollment.

Recently appointed Executive Director Amy Gates said she asked herself, being new to the area, how the nonprofit school could get word out about its services.

Challenged Child and Friends, now in its 30th year, groups children with disabilities in a learning environment with typically developing children.

“I think there are lots of people in Gainesville and Hall County who know what Challenged Child and Friends does, but there are also people that don’t know,” Gates said. “I’ve had a couple interactions with people who’ve said, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you did that,’ or ‘I didn’t know you provided that.’”

Then open houses are a way to raise awareness, Gates said, and for the board to become more engaged with the community. She said every board member was charged with bringing one friend who’d never seen the school. That includes anyone, not just  potential parents.

The first open house was held Friday; others are set for March 20, April 17 and May 8. All begin at 8 a.m. with a light breakfast and include tours and introductions from parents and administrators.

“We love to get people in the door,” said Cindy Wilson, director of development. “If we can show them what we are and what we do here, we feel like we can really make a connection.”

Gates said the nonprofit began because one parent wanted more for her son.

“It was founded because a little boy who was 2 years old got hit by a car and was paralyzed and had some traumatic brain injury,” Gates said. “So the mother enlisted an occupational therapist to provide some services to him and they provided those services at First Baptist Church.”

The boy, Randy, was able to work on his physical skills while attending the church’s preschool full of typical kids.

“He thrived in that environment,” Gates said.

From the beginning, inclusion was an important aspect of Challenged Child and Friends. Wilson said there are fewer than 10 nonprofit inclusion preschools in the nation today.

Gates said this was a new concept 30 years ago.

“People hadn’t come to see how people with disabilities could learn with their peers,” she said.

That’s exactly what she hopes the public will come do now.

“It’s what we still do,” she said. “Speech and language, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and we have two full-time nurses. So if you have a child with, say, a seizure disorder, a feeding tube, significant breathing issues, where else could they go?”

The school even offers different forms of therapy regularly, including music therapy and pet therapy.

Gates said she hopes enrollment at the school will increase. Currently, nearly 130 students attend Challenged Child; about 65 percent are children with disabilities.

For financially able, typical families, tuition at the school averages $5,000 a year. For families with financial difficulties or a child with disabilities, that price can vary.

Because the school is a nonprofit, it takes as much of its revenue as possible and gives it back to the children in need of services. Last fiscal year, it gave nearly $700,000 in assistance to families, which includes tuition assistance, therapy assistance and more.

“Any child with a disability should be able to get the services they need, not just those in wealthy families or families with insurance,” Gates said.

 For more information on the school, its services or the open houses, go to www.challengedchild.org or call 770-535-8372.

Regional events