Organizations: Challenged Child And Friends
This year, Challenged Child and Friends celebrates 30 years as one of only a few schools of its kind in the country. The Gainesville-based nonprofit offers an integrated “whole person” educational experience where children with special needs learn alongside children who have typical development.
“Research backs up our philosophical belief that special-needs children can learn from more typical children by modeling language and social skills,” says Executive Director Amy Gates. “By the same token, the more typical kids learn compassion, inclusiveness and tolerance, and end up becoming better friends and citizens. Everyone benefits.”
The school, with a staff of 70, including nurses and speech, occupational and physical therapists, serves about 130 students a year, ranging from six weeks of age to six years. About 65 percent of the student body has disabilities.
In some cases, siblings attend together. Because of her delayed development, four-year-old Bailey Ellis could not sit up or communicate when she first enrolled in the school. Now she walks on her own and vocalizes, while her two-year-old sister, Brooke, whose development is accelerated, studies Spanish and sign language.
“Their parents can drop them both off and know that all of their needs are being addressed in one place,” Gates says, “so they don’t have to make several trips between different therapists.”
Tuition at the school averages $5,000 a year. For families with financial difficulties or a child with disabilities, that price can vary. The organization is funded by a combination of earned-income tuition and support from the United Way, donations and fundraisers. Last year, Challenged Child issued $700,000 in assistance to needy families.
“Our goal is not to turn anyone away,” Gates says.