Turning Disabilities Into Abilities

Turning Disabilities Into Abilities

Turning disabilities into abilities is a challenge that many organizations in Memphis tackle every day. Two such organizations – Harwood Center and The Baddour Center – do that work in their own ways in different parts of the Memphis metro area. Get to know the work of these two organizations.


Harwood Center


Harwood Center was founded in 1957 by civic-minded Memphians to serve children from birth to age 5 with developmental disabilities. Harwood originally functioned as a United Cerebral Palsy day care center until 1970 when it entered an agreement with the University of Tennessee’s Boling Center for Developmental Disabilities.


Harwood Center became a private nonprofit organization in 2010.


Meredith Taylor joined Harwood Center in February as development director with the mission of getting the word out about what the organization provides.


“When you come and tour and look at the children and see their families bring them in and they seem helpless,” Taylor said about the parents before they’ve placed their child at Harwood Center. “They’re just looking for a glimmer of hope and Harwood is able to give them that. Laying that strong foundation early is so important. It changes the trajectory of their lives for the future.”


Children who come to Harwood Center range in age from 18 months to 6 years. Harwood’s mission is to enable children with special needs to reach their full potential in alignment with what the parents want.


About 75 percent of children at Harwood have autism. Other disabilities include Down syndrome, speech delays, various chromosomal abnormalities, Cerebral palsy and other physical and gross motor disorders.


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Children can come in five days a week. The day is from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. weekdays.


Taylor’s interest in working with special needs children began while in high school when she began volunteering at a Sunday school class for children and young adults with special needs at Christ United Methodist Church.


“That changed the trajectory of my life and career,” she said. “I don’t have anyone in my family with special needs but when you begin working with these children and adults with disabilities you can’t help but have your life changed.”


The children and adults Taylor worked with at Christ United Methodist ranged in age from 6 to 20s. At Harwood it’s a more focused age group, much like a preschool setting.


A typical day for children at Harwood is much like a preschool where they are taught to sit still in class, focus and prepare for kindergarten readiness.


There is a staff of 36 people who are work at two locations, one Downtown at the UT Boling Center at 711 Jefferson Ave. and one in Cordova at Hope Church at 8500 Walnut Grove Road.


Harwood Center typically serves about 75 children in a given day, but that number can fluctuate. It usually rises a couple of months after the start of school where maybe a child starts at one preschool, has a diagnosis or behavior problem and finds the help at Harwood beneficial.


Taylor has connected with many of Harwood’s alumni through a “Where Are They Now” series. It’s given her an opportunity to get to know those former participants and their families.


“This mother had a great quote,” Taylor said. “When she first had her son with Down syndrome doctors told her all the things he couldn’t do. But Harwood gave her hope and showed her what he could learn. It might take longer but he could accomplish his goals. It was a positive experience and changed his mindset. He now volunteers at a nursing home, has a girlfriend, rides horses; he’s living a quality, fulfilled life.”


The children at Harwood receive scholarships for the service that costs anywhere from $13,000 to $25,000 each. Families typically pay only a fraction of that cost Funding comes from the United Way and other community partners.


Harwood Center always welcomes corporations and other community partners who can earmark funding to go toward scholarships. In addition to financial assistance Harwood also welcomes volunteers who can read to children or help with crafts.


“We encourage the community to reach out if they have any sort of interest, whether in learning more for their own child’s sake or are interested in volunteer opportunities,” Taylor said. “Or maybe they can be like me and not have any involvement in special needs but it turns into a passion.”


For more information about Harwood Center, visit harwoodcenter.org.


Baddour Center


Baddour Center serves adults with intellectual disabilities. Beginning at the age of 18, the oldest person served is 76. It primarily serves people on a mild and moderate level.


“We try to create a sense of community,” said Executive Director Parke Pepper. “It’s a place that’s theirs, a place where they feel free and empowered to live, learn, work, worship and play.”


Located in Senatobia, Mississippi, Baddour Center provides several levels of residential living. Some residents live in fully supervised group homes, while some live in group homes where they have mastered daily living skills to the point that they only need shadow supervision. Others have mastered living on their own and reside in independent apartments.


The campus covers 120 acres on what once was known as the Baddour family farm. The property includes 13 group homes of various sizes for supervised living and four independent apartment duplexes. There is also a 20-bed licensed assisted-living facility.


The property’s capacity is 170 residents; currently 145 people live at Baddour Center.


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There are some services for day clients. For example, a family recently moved to the area and they send their daughter to Baddour to take advantage of programs during the day before returning home in the evening.


Pepper recognizes some people feel individuals with disabilities would be better served living outside of a community such as Baddour. But one of the beauties about what is provided at Baddour is that everyone chooses to live there.


“We have residents at Baddour who owned their own house and car and gave it up and moved here,” Pepper said. “I have one guy who looks you in the eye and tells you he was prone to making not good choices and that he gets to live here. He has the best of everything and gets to help others. He sees himself as a role model and helper of others.”


Pepper came to Baddour Center more than 12 years ago. He’s been in the line of work for 23 years, and credits his mother who taught special education when he was young as an early career influence.


“I had exposure meeting her students when I was a kid and I grew comfortable,” he said. “There is so much discomfort or unease that people have around folks with disabilities or different color skin, different clothes. But so much of our unease of people in general is just because we don’t know. We have no experiences with people.”


Baddour Center isn’t just a property for residents to live, worship, play and work. In fact, the retail garden center on property employs 12 residents. It’s a place where anyone can come in to purchase products decorated by the staff as well as a number of flowers to plant at home.


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Part of what makes Baddour Center successful is its vocational program where residents work for a number of companies that are located as far west as Washington and as far east as New Jersey. Baddour has a nearly 30-year history with several regional companies, including FedEx and American Snuff Company.


Some of that work includes printed air bills and packaging large art boxes.


“We help residents reach their experience and God-given potential,” Pepper said. “This is a tremendous place. We help residents grow while they help us grow.”


While the center is located in Mississippi Pepper said it serves more Tennesseans than any of the 22 total states it serves. Memphis is represented more than any other city.


Its location some 35 miles south of Memphis does make it harder for volunteers to make it to the center. Volunteers can’t come by for a lunch break service project, for example.


“With that said we’re blessed with a number of companies who come down,” Pepper said. “With 120 acres you can only imagine the types of work, from weeding and mulching to painting a room. … We like to have people on campus. We’re not closed off and gated. We try to look like any other neighborhood. We want people to come see it, buy flowers.”


Baddour Center is almost entirely privately funded. A recent private donation from a large estate gift will help kick off the center’s future.


Baddour Center turns 38 this year, and a master plan soon will launch the first renovations of the homes. The campus is beautiful with a lot of green spaces, lakes and flowers. Pepper said it’s time to update the residential component to make it match up.



“One of the things we recognized with the master plan is there are aspects of campus that need to be updated, mainly the homes,” Pepper said. “We need to jump in thinking what we want to look like in 2020, not 1980 or 1990. It makes it more appealing for people already living here and loving it but also people that we’re trying to recruit.”


Baddour Center’s story is in its residents, those people who enjoy living and working on property. Pepper said it’s easy to see for any visitor.


“We’re thinking about the future and we’re excited about it,” Pepper said. “We have the challenge but the privilege to reinvent ourselves, if you will, while preserving what we do. You don’t come to Baddour Center and get out of your car and you don’t leave those gates happier than when you got here, or you’re a tremendously burdened individual or have no heart.”


For more information about Baddour Center, visit baddour.org


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