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Community Impact: Extra Special People

Special needs and seriously ill children have the opportunity to cultivate skills and self-confidence through recreational therapy, community involvement and the arts, thanks to Extra Special People (ESP), a Watkinsville nonprofit organization dedicated to these children and their families.

The Jackson EMC Foundation recently granted $13,500 to Extra Special People for its summer camp, an eight-week program geared to serve about 200 children from low-income or financially distressed families this summer.

“Extra Special People’s main goal is to increase the confidence of children who are typically treated and labeled by their disabilities,” says Executive Director Laura Whitaker. “We focus on the abilities of each individual and helping them to identify their strengths while nurturing their self-confidence, building skills, experiencing new things and growing friendships.”

During the school year, ESP serves children through afterschool enrichment programs, family support groups and weekend family camps.

The summer camp is essential, according to Whitaker, to help special needs children keep pace. “Children with disabilities have a much higher regression rate than other children,” she says. “In order for them to progress and maintain skills during the summer, three or more weeks of camp are needed.”

At ESP summer camp, the child-to-counselor ratio is 2-to-1 to provide dedicated attention and support to campers. Camp activities are designed to help participants build confidence and independence while supplying families with much-needed respite, according to Whitaker. Activities range from swimming and bowling to tubing down the Chattahoochee River.

The Jackson EMC Foundation grant monies are used to offset costs for camp for children in Clarke, Madison, Jackson, Banks and Gwinnett counties.

“Our partnership with Jackson EMC is a perfect example of a neighbor supporting a neighbor,” says Whitaker. “We are so thankful.”