Over the years, the Jefferson City Special Learning Center has benefitted greatly from its surrounding community. With the assistance of volunteers, teachers, fundraisers, and donors, the organization has been able to help advance the education of children with special needs towards great success.
As a non-profit agency for the United Way, the Special Learning Center has been serving children with disabilities since it was formed in 1985. The organization resulted from a merger between two schools that had been established within the Jefferson City community in the 1950s.
Debbie Hamler, Executive Director of the Special Learning Center, said the center’s role in assisting children with disabilities has evolved over the years.
“I feel like Jefferson City was way ahead of the game when it came to serving people with disabilities,” Hamler said. “I’ve been here since the merger and since the school began. We used to serve 25 children with disabilities in our beginning and we’re serving over 700 children a year nowadays. We serve children in our facility on Fairgrounds Road and then we also send therapists and teachers out who travel to outlying schools and into homes and daycares to help people with disabilities.”
The organization’s main objective is to reach as many children as possible. Hamler makes it clear that they are continually working to develop their skills regarding how to serve students or families dealing with learning disabilities.
“Our mission is to help all the children we can with developmental disabilities to be successful,” Hamler said. “We have a long-range planning committee that has begun to meet and we’re working on great plans for the future. Our goal is to always meet the needs that are there in our community for kids with disabilities.”
With such a goal, the Special Learning Center is always looking for more people who can lend a helping hand. As the organization continues to grow so does their staff, their base of operations, and their need for volunteers. Historically, whenever the organization has been in need of assistance the Jefferson City community has always been able to rise to the occasion. A trait that Hamler believes is what makes the community so unique.
“We are always in need of good volunteers to help us,” Hamler said. “We need one-on-one, hands-on experience with children and we let our volunteers work in the classroom under the guidance of our teachers. We are basically outgrowing this building. We are a building that was built on Jefferson City public school property that we lease and we’re getting pretty hemmed in. So, we’re looking toward the future for that. What’s really neat about Jefferson City and our community is, for instance, if we have a child with a different disability that we might haven’t seen before or if we needed a specialized piece of equipment - if we just put the word out or if we say that we’re in need of something somebody’s usually always walking through the door with it.”
When the Special Learning Center sees a need they try to fill it, Hamler said. Providing parent support programs, occupational physical speech therapy, and developmental education for children with disabilities, the organizations main goal is to grow and evolve so they can continue to serve their community and children growing up with said needs.
“Our community is 100 percent important to us,” Hamler said. “We have a great community here in Jefferson City and all the surrounding areas. We do serve children in Cole County and every county that touches Cole. We have the great, great support of our community and our families and businesses in this area. I could tell you that we wouldn’t be who we are today without our community. We have grown so rapidly and helped so many children and families that we couldn’t do it without the help of this great community.”
One of the most important fundraisers for the Special Learning Center, the Capital City Cookoff has been cancelled due to the Covid-19 concerns throughout the country. The event has been a tradition for the past 13 years and has drawn in funds averaging $20,000 yearly. These funds help with various programs and operating costs for the center. There are no plans to reschedule at this time.