If you haven’t been personally affected by the challenges of children with special needs, you may not have heard about Kids Center for Pediatric Therapies. Since 1958, the organization has been helping children with special needs in a seven-county area and beyond, by providing physical, occupational and speech therapies to help them reach their full potential. Kids Centers’ two outpatient locations, the largest at Eastern Parkway and a smaller facility on Bluegrass Parkway, serve kids with a wide variety of physical, sensory, and cognitive challenges.
Sue Fenske, Assistant Executive Director for Advancement, said Kids Center is truly a world class pediatric therapy center. “There is no place in this region to take kids that is better than Kids Center. Many of our therapists have been with the Center for decades, and many have advanced degrees or specialty certifications. The other thing that is unique about Kids Center, something that is at the very core of our mission, is that we never turn any child away because of their financial situation. Kids Center provides these services regardless of a family’s ability to afford the cost of care.”
That’s why Kids Center needs continued financial support from the community, said Executive Director Bill Smithwick. “The insurance rates from our carriers cover about 50 percent of the cost of services. We expect families to do what they can, and then we ask our friends and donors to step up and help us provide these life-changing therapies for our patients and support for their families,” he said.
Fenske, who has been with Kids Center since April 2016, said one of the reasons she chose to take her job was that both of her children were born two months early, and received the therapies Kids Center provides. “It just completely changed the trajectory of their lives,” said Fenske. “My oldest, who almost died when he was born and needed a lot of assistance, is now a naval aviator. My youngest, who spent more time in the hospital than out of it the first several years of his life, is a professional tennis coach. Who would have thought that could happen?” she said.
One thing someone said when she first came to Kids Center has stuck with her, Fenske said. “The person had come for a tour of our facility to see all the things we do. He said, ‘I couldn’t do what you do. I don’t think I could come to work every day to see all these kids with so many problems and not be negatively affected.’”
But Fenske said she feels the opposite is true; that you will rarely find a place more joyous than Kids Center. “These families truly understand the importance of incremental success. Every small step forward is something we celebrate.”
Justin and Kendra Ray understand about applauding the small steps. Their daughter, Kendall, was born with a brain injury and a seizure disorder that has limited her mobility, but they said Kids Center has been a lifesaver for their family. “When we first started coming here, she was very limited in the things she could do,” said Kendall’s dad, Justin. “She just recently began to slowly crawl by herself, which is a big accomplishment,” he said. “My daughter has made leaps and bounds; you wouldn’t believe it if you looked at her a year ago,” added Kendall’s mom, Kendra.
Fenske said another important facet of Kids Center is the role it plays in helping families support one another to meet the challenges of raising a child with special needs.
Kendra Ray expressed her gratitude for being able to make that important – and nurturing – connection. “The support that Kids Center has given – with the parents and therapists – it’s a big impact on me and my husband, and also Kendall’s life. Without Kids Center, I really don’t know who I would lean on.”
“There’s just something special about this place,” said Occupational Therapist Stephanie Gammon. “You get to know the families on an intimate level and become vulnerable with them. You get chills every time when a child is able to do something that they’ve been told they’ll not be able to do, and the parent is just so overjoyed. So is the child, because they are thinking, ‘I’ve been working so hard to do this.’ That’s the best part of the job.”
Fenske said that what’s really important to everyone at Kids Center is to spread the word about the great services they offer. “One, this is a world class facility, and two, don’t worry about whether you think you can afford it or not, because we’ll figure out how to make that work for you,” she said.
To continue to make that work for the families, they appeal to the community and their generosity. “It’s just not possible without community support. We need people investing in these children so they can grow, learn, and thrive.”