When the kids from Cora Howe Exceptional School arrive at Nashville Rescue Mission each Wednesday morning, there are plenty of smiles to go around.
“The kids are always so excited when they get off the bus and walk through the doors of the Mission,” said Joy Ferguson, Director of Volunteer Services for the Mission. “And the warehouse staff looks forward to their arrival each week, knowing they will help sort canned goods, toiletries, linens, or whatever else has recently been donated. These kids have a sweet, sweet spirit that is contagious.”
Ninety-eight percent of students at Cora Howe School have disabilities. “The school is meant to prepare students with various abilities for life outside the school system,” said principal K.C. Winfrey.
“Every student at Cora Howe receives an individualized education and has a unique learning plan,” said Daniel Craig, Special Education Resource Teacher. “We are a K-12 special day school that serves about 100 students, each having a very specific set of needs. The ultimate goal for each student is independence to the greatest extent possible and to be a contributing member of society.”
With that in mind, Daniel has spent the last four years creating a program for his students, some who are autistic, schizophrenic, or mentally-challenged, to prepare them for their future. “While we spend Tuesday in the classroom, the rest of the week, the students are working in and around the community learning life skills, like how to sort canned goods or clothes; and social skills, like how to greet someone.”
“I’m so thankful for this special opportunity the Mission has given us to bring our kids there where they can serve, grow, and learn,” said Daniel. “It might not seem like much, but they are developing invaluable skills that many of them will continue to use throughout their lives.”
When the kids aren’t volunteering at Nashville Rescue Mission, they may be found serving at the Northeast YMCA (where many have learned how to swim), Hendersonville Strike & Spare (where the kids have also learned to bowl), or even the Apple Store. Each unique job site is helping the kids develop skills that will allow them to grow and succeed in life.
“The consistency that comes from serving, especially at the Mission every week, is extremely beneficial to our students,” shared Daniel. “For many of them, this is their training ground for future endeavors. I’ve seen tremendous improvement in several of the kids who’ve been coming since that first day. When I hear their parents talk about how proud they are of volunteering at the Mission, and how proud that makes the parents, it is such a blessing.”
The stigma associated with those who suffer from autism, schizophrenia, and a mental disability isn’t too different from the stereotype associated with those struggling with homelessness and addiction. In many cases, society casts these individuals aside, discriminates against them, devalues them, and rejects them. But just as the homeless and addicted are welcomed at Nashville Rescue Mission, those students with special needs find love and acceptance at Cora Howe Exceptional School. In both settings, there is hope for a brighter future.
“We accept kids as they are, regardless of their differences,” said Daniel. “And we grow them into young people who are ready and prepared for the world. In a word, much like Nashville Rescue Mission, we offer them hope.”
The Mission is so grateful to Daniel Craig, K.C. Winfrey, and everyone at Cora Howe School for joining us in giving hope to those in need.