After more than 2 years of planning, fundraising and hiring, the program opened July 1 at Boones Creek Christian Church. The organization celebrated its grand opening by presenting the Brother’s Keeper banner, cutting a ceremonial ribbon and offering guided tours of the classrooms.
Community members gathered to learn about the organization and celebrate the beginning of the education and enrichment program.
Executive director and co-founder Cecile Huddleston started the program with Deborah Grant to help individuals with special needs like their sons.
After Huddleston’s oldest son, Thomas, graduated high school, she wondered what life after high school would look like for him.
She wanted him to be part of a community where he could learn and grow, but soon realized there were no local enrichment programs offered in the Johnson City region.
Huddleston said she felt a calling from God to partner with Grant and create a program that would give individuals with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities a forum for lifelong learning.
The program provides individuals with unique and practical learning experiences. Each day, the program starts with a morning devotional. Throughout the day, individuals participate in a variety of activities that help improve thinking skills, computer skills, vocational skills, cooking skills and exercise.
Program participants will learn basic job skills such as filling out a resume and doing a mock interview.
Individuals in the program will take part in leisurely activities such as journaling, acting, baking and making ceramics.
“The individuals who come here love it,” said Educational Director Ashlee Almaroad. “They call it the Brother’s Keeper party. They love coming here, and it’s their excitement that keeps us going.”
Almaroad said the people who attend the program participate in a variety of activities that foster learning and the growth of lifelong friendship.
“Seeing individuals do something they never thought they could do is just pure joy,” she said. “They are learning new skills and they just come here excited. To see friendships that have formed here in just a few weeks is incredible.”
Huddleston said she is already seeing a renewed bounce in her son's step after just a few weeks of attending the program.
“He cannot wait to leave home everyday and go to Brother’s Keeper,” Huddleston said. “When he comes home, I have noticed he’s more focused. He likes to participate and do chores and help cook dinner. He just enjoys being engaged.”
Brother’s Keeper is currently helping six students discover and grow their unique gifts and abilities, and Huddleston said she believes this is only the beginning.
“This grand opening is the culmination of vision becoming a reality, and this is really just the beginning,” she said.
The organization hopes to keep growing with more students and eventually a building of its own.
The program relies on sponsors, prayers and financial support to keep running.
For more information about the program or to become involved with Brother’s Keeper, visit its website.