Eight years ago, Dawn Darby co-founded The Therapy Place to provide a program where children with special needs can grow and develop while having access to the resources that they need. This journey was inspired from her own experience with daycares that struggled to properly care for her son who has cerebral palsy.
“He wasn’t able to be moved from the infant room to the toddler room because you had to be walking or had to be potty-trained and things like that. So here he is, this toddler in with infants, no social interaction… when he finally did go to the toddler room they would take his walker away from him because they said it would distract the other children,” Darby said.
After this experience, Darby quit her job and focused on creating a place that could serve children with special needs as well as their parents.
Darby noticed that many day cares for special needs children either felt more like a hospital than a day care or would not have the resources available to be able to fully help the child grow. She and another mother wanted there to be a place that children like theirs could receive the therapy they needed, as well as be able to socialize with other children.
“It’s not just ‘yes, my child was safe in a crib or sat in their wheelchair from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.’ they’re actually here with experienced and educated people that can help them work on their goals,” Darby said.
The organization also has constructed a community for the parents and families of children with special needs. “No matter the diagnosis, all parents go through the same struggles,” Darby said. “Our community is really about parents helping and supporting each other as they face those struggles.”
Therapy Place is also the only pediatric nonprofit organization that provides these services in Columbia, SC. About 68% of their families are low-income, and Therapy Place provides the exact same services. It is their goal to make sure that everyone who needs their services have access to them.
The Sisters of Charity Foundation has helped Therapy Place grow by awarding them the funding for their Family Services Program. The purpose of the program is to make sure that parents of special needs children have the support they need to continue to raise their children.
The program provides field trips for the families at Therapy Place to places they may not have been because they worry about their child’s needs.
“The reason for families not going is not always cost, but the fear of going and everyone else staring because their child is different,” Darby said. “So to go in a group when it’s all families that you know and children that are like your child is comforting for most parents.”
The program also has a coordinator that meets new parents and helps to get them acquainted with the organization and different resources at their disposal. She also helps to connect parents to any additional resources or organizations they may need.
Family Services at Therapy Place also provides different programs that are specifically for parents, such as workshops, book clubs and respite nights. The Respite Night program is a newer one where parents are able to drop off their child at Therapy Place and then have three hours to themselves.
Because of the Foundation’s support, Therapy Place has been able to create a community for parents of special needs children so that they can learn from others in situations similar to their own as well as find the emotional support they need.