AmeriCorps Members Empower Extra Special People

In Watkinsville, just an hour and a half west of Atlanta, there is a place for children with specific needs to explore their capabilities, opportunities and potential. Founded in 1986 by Martha Wyllie, Extra Special People (ESP) provides year-round opportunities such as summer camps and after-school care for individuals of all ages and abilities. Images of staff and campers: VIEW HERE

Now led by Executive Director Laura Whitaker, ESP has continued to provide hope and care for individuals with disabilities by expanding its programs and improving their outreach efforts. As a result of its expansion goals, ESP was awarded a grant which allocates the organization with funds to implement AmeriCorps programs in Georgia.

What is AmeriCorps?

Housed under the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), AmeriCorps consists of three programs: AmeriCorps NCCC, AmeriCorps State and National, and AmeriCorps VISTA. AmeriCorps is a voluntary service program in which citizens devote their time to addressing and improving community needs. Members help overcome numerous issues, such as homelessness, people with disabilities, environmental issues, education, veterans and military families and many more.

How is DCA connected?

The Georgia Commission for Service and Volunteerism (GCSV) is a division of Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) and was established in 1994. According to the GCSV website, the mission is to promote service and volunteerism in Georgia through AmeriCorps national service grants, community volunteer recognition, and support of local volunteer organizations and efforts. As an AmeriCorps State site for Georgia, the ESP AmeriCorps State program is one of the 19 sub-grantees being regulated by GCSV.

ESP Programs

ESP has expanded its programs to include ESP Miracle League, Camp Hooray and Java Joy.

  • Camp Hooray is a fully accessible overnight camp serving both children and young adults.
  • ESP Miracle League provides children with disabilities the chance to participate on a baseball team.
  • Java Joy is a mobile coffee cart service presenting professional development opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

What do ESP AmeriCorps members do?

Each of the six AmeriCorps team members has made a full-time, yearlong commitment to serving at Extra Special People. Each member serves either as a Java Joy Program Leader or a Family Experience Leader. Java Joy Program Leaders are responsible for training adults with disabilities to enhance their job skills through a mobile coffee cart concept. Family Experience Leaders serve as advocates and connect with ESP children, adults and families to offer program and resource support. Additionally, the AmeriCorps team helps provide administrative support to ESP operations, assist with leading and creating recreational activities for participants, and contribute to the family-like model.

What impact has the AmeriCorps team made?

Members of the ESP AmeriCorps team have contributed towards reaching and/or surpassing organizational goals. During the July 18 Georgia Commission for Service and Volunteerism Board meeting, they presented a presentation to introduce their programs, highlight their accomplishments and discuss opportunities for improvement.


  • Java Joy has seen a tremendous amount of growth beginning as a coffee cart and now travels to in-and out-of-state events. The team is working to create an operation manual to aid in the establishment as a franchise.
  • Java Joy Leaders assist in overseeing performance reviews of Joyristas (individuals with disabilities who work as coffee preparers and servers). It is through performance reviews in which ESP can track the professional and personal development of Joyristas as they prepare to enter the workforce. Additionally, the amount of Joyristas has grown from five to 14.
  • One leader has helped to establish weekly fitness classes, leading to a partnership with UGA’s Department of Kinesiology.
  • Family Experience Leaders discussed how they have helped improve the age range of individuals they serve by establishing an infant/toddler class. The purpose of this activity is to connect parents and offer support for their children. Beginning with only two class participants, the infant/toddler class has grown to include 12+ participants.
  • At the beginning of the year, Family Experience Leaders set a goal to connect with 200 families but surpassed that goal by outreaching 303 families.
  • ESP achieved a grant to host a family cruise in which leaders attended to continue providing ESP students service. This opportunity offered family members the chance to relax and enjoy free time, aside from having the responsibility for caring for their family members.

For more information, visit ESP online.