AmeriCorps Program Serves Youth of All Abilities
Each year, thousands of Georgia residents join AmeriCorps and commit to a year of service to communities across the country. From addressing literacy gaps in refugee communities to working with FEMA, AmeriCorps offers ample opportunities for adults of all ages to serve.
Some programs are specific to each state, such as the Extra Special People program. According to ESP’s website (extraspecialpeople.com), this organization was created in 1986 by the late Martha Wyllie, a woman with a passion for children with special needs. It became an official AmeriCorps state program in 2017.
Twenty-one children enrolled in the first summer camp. Today, ESP serves 450 families in 30 counties annually. Children with behavior disorders, Cerebral Palsy, Autism, Spina Bifida and more are welcome. The website indicates no child with a disability is turned away from ESP.
The Sykora family of Watkinsville has been involved with ESP for 18 years. Vicki Sykora said her son, Dakota, is able to be a “typical kid” at ESP, hanging out with his peers. She adds, “He’s more independent and communicative.”
Dakota has Cerebral Palsy and uses a wheelchair. Vicki said he’s very active in the program, participating in everything from afterschool and weekend programs, summer and overnight camp, and family dinners.
“Not only does Dakota get to be independent and have friends, but we also get to have a support system and a community as a family,” Vicki said. “ESP is like our family. Without ESP, Dakota would be at home every day.”
She said being a part of this program helps her family (husband, Joe and other son, Austin) to feel loved, accepted and supported: “We feel less alone; like there are other families facing the same struggles we do.”