A cold day did not keep hundreds of people from celebrating the Empower Me Center's launch part on Jan. 16 at the site of what they hope will be their official home in the very near future.
"This is our dream," Empower Me Executive Director Michelle Hill said, "16.55 acres of land with a community recreational building, a recreational sports complex and independent cottages all geared to meet the unique needs of all of our participants. This is where our dream will happen.
"We are tackling this $15 million-plus project in three phases. Phase one is $3 million. This will enable us to purchase the land, build two cottages to run this summer's camp and cover site work and other items we are unable to get donated. Phase two will be to raise the funds to build the community recreational building and the recreational complex. The third phase is to build the cottages for independent living."
The organization made two major announcements during the event. First were plans for a celebration on Saturday, June 4 called The Day of Dreams. Hill described it as a "10-hour day of festivities kicked off by Jere's Ride, followed by Gabby's Walk for Change and then Donovan's Jam." The late Jere McCulloch was a major Empower Me supporter, and Jere's Ride will include a family bicycle ride as well as 15-, 30- and 50-mile rides that will start the day off at 7 a.m.
"As you could see, despite Gabby's physical limitations and inability to walk, she is the voice for those children who cannot speak," Hill added. "We celebrate her life and all the others who have unique needs. Collection boxes will soon be plastering the Middle Tennessee area to collect loose change. This walk will begin around 10 a.m. with filling a hot air balloon basket with everyone's donations.
"Donovan Walden was a participant for the first five years of Empower Me. He suffered three strokes unfortunately between 2003 and 2014 when he passed away," she continued. "His big smile, wonderful laugh, teasing nature and love for music are what we will always treasure about this wonderful gift. Live music will begin around 1 p.m. as we celebrate his life and others who have gone before us. We want everyone to bring their lawn chairs and blankets and listen to some wonderful music featuring Darryl Worley. We hope everyone will come out on June 4 and celebrate our success with us."
Hill described the second announcement as a "significant gift."
"Local builder Mark Brown from Mt. Juliet is going to help us build our first two cottages," she said. "It's essentially a million-dollar gift."
With the money raised thus far and Brown's gift, the Empower Me Center has $1.25 million toward the first phase of the project. Other monies dedicated to phase two will be revealed at a later date.
An additional $1.75 million is needed now and will allow the organization to purchase the property and cover any other costs. "I know Mark works fast, but every day that goes by is one less day that he has to build these two cottages," Hill said.
Empower Me is a non-profit organization dedicated to meeting the multitude of needs of individuals with disabilities. Their mission is to empower special needs individuals to achieve their full potential in a community filled with possibilities, meeting their emotional and physical needs through love, acceptance, friendship and family, led by professional and therapeutic staff. To learn more, visit www.EmpowerMeCenter.com.