By Kim Meyer-Webb | Photography by Sarah Oden | Hair by Amy Hester with Red Beauty Lounge | Makeup by Susy Melendez with Red Beauty Lounge | Wardrobe from B. Barnett | Shot on location at ACCESS Gardens Greenhouse
Amy Baden was introduced to ACCESS by her friend ACCESS Board of Directors President Shay Sebree, and admits she “never looked back.” Shay asked her to consider joining the leadership team on the organization’s board of directors, a decision that Amy considers “an opportunity to be blessed” beyond any expectations. A former teacher, she recognizes the transformative power of education in the life of every child and unleashing the potential for personal greatness. This fall – Amy, along with ACCESS friends + family, will commemorate 25 years of building brighter futures.
Established as a small therapy clinic, ACCESS has evolved to meet the needs of its clients – serving more than 700 families annually. “ACCESS provides resources in a comprehensive and caring way that is unique not only to our state, but to the region. Many families move to Little Rock so their child can benefit from the instruction and guidance of the dynamic staff at ACCESS,” Amy elaborates.
The vast portfolio of programming continues to impress Amy. “ACCESS is best known for its school – both early childhood and academy-aged – but it actually does so much more,” Amy explains. It’s a space where education + compassion seamlessly intersect, cultivating the potential of every individual – where, as one student notes, “I see that people with disabilities actually have endless capabilities!” And learning on the organization’s two campuses isn’t defined by traditional academics; many programs are available throughout the year and outside of a conventional classroom.
Curriculum spans beyond the classroom with young adult programs designed to develop vocational training and civic engagement. ACCESS Life offers opportunities to refine transferable life skills that prepare students for more independence, opportunity and purpose. The pragmatic approach emphasizes the importance of teamwork, personal responsibility and work ethic. Internships include collaborations with businesses that value the contribution that every individual makes in the community.
Taziki’s Mediterranean Café utilizes the ACCESS Gardens horticulture program to not only improve its menu with the freshest herbs, micro greens and other produce – but to support meaningful employment opportunities for young adults in ACCESS Life who work as part-time horticulture technicians. Using HydroCycle Vertical Aeroponic Systems, ACCESS Academy students and young adults grow the herbs and microgreens that are available to the community. This interactive, organic approach to learning lets students practice math, science and specific vocational skills in a simulated environment.
It’s a philosophy that’s at the heart of the ACCESS mission explains Executive Director Tammy Simmons. “Even when ACCESS started with just a few patients, our mission was clear – to expand individual potential through innovative instruction. The ACCESS Gardens horticulture program started as just that, a way to provide therapy and classroom curriculum in a multisensory way. Much like this organization, that program has blossomed into creative ways to connect with our community so that we may work together to build brighter futures. It’s this nontraditional approach that makes us unique and allows us to expand potential for people of all abilities.”
Creating a community of support and encouragement for the families it serves is evident through strategic partnerships with Central Arkansas businesses and other organizations. It’s a shared investment in the future that makes these relationships so valuable. JTJ Restaurants Chief Operating Officer Jake Keet elaborates, “The ACCESS fresh herb program is great. It does not get much more ‘farm to table’ than having herbs delivered minutes after they have been snipped. ACCESS has also proven to be a great training ground for future employees to work in the stores in the mornings. We currently employ two of their graduates.”
ACCESS is committed to developing confidence, competence and opportunity for students with learning disabilities. Spending time on the campus reveals innovative teaching techniques that produce undeniable results. There’s lots of activity in the classrooms and on the playground as well as in the music and art laboratories. Students are proud to share insight that’s infused with self-respect and dignity – a winning combination for success in work + play.
In celebration of this silver anniversary, festivities are planned throughout the year at the ACCESS campuses – including Starry Starry Night in November. Amy notes, “We are aligning our events with our mission, giving guests a true glimpse of the impact of the ACCESS mission and how our community has been so instrumental in helping us grow to where we are today.”