Turning Tragedy into Hope + Inspiration

Clay Sanders shares his insight and devotion as he continues the family’s rich history with Arkansas Enterprises for the Developmentally Disabled

Photography by Lori Sparkman Photography | Shot on location at Pleasant Valley Country Club

When Mary and Sam Sanders welcomed their first-born daughter into the world in 1953, Sammie Gail was the light of their life and perfect in every way. During her first few months, Sammie Gail was your typical baby until the family noticed something wasn’t right. After much concern, tests revealed that Sammie Gail had been born with a birth defect with diminished mental capacities. She was ultimately diagnosed with a “profound congenital birth defect” – malformation of the brain, leaving Sammie Gail dependent on others for all of her needs, throughout her life. As the oldest of four children, she was always accepted by her siblings: Catherine, Scott, Suzanne and Clay along with all the neighborhood kids. Unfortunately, she was never able to walk or roll over and passed away at the age of 18.

   Sam became determined to help people with special needs.  He established Arkansas Enterprises for Developmentally Disabled in an abandoned grocery store and after nearly half century of service, the organization continues to evolve to serve 500 individuals in 12 Arkansas counties. CEO & Executive Director Georganna Huddleston notes, “AEDD’s programs and services have helped individuals with developmental disabilities gain independence and improve the quality of their lives – primarily through education and employment. AEDD upholds their mission by meeting the needs of children and adults through a variety of programs including preschool services, therapy services, work activities, supported employment, supervised living and community-based activities and life skills training.

   Sam’s grandson Clay Sanders continues the family’s rich history with the organization as a member of the AEDD Auxiliary. Clay notes, “It’s personal for our family, but to me this is all about a legacy. An idea that started with my grandfather and has grown to mean so many different things to so many people. We have a sense of pride when thinking about what AEDD has grown into and how many people have been helped over the years.”

   This month, Clay will welcome AEDD friends and golf enthusiasts to the Tee Off Classic at the Pleasant Valley Country Club. Proceeds from the tournament support AEDD’s programs and services including Jobs 4 You – an initiative that provides vocational training and meaningful employment for people with disabilities. As chairman, Clay recognizes the critical role that AEDD plays in the lives of countless Arkansans and the potential for the organization to cultivate new patronage for its continued mission fulfillment work. “The thing I love about this organization is that it’s constantly evolving, growing and creating new ways to serve those with developmental disabilities,” Clay says.  AEDD is always striving to be the leading advocate in creating a community which recognizes the value and abilities of all.”

Inviting Arkansas

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