TUPELO — Step-by-step, word-by-word, Regional Rehabilitation Center has built up a legacy that extends well beyond the walls of the one-story building.
For 6-year-old Peyton Camp, son of Susan and Rusty Camp of Ingomar, Regional Rehab has meant being understood when he speaks and writes.
“They’ve brought him a long way,” said Susan Camp.
Peyton was one of nearly 1,500 people who received more than 17,500 services from Regional Rehab during the 2014 fiscal year. They came from 19 counties in north Mississippi and western Alabama. None of them were asked to pay a dime for physical, occupational or speech therapy, audiology or early intervention services.
“We are blessed Northeast Mississippi has such an organization,” said Randy Kelley, executive director of the Three Rivers Planning and Development District. “I believe so much in what they’ve done for people.”
Kelley will be honored at the first Red Rasberry Humanitarian Awards dinner on April 14. The award honors Regional Rehab’s first president and his legacy of community service.
Because the 54-year-old center isn’t dependent on insurance reimbursement, treatment plans focus solely on what each client needs. Services continue as long as professionally deemed necessary to achieve maximum benefit.
“There’s nothing like it anywhere,” said Jody Hill, who serves as chairman of the Regional Rehabilitation board and as pastor of Ripley Presbyterian Church. “It gives back to the community,” by helping people with disabilities learn to be as self-sustaining and independent as possible.
Regional Rehab was instrumental in helping Hill’s son Noah, now 17, learn to hear after a cochlear implant at age 4. Now a junior in high school, Noah is an honor student and a varsity baseball player in Corinth.
“We want to give back now,” said Hill, who has served on the board for six years.
The center helped Abby Loden, 26, of Mantachie, come back against long odds twice. In 2009, her college career at the University of Mississippi was interrupted by a brain tumor caused by a genetic disorder.
“I basically had to learn how to walk, talk and eat again,” Loden said. “They thought I wouldn’t be able to go back at all when I left the hospital.”
After six months of intensive therapy, she was able to return to her studies and live on her own. She graduated in 2012 with a degree in public policy and leadership.
In 2013, she had to have a second surgery to remove three tumors along her spinal cord which had caused her to lose the use of her right arm. After a year of chemotherapy, she came back to Regional Rehab to strengthen the arm, improve her balance and refine her speech.
“It took three or four months before I was able to drive,” said Loden, who has been able to work full time as a clerical floater in the Tupelo mayor’s office.
The free services can be a lifeline, especially for families grappling with disabilities that require long-term, intensive therapy.
Jenny Rayner’s son, James, received occupational therapy at Regional Rehab when he was a toddler to help him address the delays with Down syndrome.
“It’s a lot to have a child who needs those services when they’re just a few months old,” said Rayner, of Oxford. “It absolutely did help with the cost.”
Waiting until he was 3 and eligible to receive services through the school district would have increased the delays. Now 5 years old, James is doing well in preschool.
“He benefited so much from early therapy services,” Rayner said.
The support to sustain Regional Rehab’s $1.1 million annual budget comes from a variety of sources.
The center receives governmental support from the boards of supervisors in Lee, Alcorn, Chickasaw, Itawamba, Monroe, Prentiss and Union counties and the Tupelo City Council. The Lee County Board of Supervisors provides the largest allocation — $336,000 in 2014.
“The Lee County Board of Supervisors has been there since the start and values the program,” said County Administrator Sean Thompson.
United Way of Northeast Mississippi, which provided $39,000 last year, and United Way of Monroe County both help fund Regional Rehab. The center also receives early intervention grants for programs geared to children birth to age 3 with developmental delays. E.R. Carpenter Foundation and the Toyota grants program also support the center.
A third of its budget — roughly $400,000 — comes from charitable giving and fundraising events like the annual Celebration of Hope telethon, golf tournaments and Kentucky Derby Party.
“We’ve been blessed,” said Executive Director Robby Parman. “The community has really supported us.”
Shona Burk of Algoma credits Regional Rehab for not giving up on her son, Skyler Jordan. The 14-year-old has developmental delays and epilepsy. He isn’t able to communicate verbally.
The family has worked with Regional Rehab since Skyler was a toddler. They could see his ability to understand speech grow, but they had limited success in helping him express himself.
“We went through trying to teach him to sign, but he didn’t have enough fine motor skills,” Burk said.
A breakthrough came two years ago. Kay Mathews at Regional Rehab, Janie Cirlot-New of T.K. Martin Center in Starkville and South Pontotoc student services teacher Susan Gillespie teamed up to use an iPad program called LAMP to give Skyler a voice.
“His world has opened up,” Burk said.
The program allows him to express a preference for a longer haircut or say what hurts when he’s sick. With the increased communication, he has taken on bottle-raising a calf and helping out dad Gregg Burk around the family farm.
Skyler is reading words and creating sentences, beyond what Gillespie ever expected.
“I wish others would give it a chance,” she said. “It’s not hard to learn or hard to teach.”
MICHAELA GIBSON MORRIS, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal
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