Kyle’s House filling special need in the community

Published 12:07 am Sunday, June 8, 2008

NATCHEZ — For Matilda Stephens taking the position of executive director for Sunshine Children’s Center a few years ago was the first time in years that she wasn’t working directly with special needs adults or children.

But shortly after, life led her down a familiar path once again.

Kyle’s House, a child care center for special needs children, is the newest program started by Fertile Ground Inc., a local non-profit organization that also runs Sunshine Children’s Center.

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“When the idea came up at our board meeting I lit up like a Christmas tree,” Stephens said. “These children are my heart because of their attitude toward life.

“They have no prejudice.”

That attitude was the inspiration for the center’s motto — Kyle’s House — where there’s a little piece of heaven in every child.”

Kyle’s House opened last week and will have an open house from 2 until 4 p.m. today. It is named for Kyle Hutchins, a local special needs child who died shortly before his second birthday. A rendering of his face appears in the logo for the center.

Kyle was the son of Chris and Skeeter Hutchins.

Chris Hutchins said having the center named for his son was a special honor.

“It was a huge honor for my family to have them want to name the center for Kyle,” Hutchins said. “The center is going to fill such a great need for special needs children and others in the community. It will allow them to get the care that they need.

“I’m thankful to Fertile Ground for taking the time to give (Kyle) an honor like this.”

The center provides childcare for children 3 to 11 years old and afterschool programs during the school year. It has classrooms and activities specifically designed to benefit special needs children.

Stephens said soft paint colors were chosen to limit stimuli for autistic children and activities to improve hand-eye coordination are set up in the classrooms. Dexterity activities are especially helpful for children with Down Syndrome.

The center also offers respite care, drop-in care and part-time care, parental support services and a myriad of other services for parents and children. On top of providing basic child care services, Kyle’s House will also plan community outings for the children and give them the opportunity to participate in programs like Special Olympics.

“Our goal is to offer these children the same experience that every other child has and to do so with other children at similar levels,” Stephens said. “I’m all for inclusion but most of the time inclusion for these kids means they are in the minority. I want to give them the opportunity to be in the majority.”

To accomplish this the center accepts one non-special needs child for every three special needs children in the center. Stephens said this allows for non-special needs children to learn to interact with special needs children instead of the other way around.

Kyle’s House provides a service to parents that no other center in the area can provide, Stephens said. And that is no-fault of the existing daycare centers since they are typically not equipped to handle the situations that may arise when caring for special needs children.

“The problem is that at most daycares have a one to 12 staff to child ratio and in that situation special needs children can’t get the desired or deserved amount of attention,” Stephens said.

Kyle’s House has a staff to child ratio of one to five. Classes are currently divided by age but as the enrollment grows the center will look into dividing the children by needs.

Stephens isn’t worried about enrollment growing to a level that will allow them to do that. She’s only worried about outgrowing the center’s current building.

“We are filling such a need in the community that I have no doubt that we will be successful. My only concern is how successful we will be and outgrowing this building.”

But Stephens is sure that eventually needing a larger building will go as smoothly as the rest of the project.

Hutchins agrees that the area needed a center like Kyle’s House and is pleased that someone took the time to address the need.

“Adams County was definitely in need of a center like this, and I’m thankful for everyone who was involved in getting this project off the ground,” Hutchins said.

The idea was initially discussed at the March board meeting, and it was originally decided that the group would find a new building for Sunshine Children’s Center and move the daycare center into Sunshine’s current location. But that idea changed quickly as a building turned up that was ideal for Kyle’s House.

Stephens went to pay the liability insurance for Sunshine Children’s Center and mention that she would be back to get liability insurance for their new venture. At that visit she was directed to a building owned by David Holland that used to house a daycare center.

Within two weeks, a lease had been agreed on and work started to get the building ready for Kyle’s House.

“After we got the lease worked out it only took three and a half weeks to fully licensed and that was painting and making restrooms handicap accessible,” Stephens said. “Our licensure agent said it usually takes two or three months to do what we did in three weeks.

“Some things are just controlled by a higher power.”