At four years old, Gracie Adams was mostly non-verbal, with a vocabulary of less than a two-year-old. At five she started therapy at a center in Lexington, Ky. Now nine, she is flourishing and working hard to catch up to her peers. But her mom, Deb, Communications Director at Asbury Seminary, saw a need much bigger than her daughter’s. In 2016, God gave Deb a vision to start Gracie’s Place, a therapy center for special needs children, complete with physical, occupational and speech therapies, as well as a mentoring community for their parents in Minocqua, Wis.
“As the mother of a child with autism and ADHD, I know the struggle families with special needs kids go through,” Deb said. “I also know the joy of finding a place where my daughter receives the care she needs and begins to thrive.”
One morning, Deb dropped Gracie off at school after her therapy appointment in Lexington, Ky. Walking out, she saw a vision of a gym in Minocqua Wis., followed by an image of Gracie in therapy. Believing those images were from God, Deb called Gracie’s first therapist in Wisconsin to see if there was a need.
At the time, Northern Wisconsin had no special needs or developmental therapy centers within 60 miles. Deb learned that depending on the type of therapy parents needed for their children, they had to drive an hour and a half to six hours multiple times per week.
Uncertain about how her calling would affect her job at Asbury Seminary, Deb continued to pray about starting not just a therapy center, but also a fresh expression of the church.
“This is how much Asbury Seminary is actually fully on board with what they teach,” she said. “When I finally gained the nerve, to talk with my boss about what I felt God calling us to, he immediately began to consider ways I could do my job from Wisconsin.”
With a heart for those often overlooked, Deb organized a board, launched focus groups and began fundraising. To date, they have succeeded in their goal to never give a parent a bill as a result of generous donations, grants and God stepping in.
But it wasn’t always easy. They had to find a location, therapists, a medical biller and walk an unknown path, trusting in God’s faithfulness.
“Fear is a huge thing for me,” she said. “Sometimes I want to crawl under the covers and not get out. I think, ‘I can’t do this thing. I started it, but now, I’m going to look like an idiot because I don’t know what I’m doing.’”
But God keeps providing for the children and their families. In addition to therapy, Gracie’s Place also provides family education, resources and support for parents and caregivers. Once a month, Gracie’s Place invites an organization related to special needs to speak, educating parents about available resources. Most recently, the session discussed advocacy within the school system. A meal always follows the sessions to allow families to connect and support each other.
In summer 2019, Gracie’s Place is piloting social thinking group therapy for kids. This therapy is done in a cohort model that pairs a neurotypical child with children with special needs to help them learn to engage with each other appropriately while teaching them valuable social skills and how to build friendships.
“Our desire is for the little caterpillar to turn into this beautiful butterfly that can fly,” Deb said. “The metamorphosis can happen through the therapy, but not just in the therapy. The kiddos develop bonds with each other, and I think that happens with the families, too. The desire is not even just for the kids, but for the parents and the community to be transformed.”
Deb and her husband Pete also have a small church plant that holds their Sunday service in the same building as Gracie’s Place.
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