Big Hearts & Big Smiles

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Big Hearts & Big Smiles

One of the most inspiring organizations in the Athens area is Extra Special People, Inc. This unique organization serves children and young adults with developmental disabilities through programs, support groups, and community involvement. Most would say ESP touches countless lives beyond what words can explain. The story of ESP started in 1986 by a woman named Martha Wyllie in which she grasped her vision and took it to a place in which people and families of all abilities could thrive, grow, and find comfort and happiness. The mission of ESP is to create opportunities for people with disabilities and their families to engage, connect, and thrive. Upon Martha’s death in 2004, her family had appointed Laura Whitaker as the new Executive Director and ESP has thrived ever since. Whitaker has expanded programming and the organization continues to grow every year.

ESP has several layers that keep it the wholesome and enveloping program that it is, including after-school programs, family support programs, and many events as well as a summer camp. In recent years, ESP has been able to open a facility in Watkinsville, GA to be able to accomplish its hopes and provide a safe place that individuals with disabilities can call home.  This past weekend, ESP hosted their biggest event of the year: Big Hearts. The event took place at the Classic Center in downtown Athens in which there was a silent auction, a pageant, followed by a banquet. This year the theme was “At Bat” and throughout the event the individuals involved can express themselves and have fun with their peers and many of the people involved with ESP. The event was a huge success and the smiles were innumerable as seen in the pictures below.

There are numerous UGA students that volunteer with ESP and it has evidently impacted their lives in the greatest of ways. Tyler King, a senior at UGA who has been involved with ESP since his freshman year said, “This organization has changed my life in countless ways. I’ve made some of the best friendships, have had some of the most fun experiences ever, and have had the opportunity to connect with some of the most amazing and loving families. Not only that, but my involvement with ESP has completely changed my career aspirations. ESP is the most unique and special organization I’ve ever witnesses, and I’m blessed to be a part of it. The love, acceptance, and community I have found through ESP has forever impacted my life.” It is evident that many lives have been touched and ESP has created a place where a diverse group of individuals can come together as one. This organization will continue to grow and thrive within the UGA and Athens community, reach many hearts, and lighten up smiles that may have been lost. 


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