Daniel was fearless.
If he could he would have jumped off the roof. He bit and hit his
older brothers. He would launch into temper tantrums that lasted
for hours. At 18 months he had never bonded with his mother. He wouldn’t
even lift his arms for a hug.
|Brayden Bratton, a 3-year-old boy receiving therapy for delayed
development, reaches out to physical therapist Kathleen Cannon
from the steps of a brightly colored ladder. The act of climbing
up the ladder and placing toy cars on the top rung helps the boy
develop his balance and coordination.
Desperate for help,
called the Kenny Rogers Children’s
Center in Sikeston. The facility, named in honor of legendary country music
singer, provides physical, occupational and speech therapy for
children in southeast Missouri.
at the end of her rope and she didn’t know where else to
turn,” says Michelle Fayette, executive director of the non-profit
therapy center. “She had already gone to her doctor and said ‘This
is not normal behavior.’ Her doctor told her, ‘This is your child’s
personality and you’re just going to have to get used to it.’”
center’s staff agreed the child’s behavior was abnormal and
told the woman to return to her doctor for a prescription instructing the
center to evaluate and treat the child.
to have sensory integration issues. His central nervous system was
unable to process all the stimulus bombarding him. Untreated his
erratic behavior would continue.
received several months of extensive therapy at the center. Some
treatment might seem obvious. For instance, he was strapped into
a harness that allowed him to channel pent-up energy without risk
of hurting himself. Other treatment might seem surprising. One
technique involved brushing the child head to toe to calm and organize
the nervous system.
Daniel calmed down and his behavior improved dramatically. Although
speech therapy was originally recommended it proved unnecessary.
sensory issues were addressed his words started flowing normally.
He even reached out for his once desperate mom.
one mother we probably saved her sanity,” Fayette says. “This
child has made dramatic progress.”
story is remarkable not only for the child’s miraculous
turnaround but also because the boy’s disorder is not what
most people expect the center to treat. As recently as 2000 the
center was called the Kenny Rogers Cerebral Palsy Center.
think over time people just assumed we only treat kids with
physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy or spina bifida,” says
Fayette, who became director of the center two years ago. “But
we treat a lot of kids with developmental delay, injuries due
to the birthing process.
therapist Molly Nirider watches as 4-year-old Brayden Green
cuts paper with scissors. Brayden experienced a stroke while
still in his mother's womb. The incident caused some paralysis
to his left side. Through therapy he is increasing the use of
his left arm and leg. Occupational therapists like Nirider
help people develop the skills needed to perform their "occupation."
In a child's case that includes play, dressing themselves and listening
children with Down’s syndrome, shaken baby syndrome, autism,
muscular dystrophy, seizure disorder, sensory, acute sports injuries,
vision therapy. I would guess that the diagnoses we treat are into
no parent ever receives a bill from the Kenny Rogers Children’s
Center. Since the facility first opened its doors in 1974
as the Scott-Mississip-pi-New Madrid Counties United Cerebral Palsy
Center treatment has always been free to parents.
Today, the center
contracts therapy services to 22 state and public schools in
nine counties. That work provides about two-thirds of the center’s
approximate $1 million annual budget. The rest comes from private
donations and a variety of fundraising efforts. With a staff
of 18 — including 13 licensed therapists — the
center treats more than 300 children, from birth to 21
years of age.
The center began
with just one mother seeking help for a child diagnosed with cerebral
palsy, a disorder characterized by impaired muscle control, seizures
and involuntary movements. Initially, a core group of volunteers
and parents, supported by donations from the local Eagles club, treated
just five children. By 1977, when singer Kenny Rogers came to town
to perform at the Sikeston Jaycees Bootheel Rodeo, the center
served 23 children.
The four-day rodeo
is the premier happening in Sikeston each year. These days the event
features a different musical act each night but in the early years
one star performed throughout the rodeo. The rodeo gates opened at
night so community leaders entertained visiting celebrities during
the day by showing them around town.
“As you can
imagine, in Sikeston, Mo., with a population of about 18,000, there’s
not a whole lot of things to show him,” says Fayette, who
was in high school at the time and remembers Rogers’ visit. “Luckily
they showed him the cerebral palsy center.”
was so impressed by what the group was doing
with limited resources he donated an Arabian stallion.
The horse brought $75,000 at auction and all the proceeds
went to the center. To show its appreciation the center
changed its name.
he was very hesitant to have his name attached to the center. I think
in some ways he thought he might be financially responsible,” Fayette
says. “But, truly, it was just our way
of saying, ‘Thank you, Kenny
Although Rogers’ involvement
is limited he does stay informed about activities
at the center. He’s also largely responsible
for the modern center children and their
parents see today. In 1978 and ’79
Rogers and singer Dottie West held benefit
concerts in Sikeston to support the center.
Later he sponsored fundraising performances
by Mel Tillis and the Gatlin Brothers.
those four benefit concerts that’s
how we have the building that we’re
currently in,” Fayette says. “In
2000 Kenny came back and did another benefit
concert. We got a matching grant from the
Interna-tional Lions and with that we were
able to totally upgrade our center.”
center is a state-of-the-art therapy
facility that rivals those in large cities. Besides
areas full of what appears to be play
equipment — slides,
swings, huge padded blocks and a treehouse-style
play area — the center
also features a number of high-tech therapy
devices. Illumi-nated plastic columns
filled with bubbling water respond to
voice. A foot-operated touch pad plays
musical notes and helps a child associate
cause and effect. A large, heated water
bed enclosure helps therapists teach
severely handicapped children to roll
Rogers Children's Center in Sikeston is housed in this building,
funded in large part by benefit concerts. Photo courtesy of the
Kenny Rogers Center.
concerts have allowed the facility to grow, money for day-to-day
expenses comes from the community. Besides
the Jaycees, which funds the center through
its annual rodeo, donations come from
local Lions and Eagles clubs. Money is
also raised through an annual telethon,
auction and a charity walk.
take just one club or organization any more. We have to raise about
$350,000 a year. It takes everybody pitching in and all the communities,” Fayette
says, adding that the center receives
no federal funding.
“We get so
much support from the Sikeston community and the surrounding communities,” she
think they do realize that it’s
unique and I think they’re
proud of the services that we’re
able to offer.”
Kenny Rogers’ name
is on the center but a lot of
ordinary people in and around Sikeston have
made the center possible. Together
they have created a children’s
therapy facility unique in rural
areas and even in big cities.
able to provide the therapy for
these children at no charge I
think is a great asset to southeast
Missouri,” Fayette says.
For more information
call the Kenny Rogers Children’s Center
at (573) 472-0397.