Kids Like Us outreach spans across the Tri-Cities

Published 5:05 pm Monday, July 2, 2018

Seeing a need, Lisa Lyons was ready to answer the call.

It comes natural for Lyons, and the rest of the individuals involved with the Kids Like Us Community Learning Center. Since it opened to the public at the first of 2018, the facility, located at 106 Rogosin Drive in Elizabethton, serves as a site for children and young adults with special needs to come together and receive a fun learning experience while parents are able to share stories and moments together.

“We’re averaging 70 to 75 kids a week now,” Lyons said in an interview with the Elizabethton Star in March. “The ages of students that come in range from five years old to around 25 years old. We still have some of the same classes we had since we first started — reading, music and art. We also have a youth night on Thursday night that focuses on social skills and written work. The night focuses on self help and how to handle emotions.”

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Kids Like Us actually started to brew in Lyons’ mind roughly five years ago. Lyons’ adopted son, Justin, was diagnosed with different special needs and that put the wheels in motion to offer an area to give everyone a chance for a successful future.

“I realized at that point I was in a world I never knew existed,” she explained about the experience. “We were very blessed with many services in the area and I’m not sure where I would be without them. However, I spent countless hours searching for services and educating myself on how to help our son. It was my dream to have a center to make those things easier for the parents, children and young adults.”

As work continues through the year, Lyons told the Elizabethton Star that the facility has around 30 volunteers giving their time for those that use the facility. Kids Like Us also has a board in place that features different individuals with various backgrounds to help lead the direction of the facility.

One of the key components of the facility, Lyons said, is allowing volunteers of all different walks of life to come in to give children valuable insight in what it takes to make their mark in society.

“We have one lady that volunteers who has Tourettes. Another has Cerebral Palsy,” Lyons said. “This is important for the children to know that they can also do something with their lives. They see others who have a diagnosis like them, and it makes them know that things can be done. They can sit back and say, ‘yes I have a disability, but look what I have accomplished.’”

With so many different activities going on, Lyons added the goal of the organization is to catch children, around middle-school aged, to work with them on the different life skills needed so that, upon graduation, they have the proper tools in place for the world, post high school.

“It’s huge, but not impossible,” she said about the goal. “The key for us is to make sure these young adults can believe in themselves. Everyone here is encouraging. That atmosphere helps them learn better. But on the other side of the spectrum, we have young adults that are ready to go.”

“It may take a week, month or year, but eventually it sticks,” she added. “It’s all about repetition. That’s the best way to encourage learning opportunities and help students be prepared for the professional-world setting.”

As far as the attendance for the center, Lyons added that the population is roughly half Carter County students and half Washington County students. Youth from Unicoi County, Butler and Gray also attend the facility.

“The key for us is to spread the word and let people know we’re here,” Lyons said. “We’re excited about the support we’ve received from the community.”

But with a growing population, support is needed to handle the operation of the facility. One of the key partners of Kids Like Us is Northeast Community Credit Union, who manages the teen room at their location.

“The scary part is not having the resources of help to meet that need,” Lyons said. “I don’t worry about people coming in. I just worry about how we can keep the facility going. I never want to turn someone away because we don’t have help. There’s too much support in the Tri-Cities and the surrounding area. It’s all about education. And there’s so many nonprofits out there.”

“I work hard and want to know where my money is going,” she added. “I want people to come in and see what we’re offering before they contribute so they know where funds are going. All proceeds we raise go directly back into operational cost for the facility.”

Volunteer opportunities are available at the facility, along with a laundry list of activities on the horizon. To learn more, visit the Kids Like Us Community Learning Center Facebook page online. Lyons added a website is currently under development.