‘Sense We Matter’ grows beyond Carter County

The TLC Community Center’s “Sense We Matter” initiative is growing since its inception last year with a planned expansion beyond the tri-cities.

Director Angie Odom said the growth is exciting.

“It goes from a thought, to a program, to now expand beyond the tri-cities,” Odom said.

Sense We Matter is an initiative Odom announced last March, in which the TLC Community Center met with local restaurant owners to both evaluate and improve the conditions within their businesses to be more accommodating for children with special needs.

Odom said she received the help of an occupational therapy student from Milligan College, Vanessa Odom, to help perform these evaluations at no cost to the businesses.

“We picked a variety of restaurants and highlighted the pros and cons for children with sensory issues,” she said.

Certain things the initiative looked for included smells and overwhelming sounds, but they also included less obvious issues, like table placement.

Odom said tables too close to the entrance of the building or to the restrooms created constant yet irregular noise due to foot traffic, which can stress out a child with sensory issues.

“We were very fortunate,” Odom said of the initiative’s first year. “The businesses here knew us, and they accepted our challenge.”

Now, over a year later, she said the program has helped raise awareness of children with these sensory issues throughout the community and what they need to feel accommodated in public settings.

“People do not always see the need these kids have,” Odom said. “When you say you have a special needs child, people assume you mean physical.”

The program is now expanding beyond Carter County, reaching places like Kingsport and Bristol as the program encourages greater communication between business owners and their customers.

“More people are being educated,” she said. “They can understand the differences we have and work together.”

Here in Carter County, however, she said there is still room to grow, encouraging local churches to participate as well.

“These children need to be ministered to,” Odom said.

For many of these children, however, the loud services with lots of movement can be overwhelming to the point where they have to leave, missing out on worship with their families and friends.

Odom said anyone can participate in this program by contacting the center at 423-543-4673.

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