Orion Gives Back: The Harwood Center

The March 2015 focus of Orion Gives Back is the Harwood Center. 

harwood logo2Founded in 1957, Harwood Center is a nonprofit agency that provides support and education for Mid-South families and children from birth to age five who are affected by developmental disabilities.  Harwood serves students with diagnoses such as autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, visual and hearing impairments, prematurity, behavioral disorders, and spina bifida. 

We recently spoke with the center’s Executive Director, Claire Moss, about Harwood’s mission, successes, hopes for the future, and the ways you can help:

Orion:  We would love for you to tell us a story that will help our readers understand the impact the Harwood Center has in our community. Could you share with us one of your most memorable experiences while working there that would be an example of this?
Ms. Moss:  I think that Harwood creates memorable experiences for families on a daily basis. Many of our families deal with devastating news when they find out their child is not developing on time or they might have been told by their pediatrician that their child may never walk or talk. Our staff not only contributes to the successes the children make, but often witness the families seeing their child take his/her first step or speak their first word. This is hard to beat.

The success of early intervention (EI) services is well documented and identification of disabilities in children at a young age is critical as brain synapses develop at a phenomenal rate from birth to age 3 making this the optimal time for learning. For a child with a disability, EI services are essential for helping the child grow and develop.

Orion:  How did you first get involved with the Harwood Center?
Ms. Moss:  I have a background in social work and began my career working with children and families involved in the Juvenile Court system due to abuse and neglect. In 2003, my family moved to Jackson, TN and I became a social worker at a center for children with disabilities similar to Harwood. I have fallen in love with early intervention programs because they are successful and give me the opportunity witness to children making major progress. My husband’s job brought us back to Memphis in 2009 and I was so fortunate that Harwood was looking for a program director at the time.

Orion:  What’s the best thing to happen since you started working with Harwood Center?
Ms. Moss:  After 16 years of operating under state funding and guidelines and serving only children who were under the age of three, Harwood became a private not of profit in 2010. This shift allowed Harwood to meet a great need in the community by opening a preschool program for children aged 3-5 as an alternative to the school system. Prior to that, children who were funded by the State has to exit Harwood Center on their third birthday, regardless if it fell in the middle of a school year.

Orion: What do you wish other people knew about Harwood?
Ms. Moss:  Early detection and intervention is the most effective treatment for young children with developmental disabilities. I encourage families who are concerned about their child’s development to not “wait and see” but seek out help. Harwood Center has prepared thousands of children for kindergarten and helped them have more successful lives.

Orion:  You have already made such a positive impact in our community. What would make it possible for you to do even more?
Ms. Moss:  Harwood’s main location is downtown at UT’s Boling Center for Developmental Disabilities. We also have several classrooms at Hope Presbyterian Church and The Jewish Community Center.  Although we strongly value our community partners and the satellite classrooms help serve families from all over Memphis, consolidating our program into one main location would be ideal. Our main barrier to achieving this goal is securing adequate funding for a building.

Orion:  What would you tell someone who is thinking about donating or volunteering with your organization?
Ms. Moss:  It costs Harwood Center approximately $12,000 to serve one child. Donations to Harwood allow us to serve more children and reduce costs to families and allow for scholarships for children who would otherwise not be able to receive services. Harwood is also in need of technology, such as iPads and laptops.

We have 2 major fundraising events annually: Opening Eyes to Autism 5K which will be held April 17th 2015 and the Memphis Handicapper’s Golf Tournament on May 8th, 2015. We welcome volunteers for the events and encourage the community to participate. To sign up for the 5K race, go to: openingeyestoautism.racesonline.com. To sign up for the golf tournament or for more information please contact us at 901.448.6580 or email cmoss4@uthsc.edu.