On the eve of its next big project, the Empower Me Center hosted the Daring to DREAM luncheon at the Farm Bureau Expo Center on Thursday.
Members of the organization say crowd size this year nearly doubled from last year as more than 600 guests showed up to support the Empower Me center and hear the keynote speaker and gold medalist Olympic Scott Hamilton.
During his career, Hamilton won 70 titles, including a gold medal at the 1984 Olympic Games in Sarajevo, in the former Republic of Yugoslavia. After stepping away from competitive figure skating, he became a sports commentator. He is a member of the United States Olympic Hall of Fame and the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame.
However, in sharing his story, Hamilton explained that a lot of those accolades might never have been. Hamilton suffered from serious health problems as a child, but is now a cancer survivor. These health issues hampered Hamilton’s growth. Looking back now, Hamilton is able to laugh that he never had to worry about banging his head on anything, but it set the stage for ridicule as a youngster.
“I am thrilled to support the future of the Empower Me Center,” said Hamilton. “We are so fortunate in Central Tennessee and beyond to have their incredible program that supports the needs and development of people with disabilities and those who love and care for them.”
According to Empower Me Center Executive Director Michelle Hill, Hamilton’s story of health issues as a young child encapsulates much of what Empower Me Center members go through.
“All the health issues and all the bullying is our kids,” Hill said. “This is what our children face every day. For him to bring light to all of this and show all that he has overcome, through these trials and tribulations, is incredible and truly inspiring for us.
Over lunch, Hill shared the organization’s early history through its current project to build a facility off South Hartmann Drive in Lebanon. The developers are laying the sewer works on the site now, and Hill said there are plans to officially open the first phase of the project by next year. The facility will include parks and equipment for members of all mobilities to promote the organization’s commitment to inclusivity and safety.
The first phase of the project includes the construction of a 10,000 square foot building that will be used for the day-to-day operations of the center’s adult day program, called Day Dreamers. The Day Dreamers adult program includes a wide variety of activities designed to help them learn life skills, participate in volunteer opportunities, and build community with one another.
“This space will also be used for our six-week summer day camp and for the majority of our respite and supplemental enrichment activities throughout the year,” Hill said. “When we construct our main building, this space will be leased to other mutually beneficial special needs service providers who will provide ongoing income to help support our operations.”
The first phase should include a soccer field, petanque courts and a golf area. The second phase will include a 38,000 square foot building with a gymnasium and classrooms for continuing education programs. It will also include the construction of a recreational sports complex consisting of a paddling pool, a baseball field and an adapted playground. Next, phase three will be the organization’s multi-housing program, where it will partner with other entities to offer on-site housing.
The lunch tables were sponsored by organizations across the community and adorned with photos of Empower Me Center members.
“Dreaming big is what we were told we were doing,” Hill said. “Why do we do it? For the smiling faces you see on your table and at the door.
Hill said she was not disappointed with the turnout.
“The community definitely showed up,” Hill said. “We are so grateful to everyone who came out and grateful to all of our sponsors who covered the cost of the event so that all donations come in and go directly to support our children.”