EPISODE 33 – Mr. Joe, Landon, Zack, Michelle and Beth – June 15, 2023

The stories of Mr. Joe, Landon, Zack, Michelle and Beth explain The Day Dreamers Program – what it is,
who it impacts and the outcomes of the program with clients, client families and its Middle Tennessee
community. Listen as Bart expertly interviews the representatives of the Empower Me Center on the
latest episode of the Vista Points podcast, Choose Your Path.


Greetings from our Middle Tennessee studio…and welcome to today’s Vista Points podcast, “Choose Your Path”, where the Vista Points’ staff are committed to improving the quality of life for people of any age who are living with a physical, mental or intellectual disability.

I’m Bart, your podcast host. My role is to walk you through this journey of discovering and using special needs trusts. Today, we are fortunate to interview two people who are very well known in the special needs community. We’ll also give you stories of how this program has impacted their lives. In case you’re new to our podcast, I invite you to refer to past episodes which are found on the Vista Points website and on YouTube. More information on how to connect to Vista Points will be given at the end of this podcast. So, let’s get started!

I want to start with some facts and figures that may surprise you. These facts are from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Disability Health Data Systems. (https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth/infographic-disability-impacts-all.html

The research uncovered some interesting information I want to share with you. Did you know that 1 in 4 people living in the United States have some form of disability? You know, that’s a lot of people!

The data states these figures, when it comes to disabilities.12.8% have serious cognition difficulties. This means they have trouble concentrating, remembering or making decisions. 12.1% have difficulty with mobility, which is walking or climbing stairs. 7.2% have trouble with living independently. 6.1% have hearing issues. 4.8% have vision issues such as blindness or difficulty seeing. And lastly, 3.6% have trouble with self-care, such as dressing and bathing. These issues make it challenging for a person to function, as typically expected, in society. 

Our topic today is about adults living with disabilities and a special program offered in the middle Tennessee area. This is where Empower Me Day Dreamers comes in. Today, I welcome Michelle Hill, the Executive Director of Empower Me Center, and Beth Goolesby, the Adult Program Director. Welcome, ladies. 

Michelle: Hello, Bart.

Beth: Hello Bart, thank you so much for having us on your podcast.

Bart: Oh, you’re welcome. I have been looking forward to this podcast interview with both of you. Our Vista Points Executive Director, Ms. Darlene Kemp, attended the Empower Me Daring to Dream luncheon that you had a few months ago. She could not stop telling me about all of the great programs your organization has to offer adults living with a disability. But before we dive into this subject, I’d like each of you to tell us a little about yourself. Michelle, let’s start with you. Please tell our listeners how you started this program and how it has blossomed. 

Michelle:  Well, I’m originally from Kentucky and graduated from the Virginia Commonwealth University and the Medical College Virginia with a degree in Occupational Therapy.  And, I’ve been practicing in various settings primarily in pediatrics for the past thirty years. I have lived in seven different states but finally claimed TN as my home back in 1997.  Once getting settled here, I just wanted to get involved in the community through volunteer work.  I was fortunate enough to pick up a local newspaper and saw they were advertising to get a basketball league started for individuals with special needs. Having grown up in KY and played the sport, I just wanted to get involved. And so, I went to this parent meeting and walked out of there as director of the League. These parents had their own lives to manage and I had the time.  And, it was just meant to be.  From this basketball league I met so many amazing families who just really wanted more opportunities for their children.  So, I got some of my therapy buddies together and we created this nonprofit and we actually had our summer camp that very first year.    

And so, what started as a weekend basketball league 25 years ago quickly evolved into the Summer Day Camp. And then as camp progressed year after year, we actually began reaching more and more families, serving up to 28 counties in Middle Tennessee. And, you know, just lifelong friendships began to blossom and our participants wanted to spend more time together. So, we began providing year-round activities that also kind of provide a respite for family members. Some of those are like our Snowball Dance or Spring Fling or Easter Egg Hunt, Whip-Crackin’ Rodeo. We have Summer Movie Nights, a Fishing Rodeo, Fall Sports Festival, Wilson County, Tennessee State Fair Special Needs Day, Pumpkin Prom, Christmas Camp. We just have all kinds of different year-round events just to try to meet, um, the lack of, of services basically available for individuals with special needs in our community.

Bart: Michelle, it certainly takes a lot of faith to follow your dreams and make it a reality. You’re helping so many people. In fact, I read that your superpower is faith. Please tell us a little bit about how faith has helped you reach some of your goals.

Michelle:  Well, uh, superpower being faith. I just feel like doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will. And that’s one of my favorite quotes. We, um, have had a lot of doubters along the way of whether we would ever be able to start this organization, um, to be able to continue to offer, additional programming to try to meet the needs, to purchase 25 acres to build on South Hartman Drive, to right now ready to kick off a campaign to, to actually raise funds to build the, our site, our recreational complex. And so, um, I just, we just have all along had faith in continuing to follow what we feel has been put in front of us to try to make the lives of our special needs families even better. And, back even from the very beginning, you know, after we had come up with a concept, we needed a place and I knocked on so many doors and made so many phone calls to schools, churches, civic places and was told no, cuz most of these places already had other children’s organizations there and they didn’t want another children’s group on site.

And then finally, someone asked me if I’d been out to the fairgrounds to see if it’d be a possibility. And so I went out there and met Mr. Joe and he welcomed us with open arms. And so just having faith that whatever we are setting our mind to, I feel like we are doing the right thing and we are trying to help our families and just continuing to ask, believe and receive and have faith that, uh, that these different things we are putting in place will, will come to fruition for our families.

Bart: Thanks Michelle, for all the information and, and thank you for your beliefs and your faith. Now, I don’t wanna leave Beth waiting too long. As I said earlier, Beth Goolesby is the Adult Program Director at Empower Me Center. Beth, will you please tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became involved with the Center? I understand you’ve been with the Empowerment Center for many years. 

Beth: Yes, Bart, actually I’ve been with Empower Me Center for 23 years. Um, the first 15 years was basically just in the summer with the Summer Day Camp program and during the school year I taught elementary, or actually it was middle and high school. Um, I taught school at alternative schools, which you’re working with students who have been kicked out of their regular schools and they have major behavior issues and things like that. So, I always tell people by the end of the school year, my emotional mental bucket was empty. I had given all that I could give, and then I would go to summer camp and those kiddos would fill my bucket right back up again. And so, I was able to go back to teaching in August.

The past eight years I have been full-time as the Adult Program Director and um, mainly I just have always felt a real connection with and a passion for working with people with disabilities. Even back in high school I helped out with the special needs classes and it’s just what makes sense to me. It’s just a passion that I’ve always had.

Bart: Beth, you’ve got a great background and you’ve had some wonderful experiences. The Empower Me Center website gave me some insight into your superpower. It said you’re equipped with fierceness. Can you please tell our listeners what this fierceness superpower does for you? 

Beth: Well, it’s kind of funny cuz it sounds odd. It sounds like an odd thing to say, but, um, someone once told me a long time ago that, uh, whenever I meet somebody in a store or restaurant that when they walk away, whether it’s a former student or someone that I know, um, they always feel like I was excited to see them and that I seriously loved them and that, um, I had made them feel so special. And it was so weird that this person said this to me because I, I said, but they are, and I do love them. So like, I don’t understand why you would say that. That’s such a weird thing, you know? And so, then I realized that not everyone has that gift. Not everyone can say I can find a reason to love someone no matter what. And so, uh, and love them fiercely to where they, um, you know, feel that and can walk away feeling different about themselves. So, that’s kind of what I’ve called it. I guess it could be called something else. But that’s what I love. I love helping people feel special and loved and like they’re important because they are. 

Bart: Thanks, Beth. I think that’s a great capacity to have. Both Michelle and you are some interesting, powerful and resourceful people. I don’t think anything, or anyone, can hold you back. We have had past professionals on our podcast that talk about how powerful it is to have programs, in their region, for people living with a disability. Empower Me Center has one of these types of programs. I understand it is the Day Dreamers Program. Michelle, will you tell us how this program got started and how it has developed?

Michelle: Absolutely. Um, our programs were initially set up for ages five through 21. And as many of our participants started nearing that cut-off age or graduating high school at age 21, there were concerns expressed from their parents that they would no longer be able to continue their Empower Me Center journey. Once again, we listened to their concerns and worked together on a solution. Basically, all of those other year-round events that I mentioned were all established because we were trying to meet the needs of the families and, and allow those participants to be able to hook back up with their friends. So, we grandfathered in those, um, that had been participating with us, and we quickly worked to develop a new program. And this new program, the Day Dreamers, was formed in 2018. They are active adults accessing adventures within the community. And it began as a two-day per week opportunity and has now evolved to four days per week.

And this program’s, um, you know, specifically designed to provide socialization and recreation and educational opportunities for adults that are no longer in school. It consists of volunteer opportunities, self-care training, uh, physical recreation activities, gardening, cooking classes, field trips, just much more, so much more. And, we create opportunities for adults with disabilities to develop social skills, grow as individuals, build friendships and really connect to the community.

Bart: Day Dreamers sounds like a great program. I know it is difficult to find programs for adults living with disabilities. To have a program like this in Lebanon is wonderful, not only for the participants but for the families, as well. Beth, will you elaborate on the Day Dreamers Program? How does a family become involved? What is the cost of the program? Are there any scholarships or grants that can cover the cost for a participant?

Beth: Sure. So, many families find us through word of mouth, through other families. Um, some people Google us or Google something like adult programming in the Nashville area or Middle Tennessee area. And, then that’s how they find our website. They can see all the different programs that we currently have and then also all the ones that we’ll be adding once our facilities built. (cough) Excuse me. Um, the families have two choices. They could do a five-hour day or a seven-hour day. Uh, we have an eight to three day or nine to two day, and then the five hour day is $55 a day and the seven hour day is $77 a day. They can choose one day a week all the way up to four days a week. We have some that just come a couple times a month, and so we just try to make it work for whoever’s schedule needs us. Right now, we meet Monday through Thursday, and each day has a different schedule. Um, and as far as grants and scholarships, there are some outside agencies that offer help, and we refer our participants to them if they need it.

Bart: Well, I cannot thank you enough for sharing information about Day Dreamers. This program can change a participant’s quality of life and make it very special. Not only does Day Dreamers help participants with learning life skills, it also creates opportunities for adults with disabilities to develop social skills, grow as individuals, build friendships and connect to the community. Michelle, can you tell us how relationships grow and blossom from the Day Dreamers program?

Michelle: Yes. Many of these individuals have been with us all 25 years, and so for our participants and their families, we’ve just been an integral part of their lifelong social, physical and emotional development. And through our programming, our participants develop long-term intellectual and motor skills, cognitive reasoning and life skills, empowering them to achieve their highest potential mentally, physically, socially, emotionally and spiritually. And we’ve been a long-term solution to the ever-present need for safe, reliable childcare and respite for their families. 

Bart: These relationships really do impact their lives. Thank you, Michelle, for sharing this. Beth, we talked earlier about life skills. To me that means things like basic activities of daily living, but I understand life skills are much more than doing things like brushing my own hair, feeding myself, getting dressed. What kind of life skills does Day Dreamers teach the participants? 

Beth: So, so many things from ordering at restaurants and paying for it themselves to choosing items at the store and checking out independently. Participants get to learn and have new experiences they’ve never been offered before. Learning essential skills like cooking, self-care, pet care, other household tasks enable adults with disabilities to gain confidence and become more independent. We’ve also seen a great improvement in the participant’s self-esteem. The families are really surprised at what their children will try as far as new activities or new foods that they’ve never tried before for them. And, then of course, being with their peers is just so healthy and mentally and emotionally positive for them in their lives. 

Bart: This program is so impressive! Do you ever take the participants out to visit local places or do some fun things?

Michelle: You know, the Day Dreamers’ tagline is active adults accessing adventures within the community. So that is exactly what they do. They love to go to movies, they go bowling, they go to the fire station to visit, they go to the gym, they go swimming petting zoos. They’ve been to Adventure Science Center, they’ve been down to watch the Preds practice. They love going to the Imagine That Art studio and most importantly, they love eating out for lunch. 

Bart: Thanks, Michelle. That sounds good. Beth, can you tell us how someone gets involved in the Day Dreamers program? Do they call, visit, do they sign up online? 

Beth: Sure. So, someone’s interested in our Day Dreamers program, they can go to our website and find the Adult Program tab. Once they’re there, there is a info request, um, sheet that they can fill out, and then I will contact them. Or, they can also call me directly. 

Bart: Great. I’m sure both of you have many stories of how Day Dreamers has made a difference in a person’s life. Can you share one of these stories? Michelle, let’s start with you. 

Michelle: Yes. So let me tell you about Landon. Landon has been participating with us for all 25 years, beginning with our Summer Day Camp that first year in 1999. He absolutely loves summer programs and now loves Day Dreamer programs. He loves summer so much that his family had to be careful not to talk about it too soon because if they did, he would start packing his lunch and his backpack and then he would start making a collage on his wall of all of his Empower Me pictures he had collected through the years. His mom, Kathy, has said before, explain to an autistic child what “not yet” or “next week” means when all he knows is that Empower Me is his favorite place in the world – better than Disney World. He just, uh, he’s been an integral part of our program since the beginning and just absolutely loves the Day Dreamers. His family is one of those families that reached out to us about continuing to provide services for the adult population, and we just quickly knew we could not imagine our lives without individuals like Landon in it.

And, we invite everyone to follow us on Facebook at Empower Me Center and visit our website at EmpowerMeCenter.com.

Bart: That’s a great story. Michelle. Beth, have you got a story for us? 

Beth: Oh, I have many stories. Uh, but one in particular is a man named Zach. And, Zach participated in summer camp for many, many years, and now he participates in our Day Dreamer program. He travels each week from McMinnville to Lebanon. It’s a good little trip, uh, probably about an hour to participate with us on Wednesdays. And, he is just amazing. He has autism and OCD, which is obsessive comp, uh, obsessive compulsive disorder and loves, loves, loves doors and elevators. And, he knows the type or the brand of each automatic door and elevator before he ever gets near it. If we stop at a store, he, before we ever get out of the van, he tells me the type of, uh, automatic doors they have and it’s just, he’s brilliant. And so, we do what we can for each individual to enjoy their day. And having said that, on Wednesdays, the first thing we do is as a group, we stop by either our local hotel or our city Mayor’s office and Zach and one of our staff members will ride an elevator up to the top floor, ride it all the way back down while singing You Are My Sunshine. (laughter) And then after that, he’s good, he’s good for the rest of the day. We can go about our regular schedule, uh, but we just love Zach and we love all of our participants, and we do things like that for each of them to just make them happy and to make them have the best day possible.

If there’s anyone interested in more information, I would love for them to give me a call. So, my phone number is (615) 202-5388. Again, that is my personal cell. You can call me at (615) 202-5388.

Bart: Thanks, Beth. That’s a great story and thanks for the information and how to contact you. Your story shows the impact Day Dreamers has on a person.

Thank you, ladies. I’ve bet someone right now listening to the podcast is ready to get involved in Day Dreamers. It’s a great program and it provides some much needed life skills that a participant can receive to benefit his or her own life. In closing, would either of you like to share a final thought with our listeners? Michelle, how about you? 

Michelle: Sure. You know, at Empower Me, here’s what our dream is all about for our participants – for them to be, for them, for them to not be judged, but accepted; not shunned, but loved; not made fun of for being different, but celebrated for the wonderful, unique gifts they were given. And none of us gets to choose how we come into this world, but we all can choose what we do with this one life we are given. And, we invite people to get involved either through participation in one of our programs or through even volunteering.

Bart: Thanks, Michelle. That’s very enlightening. And Beth, I bet you have a closing comment for us.

Beth: Yes, Bart, I just want, I appreciate you allowing us to talk about our program and our amazing adults with disabilities. They have so much to offer our communities and they live in, they have so much to offer the communities that they live in, and I’m so glad that we are able to help them out to do that. 

Bart: Thanks again, ladies. I’m glad both of you joined me today on a podcast to share information about Empower Me Center and the Day Dreamers Program.

Thanks so much to our podcast listeners for tuning in to today’s episode of Choose Your Path, a Vista Points podcast. Don’t forget to ask your questions! If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to do so. 

You can ask your questions by calling the Vista Points office at 888-422-4076. That number again is 888-422-4076. Each of the Vista Points team members is happy to answer your questions and assist you in whatever way they can.

You can also ask your questions through the Facebook page, VistaPointsInc, that’s Vista-Points-I-N-C, where you can send a direct message, otherwise known as a D-M.

I’m glad to say our podcasts have become a smart resource for many people. You can subscribe to the Vista Points YouTube channel and be notified as the latest episodes go live, which is on the 1st and 15th of every month. The YouTube channel is named Vista Points SNT, that’s S-N-T as in special needs trust.

You can find past episodes and their transcriptions on the Vista Points website at vistapoints.org. That’s vistapoints-dot-O-R-G. You can all listen to past episodes on the YouTube site or on our website.

Enjoy your day with your loved one. Come back for more or look into past episodes of Choose Your Path. Regardless of where or when you find us, we walk beside you on your path. I look forward to sharing more information with you on how special needs trusts can be of benefit to anyone living with a disability.