By Laura McAlister
He starts with a blank sheet of butcher paper and then carefully selects his colors.
For this particular painting, James chooses a fiery red and a bright yellow. Then he delves into his work.
As a new participant in Homewood’s Exceptional Foundation, James has discovered a love for painting. He’s also made some pretty good friends.
The Exceptional Foundation is a nonprofit organization serving mentally and physically challenged individuals. On a daily basis, it serves adults like James, but it also offers programs and summer camps for children.
On any given day at the center, participants can be found working on an art project like James with his painting. Or, if it happens to be a Wednesday afternoon, there may be some karaoke.
Whatever the activity may be, the program strives to provide these mentally and physically challenged individuals with social and recreational activities with peers, something they might not get otherwise.
“There’s always something going on here,” said Ginny Bastar, program director for the foundation. “They have a far more active social life than any of us.”
Usually activities are in the daytime, but on Sept. 20, the organization will open its doors for its ninth annual Exceptional Art Show, where budding artists like James will get to show off and sell their work.
Ruth Bean, a staff member at the Exceptional Foundation, said the show is a great way to tap into the talents of these special individuals while raising money for the foundation.
“These are very special people, and they have some really special talents,” she said. “While they may be lacking in some other skills, many of them have some real artistic talent.”
The total cost for a year of enrollment at the foundation is about $13,000, said Amanda Terry, the foundation’s executive assistant. However, individuals are charged only about a third of that. Amanda said it’s thanks to grants, donations and fundraisers like the art show that they are able to keep the cost down for participants.
Finding participants hasn’t been a difficult task. To date, the program serves about 410 families in some capacity. Enrollment for the daily program is roughly 185.
The Exceptional Foundation has come a long way since its founding some 20 years ago. It started in 1993 as a program of Homewood Parks and Recreation.
As word spread, participation grew, and it was obvious the program needed its own building.
“Around 1999 there was a capital campaign, and we built the building,” Ginny said of the facility next to Homewood Central Park. “In 2006, we outgrew it and added on.”
Ruth said it won’t be long before the program will have to consider more expansions.
“We’re not going to turn anyone away,” she said. “It would be easy to say, ‘no, we’re full,’ but we’re not going to do that. We’ll find a way to serve them.”
Over the years, the program has served its participants well.