Pink paint dripping from fingers and feet, Charlie Sarver, 6, made a maritime masterpiece.
With a footprint abdomen and palm print claws, a crimson crustacean emerged from the page, courtesy of the young artist.
Finished with his masterwork, Charlie stumbled away in orange shorts, leaving a sneaker behind as he romped around the room.
In a colorful classroom at Toledo’s EduCare Center, eight toddlers dunked their hands in tubs of water, splashing their friends as Charlie slathered his fingers in paint.
“[The water and paint] help with sensory issues,” said Kristal Perkins, nurse manager at the Prescribed Pediatric Center — a section of the building devoted to the care and instruction of children with disabilities.
“[The children] don’t just need the typical math and science — we want to approach them in a holistic manner.”
The EduCare Center, which offers educational day-care programs for both medically complex and typically developing children, will celebrate its 20th anniversary on Wednesday.
The facility was the first of its kind in Ohio, founder Dr. Elizabeth Ruppert said.
“We founded this [center] based on the experience that families needed a site where they could have children with and without special needs receive quality day treatment,” said Dr. Ruppert, professor emeritus of pediatrics at the University of Toledo.
Located at 1932 Birchwood Ave., the site is the former Heatherdowns Elementary School, which closed in the late 1980s when student enrollment declined.
The building stayed vacant for several years, weeds and graffiti taking the place of children in the abandoned playground.
Dr. Ruppert raised about $60,000 to fund the creation of the EduCare Center with the help of Lawrence Burns, the university’s vice president of external affairs.
After three years of planning, her idea became a reality on July 24, 1993.
The EduCare Center, which originally housed the Prescribed Pediatric Center, the Early Learning Center, and the Early Intervention Program, incorporated into the Toledo Public Schools system in 1996, Dr. Ruppert said.
Because of its many involved entities, funding structures for the center vary. Some of the programs are free for children, while others have tuition costs.
During the school year, the center provides classrooms where TPS students with multiple disabilities receive medical care and special education classes.
The Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities operates the center’s Early Intervention Program, which offers support for parents, organizes play groups, and provides free screenings for children age 3 and under.
“Research shows that by being involved and showing support at an early age, it results in a decrease in the intensity of supports and services as [children] get older,” said John Trunk, superintendent of the Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities. “I’ve seen kids learn to walk or leave with communication skills they never had when they first started [the program].”
Children with developmental disabilities or complex medical problems also may access the Anne Grady Corp.’s Prescribed Pediatric Center, which offers medical treatments and educational programs for children 18 and under. Program participants eventually may transfer to the building’s Early Learning Center, a child-care program for typically developing children operated by the University of Toledo.
Children from the Early Learning Center and the Prescribed Pediatric Center interact in play groups, riding tricycles and playing ball in the building’s gymnasium.
“I have this recurring dream that there will be a head of personnel at a company who was one of our students here, and he’ll have an applicant who has special needs,” Dr. Ruppert said. “[The disability] wouldn’t interfere with that adult [at the head of the company], and he wouldn’t even think of his time at the Early Learning Center.”
Back at the Prescribed Pediatric Center, an early-intervention specialist strummed “If You’re Happy And You Know It” on an acoustic guitar. Charlie waved his arms in the air, shouted “hooray,” and clapped his hands. Jaylen Walker, 2, stomped his feet to the tune.
“When [Jaylen] came to us, he was not interacting with the kids,” said Erika Henson, who has been teaching at the Prescribed Pediatric Center for eight years. “Within a few weeks, he was starting to talk and identifying letters and colors. The gift of working here is you get to see little strides that are actually huge.”
For the EduCare Center’s anniversary Wednesday, festivities start at 9:30 a.m. and finish at noon. After a recognition ceremony at 10 a.m. in the gym, Early Intervention staff will perform free screenings for children, and parents may tour the facility.
After two decades, the EduCare Center has had a huge impact on local families, leaders said.
Perrysburg resident Andrew Cox, 18, who has seizures and cerebral palsy, enjoyed the center so much that he cried whenever it closed, said his mother, Stacy Cox.
“For Andrew, [EduCare] provided the same challenge and potential growth that typical children would receive in school, but in an environment where his needs are served,” Mrs. Cox said.
Stephanie Ziemann, 28, of South Toledo, said she began to feel a sense of “normalcy” when her daughter began receiving support from EduCare. Initially reluctant to let others care for Ada-Lily, 3, who has schizencephaly and is missing nearly 40 percent of her brain, Mrs. Ziemann was impressed when she visited a Prescribed Pediatric Center classroom.
At first glance, she said she saw that the staff “genuinely loved and cared for these children.”
“The people who come and work here have heart,” Ms. Perkins said. “We’ve been here for 20 years, and we’d like to be here for another 20.”
Contact Rosa Nguyen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6018.