Thursday, June 13, 2024

Special Kids: a vision becomes reality


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Story by Mack Barrett

Featured Photo from Special Kids

In 1998, nurse Carrie Goodwin witnessed special needs children being turned away because their families couldn’t pay for the necessary medical services.

After the events she witnessed that year, Goodwin was having lunch with her father, Dick Kleinau. She told her father how bad she felt about children being turned away. Kleinau shared his belief that God had a mission for him.

“Dick wanted to do something that would honor Jesus,” said Chris Truelove, executive director of Special Kids Therapy and Nursing Center.

Kleinau and Goodwin began to pray and take the necessary steps to find a solution. Special Kids formed as a result. The local non-profit offers occupational, speech, group, physical and feeding therapies as well as augmentative communication and skilled nursing to medically fragile children. In 2023, Special Kids set a goal of $400,000 for an annual fundraising effort.

With a rise in children with disabilities, it emphasizes the need for an organization like Special Kids. It’s estimated that 17% of children, ages three through 17, have one or more developmental disabilities, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The organization began operating on Sept. 5, 1998. Special Kids opened its doors to the first building with the help of the Christy Houston Foundation, according to the Special Kids website.

“’Our story began with one family, one calling, and one special kid,’” the Special Kids website says.

Twenty-five years later, Special Kids offers therapy and nursing services in separate buildings.

“Occupational therapy is use of the fine motor skills, your wrists, your hands, your elbows and shoulders” said Julie Ludwig, clinical director of Special Kids Therapy and Nursing Center. This includes daily life tasks like brushing one’s teeth or buttoning a shirt.

Medical services include tube feedings, medication administration, seizure monitoring and other complex services, according to Special Kids literature.

“At any given time, we’re around 400 active patients,” Truelove said.

Patients go through one of two intake processes before receiving services from Special Kids, said Ludwig.

The nursing center must receive a referral from a physician before putting a family on a waitlist. A consultation and assessment are provided before requesting a service order from a physician. Once a response is received, Special Kids contacts the family to review the proposed plan of care.

The therapy center must also receive a referral from a physician. An intake interview is held over the phone with the potential family and medications are gathered. An initial evaluation is scheduled prior to receiving services.

To fulfill Goodwin’s initial dream of not turning children away, Special Kids works with parents on a payment plan that they can afford. It offers a sliding scale based on household income, number of children and number of services required, according to the Special Kids website.

To help families fund these services, Special Kids financially relies on donors, partners and multiple annual events. Events include two golf tournaments, a running race and a summer camp, Truelove said.

The camp spans over four weeks and allows children and young adults to participate in group activities that are both therapeutic and enjoyable.

“A lot of summer camps don’t have accommodations,” Catherine Woten, event specialist at Special Kids Therapy and Nursing Center, said. “They’re able to go to summer camp and have a normal childhood.”

Companies such as SRM Concrete (Smyrna Ready Mix) and Murfreesboro Medical Clinic are partners and help with events,” Woten said.

SRM Concrete provides Cedar Crest Golf Course for the fall golf tournament. Murfreesboro Medical Clinic provides their parking lot and helps with interactive events after the race, said Woten.

The community supports Special Kids through donations – of time and money – and volunteer work.

“Buying your normal groceries every day, a portion of that can go to Special Kids if you tie it to your Kroger Card,” Woten said.

Towards the end of the year, Special Kids sets up an annual donation campaign called “The Hope Drive.” Sponsors donate money to be matched with community donations, effectively doubling the amount of money raised.

“We have a really supportive community” Woten said.

For more information or to support Special Kids, visit

Mack Barrett is a contributing writer for MTSU Sidelines.

To contact News Editor Alyssa Williams and Assistant News Editor Zoe Naylor, email

For more news, visit, or follow us on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines or on Twitter and Instagram at @mtsusidelines.

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