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story.lead_photo.caption Physical therapist Melinda Grimes, from left, Abigail Rivera, Braxton Maxwell and occupational therapist Tina Osburn work on some skills at Building Bridges. The center’s Fine Arts for Exceptional Hearts fundraiser is coming up Sept. 27 at the Veterans Park Event Center in Cabot is vital to the organization’s operation. - Photo by Angela Spencer

Walking up stairs, making name tags for a small business and painting a blue sky are all accomplishments that deserve praise. At least, that’s how it is at Building Bridges Developmental and Community Services Inc.

Building Bridges — formerly the Lonoke Exceptional Development Center — in Cabot provides services for children and adults who have developmental disabilities. The goal at Building Bridges is to help its clients, both young and old, be prepared to develop the skills that will aid them in going to school or into the workforce. That’s one reason the organization’s name change was so appropriate, Executive Director Janie Sexton said.

“The history of services with developmental disabilities is segregation,” she said. “The hope at Building Bridges is we want to connect them to the community. We want to make them part of the community, so we’re striving to make those connections.”

In Cabot, Building Bridges has two facilities to provide services for two different populations. The organization’s preschool program provides physical, occupational and speech therapy to help children with their speech and language skills, motor skills, social-emotional skills and cognitive skills.

The adult programs and services at Building Bridges focus on independent living and work skills for the clients. The people in the adult programs often find employment in the community with the skills they learn at Building Bridges.

“Our services are the best-kept secret in Lonoke County,” Sexton said. “Until you need our services, you’re not aware of our services.”

One of Building Bridges’ main fundraisers, Fine Arts for Exceptional Hearts, is coming up Sept. 27. Sexton said this is the seventh year for the popular fundraiser, and it has become a vital event for the organization.

“Fundraisers are used to cover anything that we are not able to get other funding for through Medicaid,” she said. “We’ve not had any kind of funding increases since 2005. We’ve had 13 years without any kind of funding increases, and this year, there were a lot of cuts in Medicaid. The fundraising aspect is now more important than ever for us. It used to be that fundraising was for the extra stuff, but now we need fundraising to survive.”

Sexton said that even with stagnant funding, Building Bridges tries to stay as current as possible for its clients.

“We are focusing more with our adults on employment,” she said. “That’s what adults do. They work. Even if our clients can’t work a full-time job, we try to help them do what they can do.”

One group of adult clients is working on a business plan — including making flyers and name tags — to wrap Christmas presents this holiday season.

“We want to offer our preschoolers anything they would get at any other preschool,” Sexton said. “Our preschool offers lower ratios. … Our programs provide more than just a day care. It’s training on regular developmental skills, and our hope is that they can go into a regular classroom, even if they have a disability.”

Fine Arts for Exceptional Hearts is a seated dinner hosted at the Veterans Park Event Center. It will include inspirational performances, as well as silent and live auctions to raise funds for Building Bridges.

“Our biggest need right now is playground equipment to make our playground more accessible,” Sexton said.

Tickets for the Sept. 27 fundraising event are $35 each or $275 for a table of eight.

Sexton said she is also looking for items for the silent and live auctions. Businesses and individuals with items to donate can call Sherry Soon at (501) 628-5580.

The fundraiser has been a packed house for the past few years, Sexton said, and she is always moved to tears by the performances and testimonies presented at the event.

“It’s a good idea to purchase tickets ahead of time,” she said. “You may be helping your neighbor. This isn’t money that is going somewhere else. This money is staying right here in Cabot.”

For more information on Building Bridges or to purchase tickets for Fine Arts for Exceptional Hearts, visit www.lonokeexceptional.org.

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