Webb Center engages children with disabilities

Julia Rogers, an 18-month-old with Down syndrome, has gone from slow crawling to almost walking since she started coming to the Charles Webb Center six weeks ago.

This past summer, toddler Julia Rogers still was being kept in an infant room at her day care center.

The reason was that Julia, who has Down syndrome, wasn't walking or drinking from a sippy cup. Keeping her from being with the other toddlers, though, was putting her at yet another disadvantage to developing to her potential.

"She was just lying in a swing in this infant room all the time," recalls her mother, Kathy Rogers, an English professor at the College of Charleston, noting cognitive development often follows motor skill development.

At the recommendation of an occupational therapist, Kathy and her husband, Ben, moved Julia to the Charles Webb Center, a developmental day care in West Ashley that serves children with special needs from ages 6 weeks to 10 years and has a staff-to-child ratio of 1-to-5, including an array of therapists.

Within six weeks, 18-month-old Julia has gone from barely crawling to crawling fast and nearly walking, putting puzzles together and differentiating between images, such as a cow and a pig.

"These people (at the Webb Center) are great," Rogers says. "They know what they are doing, and I love the low (teacher-student) ratios. It shows because Julia is doing so much better."

Evelyn Turner, director of Family Support Services for the Disabilities Board of Charleston County, says that children born with challenges benefit from the same active engagement as "typically developing" children under age 5 and that interaction is what the Webb Center aims to provide.

"We try to stimulate the children. We don't look at them as having a disability. They are just children, and all we're trying to do is to create an environment where they can learn and play. ... We try to expose them to as many things as possible," says Turner, noting that the center also takes field trips.

Rick Magner, executive director of the Disabilities Board and the Disabilities Foundation of Charleston County, says the ultimate goal for the board, the staff and families is to provide disabled children with the opportunity to go as far as they can go in life.

"Hopefully, by the time they reach teens and adulthood, they won't need intensive and expensive care," Magner said. "The big, long-term goal is for them to have jobs and live on their own. That's a better lifestyle for all involved."

The Webb Center originated in Charleston in 1928 as the Charleston Chapter of the Crippled Children's Society, providing educational services for the orthopedically disabled. Since then, it has gone through several incarnations.

In 1993, it became a program of the Disabilities Board of Charleston County, and in 2004, because of financial issues, it returned to a center that focuses on children with disabilities and special needs.

Like so many small nonprofits, the Webb Center quietly does its work and can suffer from a lack of self-promotion. Plus, the center, which used to be on Calhoun Street, is in an obscure location, tucked away in a depressed neighborhood behind Bessinger's Bar-B-Q on Savannah Highway in West Ashley.

Despite getting financial assistance from the state, Webb still struggles for fi-nancial resources and depends on The Community Foundation for grants and funds raised by the Avondale 5K, the third of which will be held Saturday.

Skip Condon, owner of Triangle Char & Bar, started the Avondale 5K in 2010 to benefit the Webb Center for reasons other than his position on the Disabilities Foundation board.

His late brother, Stephen, who was born nine months after Skip and had cerebral palsy and epilepsy, went to the Crippled Children's Society in the 1950s. Stephen died from lymphoma in February 2007.

Looking back, Condon appreciates all the society did for his brother and the progressive approach that the Webb Center takes with children today.

"When Stephen was born, (disabled) kids who were functioning weren't taken care of, they were put away," says Condon, noting that all disabled unfortunately were treated the same.

"Today, this center is close to my heart because these beautiful children remind me of Steve and how it is possible for these children to have a full, happy life in their own way."