By April Avison
Saralyn Fountain and Bonnie Brown say their decision to empty their retirement funds and start up a special needs school with three children in a three-room house was a "leap of faith."
Today that leap of faith is an 18,000-square-foot-facility with 90 students.
"We saw a need and we thought if we could make a difference in one child, it would be worth it," Brown said. "And it is."
Stepping Stones Educational Therapy Center Inc. serves students all over the Southern Crescent and is the recipient of this year's fund-raising charity ball, set for Oct. 24 at Eagle's Landing Country Club. Last year the ball raised $30,000 for Haven House battered women and children's shelter.
"Stepping Stones is an incredible facility," said charity ball coordinator Carol Conley. "I was so impressed The teachers were remarkable."
Conley and her committee Kit Welch, Donna Renfroe, Vicki Cooper, Amanda Gaddy, Peggy Pruett, Julie Johnson, Liz Sarnoff, Connie Brittain, Angela Collins, Bridget Duncan, Sharon Medlock, Pam Robert, Diana Reynolds, Michelle Calderon, Russ Curtis and Everett Butler hope to raise awareness for other local charities as well.
Julie Johnson is coordinating information on local charities to display at Eagle's Landing Country Club. Charities are nominated to be recipient of funds raised by the ball based on a list of criteria. Guests at the ball can vote for a charity, and an announcement will be made at the ball of which charity will receive funds from next year's event.
"We want our guests to see all the charities and what they've given back to the community," Johnson said.
Stepping Stones, based in Griffin, offers education for ages 13 and under to special needs children as well as those who are developing normally. Brown said integrating the students is beneficial for all of them.
"They learn from each other," she said. "Those with special needs copy the other children, and the children who are developing normally learn acceptance and creativity. Our children with special needs are being invited to birthday parties and having experiences they normally wouldn't have."
An informational brochure about the school states, "You are richer today than you were yesterday if you made stepping stones out of stumbling blocks."
The student-teacher ratio at Stepping Stones is 10 to 1, and all the teachers have a bachelor's or master's degree.
Fountain and Brown say they are grateful for such events as the upcoming charity ball, which help to keep their school afloat financially.
The black-tie charity ball will include a cocktail hour that begins at 6:30 p.m., dinner and dancing to the music of Rupert's Orchestra, and silent and live auctions. Vicki Cooper, auction coordinator, said about 100 items will be open to bidders including a plaque signed by Bob Hope; a jersey signed by Magic Johnson; Eagle's Landing executive chef private dinner party in winner's home; and a $5,000 charter golf membership to Crystal Lake Plantation, HC's newest golf course community.
To reserve a seat at the charity ball, call Eagle's Landing Country Club at (770) 389-2000. For more information about Stepping Stones Educational Therapy Center Inc., visit www.steppingstonesschool.org.