When Carrie Goodwin first got out of nursing school, she saw a lot of kids with no insurance who got turned away from care that they needed, like speech and occupational therapy. She also saw parents with medically fragile children who required 24-hour care wondering when they would ever get a little downtime.
Close to her father, Dick Kleinau, she told him about what she saw and how much it broke her heart. Known as “the blueberry guy” because of his farm, Kleinau was not a rich man, yet his reply was, “Then let’s do something about it.”
Still, no place in the southeast offers the kind of care that Goodwin envisioned. Her idea was to create a haven of sorts with comprehensive care for children where no one was turned away because of lack of insurance, and parents could get daycare for their medically fragile children so they can work and get a little break now and then from the stress of caring for their child.
“My husband worked for McDonalds corporate when this all started,” said Goodwin, “and we were luckily sent to Murfreesboro by the company. We couldn’t have pulled it off without the support of both McDonalds and the very special city of Murfreesboro. The people in Murfreesboro really care. I’ve never seen another community come together like they did to make my dream a reality and help children.”
After a year of research, and the help of Dr. Jerry Collins, the doors to Special Kids were opened. Sadly, Goodwin’s father passed away just before the building was completed, but with a grant from the Christy Houston Foundation providing the last of the money they needed, he knew that their shared dream was going to become a reality. It not only opened, but it opened debt free.
“During the first two years,” said Goodwin, “I was trying to do everything, be the voice of Special Kids, raise money, and oversee daily operations. Eventually, I had a wise person tell me it was time for me to choose. We hired Chris Truelove 18 years ago to be the Executive Director, and we couldn’t have made a better choice. Now, I get to show up, attend meetings, and play with the kids.”
From the start, they tried not to use the fees received through TennCare, and their sliding scale for services, on the “fun stuff.” Goodwin has looked to others to provide the kids with things like toys, art supplies, and snacks. She often went to McDonalds for help, and they always did, providing things like coffee for the staff and Happy Meal toys for the children.
“Being a McDonalds franchisee now,” said Goodwin, “my husband and I are very aware of how much the company is focused on community involvement. Ninety percent of McDonalds stores are owned by members of the community they live in, not the corporation. We have since moved to Atlanta, but local franchisees very graciously provide what is needed whenever we ask.”
One of their biggest “asks’ is help with CampAbility. Kids with special needs do not get to go to summer camp, and Goodwin wanted to make sure that they got to have that experience.
“I love CampAbility,” said Goodwin. “I go every year. We have kids come from all over the country.”
Because of the uniqueness of what Goodwin and her father created, Special Kids has expanded three times. They now have three buildings, their new therapy building where they provide any number of therapies including art, music and recreation, the nursing building where they provide respite for parents in the form of daycare for kids who are medically fragile, and an administration building.
“We have already outgrown the therapy building, and expansion is on the table,” added Goodwin. “We have seen children who were told they would never walk again, do just that. It is a place of miracles.”
Special Kids is located at 2208 E Main St, Murfreesboro. Learn more at specialkidstn.com.