Growing up with a younger sister who is disabled, Bree Lanham experienced the many challenges that families face in caring for a child with special needs. This inspired her to start Specially Gifted Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides gifts to the families of children with disabilities. Lanham and co-founder Macey Price, a Rome native, have spent the past six months building relationships with families and donors in order to make their mission a reality.
“We believe that children with disabilities deserve to be loved and valued as equals in our society,” the Specially Gifted website says.
According to Lanham, this mission is important because she wants these families to know that they are not alone, no matter their story.
“It’s really to benefit all families with children with disabilities, and to not limit it to a certain income level or a certain diagnosis,” Lanham says. “It’s to positively impact all of the families like this that we can.”
Lanham and Price initially met because Price was a therapy facilitator for Lanham’s sister Kendall. According to Lanham, Price quickly became part of the family.
“When I had the idea for Specially Gifted, Macey was the first person I thought about to bring on with me,” Lanham says. “She was really 100 percent on board from day one.”
Together, the two women developed the idea to gift these families with something they need. The gifts, generally around $3,000, can be anything from therapy equipment to payment of a medical bill or a college scholarship.
“We don’t just look at what the child needs, we look at the entire family,” Price says.
“We want to give them what is going to best benefit their family,” Lanham adds. “It’s been so neat to see some of the ideas that families are coming up with. It’s awesome giving them the freedom and the creativity to request what they want.”
So far, they have been able to gift nine families and have several other gifts in the works. The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated their efforts, but both Price and Lanham emphasized that they have not stopped working towards their goals.
“Even when we weren’t able to gift in person, we were working to reach out to families and get them applying,” Price says. “We recently got back to… gifting families, obviously socially distanced and wearing masks, but it’s good to be back gifting again,” Lanham adds.
According to Lanham, Specially Gifted’s first few recipients were referrals from her connections in the special needs community, but she and Price have since developed an application form for families. Applicants must have a child aged 18 or under with a medically diagnosed disability. Currently, the foundation only accepts applications from families living in Georgia, but Lanham and Price hope to expand to other states in the future.
The application asks questions about the family, the child and their needs. Price and Lanham enjoy this process because they are able to get to know the applicants.
“We ask them to tell us about the struggles that they’ve faced and victories that they’ve celebrated,” Lanham says.
Compiling information about applicants also helps the foundation to connect with their donors. A feature on the new Specially Gifted Foundation website allows donors to learn about the families who have applied and donate to a specific family. This makes the process more personal for donors as well.
“It makes it more personal because you’re getting to see their picture, their story, and what gift they want and why,” Price says.
Since January, Lanham and Price have worked to create awareness of their foundation and build connections through social media.
“We like that donors can feel like they’re a part of it, so that they can really see what their money is going toward and the joy that it brings to people,” Lanham says.
Price says they make a point of showing a behind-the-scenes look at their organization through social media.
“We want our online community to feel like they’re going through the process with us,” she says.
They have also built partnerships with local communities. Early on, Specially Gifted partnered with the Rome Braves’ Miracle Field and hopes to continue this partnership in the future.
“Once everything is back to normal, we’re sure that that relationship will continue to grow,” Price says.
Recently, they have been working with a family in the Rome community whose child is a fan of Garth Brooks and wants to meet the country star. They have been reaching out to local contacts in an effort to make that happen for him.
“It’s really cool to see how people in the community come together on these things,” Lanham says. “You just never know who knows who.”
Lanham and Price want to extend this sense of community using their website. Aside from providing gifts to families, they also want to make the Specially Gifted website into a one-stop resource for the families of children with special needs. It currently features a weekly blog of at-home therapy activities for families, and Lanham and Price are launching Shop and Give resources this month. These will provide ways in which donors can give back to Specially Gifted through social media and shopping. The site will provide access to donation platforms such as Facebook and Amazon Smile, as well as Ricevi Brand, which will donate 15 percent of proceeds to Specially Gifted.
Both Lanham and Price are very thankful for the support they have received so far, especially throughout the pandemic.
“The community of Atlanta and especially the community of Rome really just wrapped their arms around us,” Price says. “We’re thankful for the donors that have held us over during this time.”
More information about donations, applications and other Specially Gifted resources is available on Facebook and Instagram and at speciallygifted.org.