Making Abilities Count

by | Jun 1, 2011 | Features

The title painted above the Making Abilities Count (MAC) sheltered workshop on the Forrester Davis Development Center campus in Clarksville beautifully sums up the philosophy of the center. Forrester Davis serves developmentally disabled children and adults from Johnson, Franklin and Logan Counties.
The center’s 40th anniversary was celebrated in May with an open house. The Center opened in 1971 to serve school age children with disabilities in Johnson County. The facilities first building was a trailer at Sallis School serving six children. Today the center encompasses four buildings in downtown Clarksville at 1000 Buchanan St. and serves 120 children (from newborn to age five) and 62 disabled adults, ages 18 to 65.
The Children’s programs offered at the Center are Early Intervention (birth to age three,) Pre-School education (age 3-5) with integrated daycare for Birth to age 5. FDDC serves disabled Adults through two programs, the adult center and MAC Industries. Other services the Center provides are Food Service, Transportation, Occupational therapy, Physical therapy, Speech therapy.
According to the Center’s mission statement, their main objective and purpose is to provide educational/habilitation services to the developmentally disabled children and adults of Johnson County. Since it is the only program of its kind in the area, qualified individuals from other counties are also served.
Over time, this non-profit organization has gone through five name changes. Originally named the Johnson County Child Development Center, the Center was developed by a group of families with special needs children in 1971. In 1974 the name became the Johnson Counter Center for Exceptional Children. In 1984 the name was changed to the Don E. Davis Memorial Center and in 1988 the Center became the Forrester-Davis Development Center.
Parental involvement has been the corner stone of the program since its inception. Sarah Colvett, currently a board member, was one of the founding parents whose plea for education for her disabled son helped start the original program serving six children. Her son, Tracy, still attends the Center with one other of the original six.
Today the campus has a dedicated staff of 67+ providing day habilitation training to children and adults with physical and mental disabilities. Their staff includes Certified teachers, Instructors, Aides, Bus Drivers, Cooks, Therapists and volunteers.

“We are a blessed team to be employed to provide services for these individuals” said Forrester-Davis Director, Joy Wilson, a soft spoken yet supremely capable woman raised in Hartman. Wilson first got involved with the Center 17 years ago, when her daughter needed speech therapy and was enrolled in the program. Wilson has been the Center Director since 1994.
“It’s been an evolution. When I started working here 16 years ago we had only one building with 11 developmentally delayed children and 11 adults enrolled in the program. Now we have four buildings with over 180 clients and nine bus routes and a food service program that provides 11,340 meals a month.
“I’m the lucky one,” said Wilson. “You don’t make these people better; they make you better. The Bible says “blessed are the pure hearted.” That’s what our clients are.”
Forrester-Davis Development Center has enhanced services for the disabled adults through two programs, the Adult Center which includes the Special Olympic program and MAC Industries. Education of these adults focuses on integrating them into their community and improving their quality of life.
Adult program coordinator, Cathy Needham, who supervises 29 adults at the day facility located in a home purchased by the Center in 2000 said, “Many people underestimate the ability of these adults. Our clients can do a lot of things that no one believed possible, like reading and basic sewing and cooking. Giving them a feeling of self-sufficiency and independence is so important. They are so proud of their accomplishments, and when they go home they can do something rather than just sit and watch TV.”
Board members Sarah Colvett and Mary Sears have been involved with FDDC and Special Olympics for the past 30 years and give their love and time to enhancing and enriching the lives of 47 athletes through the Special Olympic program. The Forrester-Davis Special Olympic team is named the Falcons.
“Once you become involved with these special people you don’t want to quit,” said Sears. While the program is focused on athletic training for their summer Olympics, it goes year round. Colvett added, “This is the most fulfilling thing I have ever done!”

For the next three years, the Area IV Special Olympics field and track will be hosted at Clarksville High School. Area IV includes athletes from Johnson, Franklin, Crawford and Sebastian counties and up to 600 athletes will be participating.
MAC Coordinator, Christina Mize, summed up the MAC philosophy simply but eloquently. “It’s a win-win for both our clients and local industries.” Ms. Mize noted that Mac employees are perfect employees. “They are always here, love what they do and are never bored.” All are paid for their work.

MAC has a variety of contracts through Baldor and Hanesbrands. MAC also has a laundryserviceandascreenprintingbusiness that prints on tee shirts and accessories for individuals, local schools and other organizations. The workshop has a gift shop at the facility which sells merchandise made by MAC clients including soy based candles, melting scent blocks, lotions, greeting cards, tee shirts and accessories. Wilson also said MAC will add embroidery and trophy engraving to its list of services as of June1.
Because of the diversity of the Center’s programs, funding is a big issue, and the Center depends heavily on donations from the community. Each program has needs and a “wish List”. Building a gym and a separate therapy facility with a covered walkway to the children’s program are top priorities and the Center is actively seeking grants, donations and loans for the financial means to accomplish these goals.

Anyone wishing to donate to Forrest Davis is encouraged to contact Wilson at (479) 754-6210. Information on the facility, including each department’s “wish list” is also available at
Forrester-Davis: From Cradle to Retirement
With its diverse programs, Forrester-Davis Development Center programs can provide a life time of experiences for people with or without disabilities. “We become family and often have life-long relationships with our clients,” said Forrester-Davis Director, Joy Wilson.

Enrolled at the Center are newborns to age five and adults from age 18 to 65, although a gentleman recently retired from the Adult Center at age 70, said Wilson. The infant and pre-school programs are also available to children without disabilities, depending on space available.
Early identification and intervention are critical to the success of a person with disabilities, said Wilson. With a total of 10 classrooms in two buildings, the children’s program goals are to provide services to children in the five developmental areas: fine and gross motor, self help, language, cognitive and social skills. Services are designed to help children function at or as close as possible to their chorological age as they grow and mature.
According to Gretchen Reeder, a former teacher’s aide, teacher and now Physical Plant manager, “the most rewarding part of my job is watching our DDS (Developmentally Delayed Students) test out.” This means these children can be included in regular school programs, she explained. “That’s why we are here.”
The Centers children’s services are licensed through the Department of Education, Developmental Disability Services, Department of Human Services, Day Care, Early Intervention, and Department of Health. In the Infant/Toddler program, the ratio of staff to children is one staff to four children. In the Preschool program, the ratio is one staff member to seven children. All Children’s program instructors are supervised by Early Childhood Special Education teachers, said Wilson.
The Adult Center provides educational/habilitation services to mentally and/or physically disabled clients and their families in their pursuit of independence and a better quality of life. The program, which started in 1980, and moved several times, now occupies a home next door to the MAC Center that Forrest- Davis purchased entirely from community donations.
The Adult program focuses on four skill areas. The first is Daily Living skills such as personal hygiene, laundry skills, cooking skills etc. Social/Community skills include proper behavior skills, social skills, and how to find things in the community etc. Recreation/Leisure skills are learning arts and crafts, new hobbies and participating in an exercise program. Basic Fundamentals include learning new job skills, filling out a job application, recycling paper and aluminum cans and shredding paper. Clients also raise a yearly garden, learn proper yard maintenance and care for two dogs at the Center.

Many of these clients are able to transition into MAC Industries, either full or part time, by teaching them to meet criteria like following instructions and staying on task. The M.A.C (Making Abilities Count) Industries provides on the job vocational training in competitive or sheltered employment. Services are provided in cooperation with Arkansas Rehabilitation Services, Developmental Disabilities Services, Arkansas Social Services and other referring agencies. MAC has contracts with several area companies like Baldor and Hanes, has a screen print business, a laundry service, and plans to add embroidery and trophies to its list of services.
The center’s Special Olympics program is very popular. Although the program is year round, next year the campus will host the first of three years of Special Olympic summer events with up to 600 participants and serve up to 1,500 dinners.
Special Olympic events that Forrester-Davis Development Center adult clients participate in are bowling, track and field, basketball, power lifting, unified softball, swimming and Bocce. Wilson said she hopes to recruit more coaches for the program, so please contact the center if you are interested.
FDDC currently serves several individuals who live in their own apartments and one couple from the Center got married, said Wilson. In the past year, five adult clients have transitioned from the Adult Development program to M.A.C. Industries full time, allowing them to earn a paycheck, be more productive, become more independent and enhance self esteem, she added.
Besides all these services, Forrester- Davis also maintains a nine route bus service for clients and also provides breakfast, lunch and afternoon snack for all children and adults.
Donations are vital to the facility’s operations and sponsors in various areas urgently needed, said Wilson. For more information on their programs, visit FDDC’s website,

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