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‘They really work miracles there’
Family found hope at facility
Challenge 4 es
Skyler reads “Twilight," as her mom walks by. - photo by Emily Saunders


* For 25 years, local families have been turning to Challenged Child and Friends Inc.

It’s been 17 years since Melissa Corliss discovered her newborn wasn’t exactly like most babies.

While she didn’t know it during her pregnancy, Corliss’ daughter, Skyler, had Down’s Syndrome.

“It’s sad to say, but at the time, I knew very little about Down’s. It was very scary for us,” she said of herself and husband Sid. “We didn’t know where to go or what to do.”

But luckily, fate would soon intervene to help.

“I had a friend who had just gotten on the United Way Board of Directors,” Corliss said.

That friend ended up leading the Forsyth County family to a special resource, Challenged Child and Friends Inc. in Gainesville.

“It was kind of amazing timing that my friend had just got on the board and Challenged Child was a United Way agency,” Corliss said. “She gave me a lot of information about it and it looked like something we wanted to do.”

After visiting the facility, which this year is celebrating its 25th anniversary, Corliss said she and her husband were blown away.

“I was concerned that it might be sad, but it was a very typical, very happy preschool setting,” recalled Corliss. “It was such a loving atmosphere.”

Skyler was enrolled in the program at just 4 months old and stayed with it until she started kindergarten at Sawnee Elementary at age 6.

“They had to practically blow us out of the place,” joked Corliss.

Of the benefits Skyler received, she said, were daily physical, occupational and speech therapy sessions, as well as the everyday chance to interact with other special needs children as well as typical peers.

Under the guidance of “loving teachers,” Corliss said her daughter blossomed.

“It was great to just come pick her up every day and see her interacting with kids, both special needs and typical peers,” she said. “That was really important to us because we knew she would have to interact with all sorts of other kids when she went to public school.”

Aside from developmental and social skills, Corliss said Skyler also made academic progress.

“She learned how to behave in a classroom setting, which really helped when she went to kindergarten,” she said.

Her speech skills also came a long way.

Corliss said her funniest memory occurred when a teacher said Skyler had learned a new word.

“Her speech teacher said, ‘The good news is, she used the word in the right context. But the bad news is the word is [an expletive],’” said Corliss with a laugh. “The teacher said her blocks fell over and Skyler [cussed].

“I left with my head hanging in shame that day because I knew she hadn’t learned that word there, that was all me.”

Today, Skyler is a freshman at North Forsyth High School who enjoys reading, golf, working part-time at TJ Maxx through a school program and hanging out with her 12-year-old sister, Lochlain, who is not a special needs child.

She said she still remembers her time at Challenged Child and Friends.

“It was fun,” she said. “I remember making a train with the chairs and the toys.

“The teachers were fun and sweet.”

Her mother calls the program God-sent.

“They really work miracles there,” she said.