By Don Lowe

 The Barry-Lawrence County Development Center is all about developing relationships with moms and dads who are searching out solutions for their children with special needs to ensure they receive hands-on personal care that truly is second to none.

Lynda Painter, who serves as director and teacher at this nonprofit organization says the original purpose of this program “was to provide early intervention services to young children with disabilities in the Barry and Lawrence County areas.

“These services included physical, speech and occupational therapies at that time, along with early childhood special education services.

“The majority of our children (2-5 years old) have a disability/developmental delay. We have children diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism and visual or hearing impairments.

“It’s important for young children to receive these therapies to help their bodies and brains develop. Every child has a window of opportunity that is optimum for learning new skills. The first five years are pivotal.”

Painter continues, “We encourage and push the children to keep trying and working on reaching their milestones of development.

“Additionally, we have a reverse mainstreaming program in which we have preschoolers without delays come in and serve as role models for these preschoolers diagnosed with developmental delays.”

Along with the preschool-aged kids, this agency also facilitates First Steps, and Painter says, “Developmental interventionists work primarily with infants and toddlers from birth to age three to address developmental delays. There are a variety of therapies, but these are provided in the child’s natural environment, which could be at home or daycare.

“These include physical, cognitive, self-help, social and emotional delays. I have my early childhood special education certification, which is needed to provide these services as a developmental interventionist.”

It’s all about making a connection with the families, and Painter says, “With several of the children, it begins before they are two years old. And, I’ve worked with families shortly after they bring their newborn baby home, as well.

“I provide developmental therapy for the physical part with their infant and emotional support for families that are attempting to navigate through the whole new world of medical specialists, hospital stays and the emotional rollercoaster of their new future with the health issues of their child.”

As tough as it gets, the positive results are powerful, and Painter says, “I’ve been with parents that have been told by medical professionals that their child will never walk or talk.

“But, God and their child had other plans. It’s always exciting to get a text or picture sharing ‘she just started crawling’ or ‘he ate some food today and didn’t gag or throw up’. Even the small things such as ‘my baby looked at me and smiled for the first time today’ or said ‘Momma/Dadda.’”

Painter stresses it doesn’t get any better than “staying in touch with the family of one of the first kids you worked with who is now 36 years old.”

Painter is thrilled to be part of it and says, “This is so important for our families that have just received devastating news that their precious baby has serious health issues or a diagnosis of a disability they know nothing about.

“We are here to help support the families and walk them through this time in their lives. I love seeing a child reach one of his/her milestones and be so proud of their achievement. It’s rewarding to help families focus on the little steps their child takes along the way. I love watching the progress of each child. I’m proud to be part of this nonprofit.”  

Development Center Plans to Build Larger, Updated Facility

Lynda Painter, director and teacher at the Barry-Lawrence County Development Center, knows it’s time to upgrade and says, “We began looking at a new building three to five years ago. We’ve been in our current facility since 1981. It is an older residential home that was remodeled to fit our preschool program.

“We have six staff members, two speech therapists, two occupational therapists, two physical therapists and two music therapists as well as 15-20 children in the building at any given time. The therapists do not have individual rooms, and the children get distracted by someone or something happening near them in the same room.”

It appears there’s a long-term solution to moving from the outdated location, and Painter says, “We were gifted a large lot (almost an acre) on the outskirts of Monett. We began raising money and contacted an architect to get the ball rolling. The proposed building will be 6,000 square feet with half of it being the development center and the other half an event center/indoor playground.

Other features of this new-and-improved development center will be:

Each therapy will have its own classroom.

Indoor storm shelter, which will also be used as a sensor room so children can get used to going in and out and hopefully not get scared if there’s an emergency.

A conference room with plenty of storage space.

An office area large enough for desks and file cabinets.

Separate snack area and classroom are also planned.

“We are about midway in our fundraising and need an additional $300,000 to finish the building project,” Painter says. “We have been part of the Price Cutter Charity Championship Golf Tournament in Springfield, as well as doing a variety of other fundraisers.”

 Barry-Lawrence County
Development Center
Fast Facts

Founded: In 1973 By Eldred and Margaret Ann Holle,
who had a daughter with disabilities 

Purpose: Provide local services for children with disabilities  

Long-Tenured Board of Directors Members: Lynda Painter,
director/teacher for 31 years; current Board President Connie
Christen has served 30 years; Kamilla Willis has served on the
board for more than 20 years; Lori DeMoss has been an
employee with the Development Center 20-plus years.

Benefit Auction: Coming in November

Drawing for Quilt: Made in memory of Margaret Anne Holle