Since opening its doors last April, Blue Bird Market also has opened up hearts and interests for Wilderness Trace Child Development Center, a local preschool for children from birth to age 5 with and without disabilities.
Libby Suttles, marketing director for the center and coordinator of Blue Bird Market, said shoppers who visit Blue Bird Market to browse its donated furniture, dishes and various other home decor items are always curious about the cause.
“I think one of the greatest benefits of Blue Bird Market is our connection made to people,” Suttles said. “People always say, ‘Well, what’s this all about?’”
Essentially, Blue Bird Market is all about raising money for the development center, and the center is all about children — those with disabiities and those that are “typical.”
Wilderness Trace is about innovating how children with “different abilities” interact with each other, as one teacher put it. It’s about taking joy in the small accomplishments along with the large ones.
And Wilderness Trace is all about children like Chris Vandivier.
Chris is 3 years old and has been attending the center since August. Like his peers, he enjoys playing pretend, going outside, and drawing. His favorite color is green, and he can be caught singing Taylor Swift’s “Mean” at any given moment. Chris will even tell you he has a girlfriend, Anastacia, one of his five classmates, or “friends” as the center likes to call them.
But you won’t see Chris running around the way his friends do, although that doesn’t stop him from scooting his way to wherever he desires.
Chris has spina bifida, a birth defect found before he was born that involves incomplete closure of the spine. As a result of spina bifida, Chris also has hydrocephalus, a condition where water-like fluid is trapped in the skull because it’s unable to drain from the brain. Chris’ mother, Tina Vandivier, found out about Chris’ condition when she was 20 weeks pregnant.
“We were told by a doctor in Lexington that he wouldn’t reach his first birthday, and he’s about to turn 4,” Vandivier said.
Vandivier said Chris has shown a lot of improvement since beginning at the center.
“He’s singing songs that I’ve never sang to him,” Vandivier said. “He’s counting more and almost has his alphabet down pat.”
For Chris’ teacher, Wendy Logan, it’s the smallest things a child learns to do that are most rewarding, whether it be learning a new word or taking a step for the first time. Chris clearly demonstrated Logan’s philosophy when his mother sat him down and with the help of a table and his braces, he held himself up on his feet.
Chris’ mother proudly stated he’s been doing the maneuver for a couple of months. “He’s better,” Logan said. “But he’s a big trickster. Sometimes you don’t know if he can’t do it or if he doesn’t want to. Right when you’ll give up, he’ll do it.”
Logan said Chris is always excited to start the day when he arrives at his preschool class. The room — filled with color, light, beanbags, pillows and an abundance of play-space — resembles that of a regular preschool classroom, only it has fewer children and more adults.
“So we can focus on all of their individual needs,” Logan said.
In addition to the teacher-student ratio, Wilderness Trace, a community partner of Heart of Kentucky United Way, is equipped with appropriate chairs for children such as Chris and works to accomodate any special needs child, which is a large part of what Blue Bird Market helps fund.
“It’s very unique,” said Marcy Cummings, occupational therapist at the center. “You’re not going to see these things in a regular school.”
Logan said Chris and other children with different abilities model appropriate behavior demonstrated by the “typical” children. But she said it can be difficult to keep typicals like Ava Muncie, a 4-year-old in Chris’ class, patient when answering questions.
“Sometimes I have to give them a look,” Logan said. “Ask them to wait their turn and give someone else a chance.”