For the past three decades, Amy Buggle has led DLC Nurse and Learn in providing comprehensive care and services for local children with special needs. Since founding the organization in 1989, Amy has fostered a unique, educational space for children of all abilities, allowing their -parents the freedom to work and provide for their families
DLC has served more than 4000 children and provided more than $4 million in services to local families. Now, Amy shares with the Kids Hope Alliance some of her insight- and special memories-from her tenure at DLC Nurse and Learn.
What motivated you to found DLC Nurse and Learn?
Growing up, my family was touched by a close relative with Down syndrome. I had a cousin here in Jacksonville born with the condition who, unfortunately, passed away at the age of four from a heart defect. This opened our family’s eyes to the struggles facing the families of children with special needs. Then, as a young girl, I volunteered at United Cerebral Palsey, returning every summer until I graduated high school. I guess you could say I was smitten by these amazing children and enjoyed helping them accomplish things. I studied special education at the University of Florida and got my degree in 1985. Afterward I began working at Mt. Herman Exceptional Student Center as a Duval County school teacher. While there I realized that the majority of our families were unable to be employed full-time due to the lack of childcare services that could accommodate children with special needs.
$4 million in services provided to local families is an incredible legacy. What does success look like in your mind for your organization?
True success would be to reach all the families that need our services and be able to offer them those services they need regardless of their ability to pay. At this time we still struggle to reach families that need us. So many families of children with special needs are unable to find appropriate child care and have given up. Also we would be truly successful if we had programs in other areas of town in order to be convenient to more children that could benefit from our inclusive program.
I am hoping for continued funding from the city and other foundations now that we have proven our program’s success. The need is so obvious, and the simple solution of providing childcare so families can become financially secure is such basic concept. With more funding we would also hope to be able to expand and acquire other facilities not only in other parts of Jacksonville but possibly other parts of Florida. The two facilities we are in now could definitely use some major renovation as well. We hope to also acquire enough funding and donations so that students could be provided with the therapy and nursing services they need regardless of insurance coverage.
Now- we know all of your kids hold a special place in your heart- but are there any in particular that stand out when you look back on your career at DLC?
Simon was a seven month-old baby brought to us with a do-not-resuscitate order because he was not expected to live. He was diagnosed with Lissencephaly; his brain was slowly deteriorating. After three years at DLC the doctors determined that his brain had improved to within normal limits. Long story short this young man graduated from Florida School for the Blind and Deaf a year early with dual enrollment and is headed to college.
Then there was Liam , who was born with spina bifida. He eventually learn to walk and stand with the use of crutches, but after surgery at the age of five, he lost the ability to walk. We were all devastated and encouraged Mom to get him out of rehab and bring him back to DLC. Once she did he was able to re-learn his walking skills, encouraged by his friends and supported by the classroom. This little guy is not only walking, he’s running, and even hiking and skateboarding at skateboard parks. I believe he’s in the second grade this year.
Another student that touched my heart was Brandon who never had a true diagnosis. He just had a genetic abnormality and dwarfism. When he was born, he was diagnosed with failure to thrive (FTT), and no one was sure if he would live. After getting in-home services, he eventually attended DLC. He has gone on to learn job skills and is being trained on the computer in the HR department of a large company here in Jacksonville. Many people saw him at the Tim Tebow Night to Shine in his white tuxedo. He stole the microphone from Nikki Kimbleton and started talking and dancing- he was so excited. The video went viral.
What is something our community can do right now to better serve children with special needs and their families?
A change in attitude is what is needed the most. We really treat families as if it is their problem alone, and really this is a problem that can only be solved by everyone taking responsibility. Families can’t do it alone. O ur entire community fails if a family doesn’t succeed. We all need to do more to support families so that they can work and have active social lives. We need to support the children so they can reach their full potential and become as independent as possible. Also, we really need to learn that people with developmental differences are incredible people with gifts and talents that we miss out on if we don’t get to know them and give them a chance. That is why inclusion is so important at an early age, so that young people get to learn the value of all people.