Thanks to a lead gift from Doug and Nan Smith, Kansas City will soon be home to a world-class facility that will serve as a welcoming, safe place for children of many diverse abilities. Currently under construction on the Shawnee Mission Medical Center campus, the B.E. Smith Family Center, which is named after Doug’s father, will house the renowned Lee Ann Britain Infant Development Center and the Shawnee Mission Health Early Learning Center with the primary goal of promoting understanding and inclusion of children with special needs.

After retiring as the CEO of B.E. Smith, Doug wanted to continue being involved in something meaningful. He began searching for work that would fulfill the later part of his life and make a difference within the community.

Doug and Nan are natives of Kansas City with strong spiritual beliefs and have always appreciated the whole-person, faith-based care provided by SMH and Adventist Health System. While attending a benefit for SMH, they had the chance to meet children with special needs and were made aware of the opportunity that existed to help kids in Kansas City.

“We decided to make it our mission to raise the level of care for kids with special needs by combining education and training,” said Nan. “We want to see these kids reach their fullest potential and provide the first-class facility they deserve.”

Continuing a legacy of care and involvement

Since 1972, the Britain IDC has been a unique place offering a supportive environment where children with a variety of special needs can receive comprehensive therapies and early childhood special education in one location by an exceptional team of professionals. Families are never turned away due to their inability to pay, but there are around 30 families on the waiting list at any given time. The Britain IDC encourages a high level of parental involvement in therapy sessions, training and support groups.

“When families first start looking for services, they are scared and not sure what the future holds,” said Britain IDC director Amy Milroy. “But once here, they feel confidence in their new journey of raising a child with special needs. The friendships and support network families develop at the center last a lifetime.”

Opening in 2019, the B.E. Smith Family Center will allow the Britain IDC to offer comprehensive services to a larger number of families and will promote inclusivity amongst kids of all abilities. The new center will feature an integrated harness system in multiple classrooms and therapy areas, which is the first of its kind in the world. It will allow all kids, regardless of their disability, to explore their environment independently, promoting social inclusion and cognitive development.

Additionally, the new center will feature two state-of-the-art indoor saltwater pools for aquatic therapy. The larger pool includes zero depth entry, natural light and therapeutically designed areas. The smaller pool will provide a more controlled sensory environment with specialized equipment including bubble tubes, fiberoptic lights and an acoustically designed space with an integrated sound system for music. The pool area also includes intentionally designed family friendly changing spaces with changing tables to meet the needs of the population.

“Regardless if a child attends our Center, our hope is that the B.E. Smith Family Center will improve care as a whole in the Kansas City area and have a positive impact on kids across the city,” said Doug.

Both agree that the entire experience has been very gratifying, especially when parents stop to say thanks and offer hugs when in restaurants and around the city.

“I knocked on many doors to raise money for this project,” said Doug. “The way the Kansas City community has stepped up has been unbelievable. We are very grateful and blessed.”

Nan added, “This is what God would want. Our community coming together and reflecting what Jesus would do—to show love to all.”

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Jackie Woods is a project manager/writer for Shawnee Mission Health in Kansas City.