USM Gulf Park celebrates return of TLC

By Trang Pham-Bui – bio | email

LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) – People of all ages can play with switch-operated toys, adapted sports equipment, and use specially-designed communication and computer devices.  More than 1,000 pieces of equipment are now available to the public at the new Technology Learning Center.

"We serve children and adults with disabilities in ways that they're not being served otherwise," said TLC Director Dr. Sara Jackson. "And what we have here is special equipment that are sometimes too expensive for someone to own and we lend it to people. We train them in its use."

On Thursday, special needs children, families, and Southern Miss leaders gathered to celebrate the long-awaited return of the TLC to the USM campus in Long Beach. The 10,000 square foot facility is 12 times larger than the old building that was destroyed by Katrina.  The new center is located across from the former building.

"It's a great day at Southern Miss to be here to open this building," said Southern Miss President Dr. Martha Saunders. "I can tell you for sure, it's a whole lot more fun to open a building then it is to close oneFunding for the project came from a $2.4 million grant from the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services."

"After I came down and looked at this and saw the total devastation of this campus, and this particular facility did so much for children with disabilities, I thought it was a great use of money to be able to restore this facility," said Butch McMillan, Executive Director of the Department of Rehabilitation Services.

The program at the Gulf Park campus is now expanding statewide.  The grant also paid for a mobile unit.  That means the staff can load up the truck with equipment and take the technology and training to undeserved or rural areas throughout Mississippi.

"They borrow it and try it out and have it for an extended period of time. Then we know if we need to make an adjustment or have a different piece of equipment.  It saves people from ordering things in catalogs and then not knowing if it's the right fit," said Dr. Jackson.

"That is what this center is about," said Dr. Royal Walker, Director of the Institute for Disability Studies. "It's about us helping our fellow Mississippians, particularly making sure that people with disabilities and their families are included."

The TLC facilities also feature soft rubber floor, a conference room and an observation room for teachers in training.  The grant also funded a separate recreation building, playground, and fitness area.

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