Leading by Example

Carla Gregg is devoted to volunteering with ACCESS’ programs and extracurricular activities, providing support to families with children with special needs and inspiring her three daughters along the way

By Erica Sweeney

 

Carla Gregg with daughters Katie, Maddie and Lillie. | Photo by Dixie Knight

Carla Gregg with daughters Katie, Maddie and Lillie. | Photo by Dixie Knight

Loyal, approachable, candid, family-oriented and dedicated. After a little prodding, Carla Gregg said these adjectives best describe her.

Through her many philanthropic efforts spanning around 20 years, she continuously embodies each of these characteristics and demonstrates them for her three daughters. Many of Gregg’s endeavors have focused on her children’s education and activities, and provided support to families with children with special needs.

It all started when her oldest daughter, Katie, was diagnosed with epilepsy, then autism, and later obsessive-compulsive disorder and attention deficit disorder. Katie had motor skill and language delays. When she was 5, she resembled a 2- or 3-year-old developmentally, so her parents enrolled her at ACCESS Preschool.

Gregg said her daughter began to show improvements almost immediately.

After six months, her language began developing, and after a year, Katie reached another milestone when she cried at the start of a school day because she wanted to go home. “I lost it,” Gregg said. “At 6 years old, she cried for me for the first time. It was amazing to see her be able to express such a strong emotion.”

Katie progressed to ACCESS Academy and, now at 21, is enrolled in ACCESS Life, a program for young adults. She is one of the school’s longest-tenured students. ACCESS recently celebrated its 20th anniversary and the Greggs have been involved almost since the beginning. Gregg, her husband, Buddy, and their other daughters, Maddie, 17, and Lillie, 13, have volunteered at the organization in many ways.

Maddie and Lillie also attended ACCESS Preschool. Gregg says they received a solid educational foundation and learned how to interact with peers with disabilities and differences, something their mom says is invaluable. When Maddie was 2, Gregg became a teaching assistant at ACCESS Preschool.

Gregg worked at ACCESS for seven years. She became certified in The DuBard Association Method, a teaching strategy designed for children with learning disorders and language deficiencies, and obtained a child development associate certification.

“I wanted to know how they did what they did,” she said. “I wanted to learn their special and intensive approach. I saw it first hand, work miracles for not only Katie, but many other children.”

Monika Garner-Smith, ACCESS Preschool director, said Gregg’s passion and ability made her a great teacher. “I first met Carla when her daughter Katie was in my classroom,” Garner-Smith said. “I had seen her passion, creativity, and how she was able to use the tools we set in place with her own daughter. I knew these skills would be transferred to the classroom. Carla and I became quite a team. It was a rare and special working relationship that I enjoyed for several years. I benefited from this partnership personally, but so did ACCESS. She was highly skilled and a natural teacher. She could have gone this route professionally, but in the end, she knew that her job was to advocate for her daughter and other families facing the challenges of having a child with a disability.”

Over the years, Gregg, 42, has helped organize ACCESS’ track, swim and Special Olympics Arkansas teams, where she assists with the annual trip to the state meet in Searcy, the annual sports banquet and other activities. She also helps organize ACCESS’ annual prom for teenage and adult students. The prom is a partnership with Little Rock Christian Academy, whose seniors dress up and take an active role in the event. (Maddie and Lillie are students at LRCA.)

Buddy Gregg, owner of Cornerstone Industrial Services, has helped make repairs and additions to the school, including repairing fences and building a deck. Carla says Buddy helps out with everything, and she couldn’t do all that she does without him. In December, the couple will celebrate their 23rd wedding anniversary.

“Buddy and I are a team,” she said. “We’re always on the same page regarding this parenting adventure. He’s our rock.”

Tammy Simmons, ACCESS executive director, says families like the Greggs have played valuable roles in the success of the school’s programs. “It’s hard to reflect back on 20 years of ACCESS without thinking of families like the Greggs,” Simmons said. “Carla and Buddy have been instrumental in nurturing our extracurricular activities for the students and young adults, freely volunteering their time and talents when needed and making the experiences that much better. They are also wonderful mentors for other families of children who have special needs and have been a great resource for our families. It’s fun to watch their youngest daughters, Maddie and Lillie, mature into equally supportive advocates for those who have been diagnosed with developmental disabilities.”

In addition to her work at ACCESS, Carla Gregg created a playgroup for children with special needs, called Integrated Play Group. She co-founded Raising Independent Special Kids to provide mentoring and support to families with children with special needs. She has had leadership roles at the Arkansas Autism Society, where she assisted with a parent support group, and led a Bible study for young mothers of children with special needs at Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock.

“It’s huge to know you’re not alone,” Gregg said. “In the beginning, you feel so isolated and overwhelmed at all there is to do to help your child.” Gregg also helps out at Maddie and Lillie’s school and extracurricular activities. Maddie is drum major in the school band, and Lillie is in choir and plays soccer with Arkansas United.

Recently, Gregg began volunteering at Sparrow’s Nest, a shop that benefits Partners Against Trafficking Humans. She says as soon as she walked into the shop, she knew she wanted to be a part of it. “Everything I’ve done up until now has been for my kids,” she explained. “I felt it was time to add something different, something for me. Sparrow’s Nest is my happy place.”

Gregg calls herself a “worker bee,” and is willing to help out in any way. A stay at home mom, she says she feels obligated to give back to the community, and her actions set the example for her children. Maddie has volunteered at Camp Aldersgate, where all the Gregg girls were once campers. “Nonprofits would not be successful if not for volunteers,” she said.

Even with Katie at 21, Gregg says ACCESS still helps Katie progress. Through ACCESS Life, Katie learns life skills, independence, vocational training, fitness and nutrition. “She’s such a confident, joyful young woman,” Gregg said. “She’s never struggled with being made fun of or felt less than. I’m beyond grateful, because it was 100 percent because of ACCESS.”