POOLER, Ga. (NewsNation) — States across the country are making steep budget cuts in the wake of COVID-19. Georgia state leaders recently cut more than $100 million from funding for people with behavioral health and developmental disabilities.
For most families, a support program could change their child’s life.
“I had a little girl that I was working with and I was able to help her walk and I was ale to help her talk for some of the first times she had ever done those things,” Carson Fortner, the owner of Pooler Karate and Krav Maga said.
For more than six years, Fortner’s Special Kicks program has been helping special needs students kick back at the physical and emotional challenges they experience on a daily basis. Many of their students need one-on-one sessions with specialized teachers who know how to provide the right therapeutic routine for improving each student’s gross and fine motor skills.
“We have a young man by the name of Maddox, and we built him a specialized walker so he can do karate, walk around, things like that,” Fortner explained.
Students like Austin Smith have been training at the center for six years, and spend sometimes up to five days a week training.
Karate isn’t the only thing being mastered on the mat. It’s easy to see the love and admiration students have for their teachers as they push them to achieve what some of their parents deemed as physically impossible.
“We never ever thought he would be able to do anything he does now and he actually does it better than some of the quote on quote typical children, and he loves it. He loves being here,” Brenda Smith, Austin’s mom, said.
The Special Kicks program had over 70 students last year, with many of them enrolling near the end of the year. Although Fortner said their program has enough to support the kids and young adults who are currently enrolled; like many other programs, the budget cuts mean they no longer have any funding for new students.
Now families who need financial help might not get it; with the state’s budget cuts adding to a growing list of families who cannot afford the care their children need.
“How could you cut a budget for something like that. I mean there are hundreds of thousands of kids just in that state of Georgia that have disabilities,” Fortner said.
The karate center is raising funds for families with special needs children, who no longer have support funding. Fortner said they are hoping to provide funding for at least 50 kids for the next one to two years.