Vanderbilt Kennedy Center

The Impact of Giving

Each year, gift contributions from individuals and organizations help to fuel the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center's mission by allowing it to expand its research, training, clinical services, and more.

Read the stories below to see how others have generously contributed to the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center.

You or your organization can make an impact, too!

There are several ways you can contribute to the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center mission.


Committed to Inclusive Postsecondary Education—Carol Henderson

How Carol Henderson supported inclusive education for students with disabilities.

VKC Leadership Council member Carol Henderson has been a long-term supporter of inclusive education for students with disabilities. In 1996, she and her husband endowed the Britt Henderson Training Series for Educators in memory of their son Britt. The series provides training for school teams that focuses on innovative, evidence-based practices to improve the quality of education for students with disabilities.

This year, Henderson has given a significant 4-year financial gift to the Next Steps at Vanderbilt program, a 2-year certificate program for students with intellectual and other developmental disabilities. The program aims to provide students with a traditional college experience and to improve their employment options. Henderson was drawn to the program because she believes it would have been a great fit for her son.

"I first heard about Next Steps at a Leadership Council meeting," Henderson said. "I can remember thinking 'Oh, I wish this had been around when Britt was alive.' Much of my interest in the area of education, and much of my motivation for giving in this regard, is grounded in what I think would have worked for Britt. Of course, I also love Vanderbilt. I am a very proud graduate and the very thought of Britt going to Vanderbilt and taking classes and being in college--I think it’s wonderful. I get chills just thinking about it."

Henderson was eager to meet with Next Steps students and to get a glimpse of the program. Her visit increased her enthusiasm and affirmed her belief that students with disabilities need more options as they transition from secondary education.

"Britt was such a social and curious young man," said Henderson. "I can’t imagine a life for him with no options. You know, a lot has changed since he was alive and yet a lot remains the same. What are our children going to do and what are we going to do to support them in their endeavors? These are the questions that we, as parents and as a community, need to be asking ourselves. What are we doing to ensure that our children have meaning in their day to day living? What are we doing to help them find out who they are and what they want for themselves in order to lead a good life? The Next Steps program, to me, seems to be one more step in this puzzle."

"We’re enormously grateful to Carol and her family for this marvelous gift,” said Elise McMillan, JD, VKC UCEDD co-director. "Their deep commitment to inclusive education has reached hundreds of students, teachers, and families through the Britt Henderson Series for Educators. Now this new gift is a cornerstone in continuing Next Steps past its initial funding through a grant from the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities and the continuing philanthropy of Leadership Council member Linda Brooks. This gift is an instance of how family members who share our vision for a fulfilling future for individuals with disabilities make a critical difference in what is possible."

Posted 11/29/2012


Joy of Discovery

Through the Martin McCoy-Jespersen Discovery Grants in Positive Psychology, Martin’s parents are providing others "a way to be more like Martin" and for each to find, "in their own way, the fullness of life."

Read how the McCoy-Jespersen Family’s gift for research in positive psychology is a living memorial to their son Martin’s positive, joyful spirit.


Linda Brooks Helps Next Steps at Vanderbilt

Next Steps at Vanderbilt, the first postsecondary certificate program for students with intellectual disabilities in Tennessee, received a generous gift from longtime supporter, friend, and Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Leadership Council member Linda Brooks and her family.

Read how Linda Brooks helps Next Steps take some next steps.


Team William Runs for Down Syndrome

Andrea McDermott Sanders, Vanderbilt special education alumna (M.Ed. 2006) and VKC Leadership Council member, completed her eighth Country Music Marathon in 2012 to raise funds for the Team William Scholarship Fund for students in the Vanderbilt Kennedy Reading Clinic. Andrea's efforts have raised more than $180,000 since 2004 to provide financial support for students with Down syndrome attending the Reading Clinic. A former reading tutor, Andrea established the scholarship in honor of William Spickard, one of her students. William's family has partnered with Andrea in raising support. In 2009, Anna Spickard, William's older sister, organized the Team William 5k,
an additional fundraising event. In 2012, they funded the Team William Discovery Grant
to advance research on Down syndrome.

Read how the Team William helped children with Down syndrome learn to read.


Grandparents, The Landreth Family—Catalysts for Discovery

Autism, like other developmental disabilities, affects not only a child but also the immediate family and extended family. Grandparents play important roles-loving caregivers, creative resource finders, dedicated advocates. And in some instances, grandparents may be able to provide gifts for research to find answers that may help create a better future for their grandchild and for other children with developmental disabilities. This is the story of the Robert E. Landreth Family.

Read how the Landreths enabled important autism research.


Nashville Predators Help Struggling Readers Score

Grants from our corporate donors have the ability to improve the lives of children with disabilities and families in Tennessee. We would like to express our gratitude to the Nashville Predators Foundation for awarding the Vanderbilt Kennedy Reading Clinic with a grant that allowed eight students to participate in the program on scholarship. Funding like this is essential in order to provide critical learning intervention to youth who do not have the financial means to attend the clinic. We are grateful to the Nashville Predators Foundation for the hand they lent in improving children’s lives in our community.

Read how corporate donors such as the Nashville Predators Foundation are able to help children in Middle Tennessee learn to read.


The Gift That Keeps Giving

Grants from our corporate donors have the ability to improve the lives of multiple children in Middle Tennessee. One child who benefitted from the generosity of Dollar General is nine-year-old McKenzie. Because of the scholarship they provided, she was able to enroll in the Reading Clinic at a critical point in her learning.

Read how corporate donors such as the Dollar General are able to help children in Middle Tennessee learn to read.


A Passion for the Arts, a Passion for Service

Robb and Mary Jane Swaney were able to apply their life passions to the support of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center mission. Robb, an architect and committed philanthropist, brought to life a specially designed, accessible playground where young children with and without disabilities can now play together. Mary Jane, an artist, supports programs that nurture budding artists with developmental disabilities.

Read how the Robb and Mary Jane Swaney were able to make a huge impact on the lives of children with and without developmental disabilities.


Music of the Heart

See how one Nashville couple was able to help teach people living with developmental disabilities how to use music therapeutically, while also supporting research in human development and training for professionals in the community.

Read how Lorie and John Lytle brought music to the lives of people with developmental disabilities.