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.
How the McCoy-Jespersen Family’s gift for research in positive psychology is a living memorial to their son Martin’s positive, joyful spirit.
Martin McCoy-Jespersen brought exceptional joy and love to his family and all who knew him. His parents describe him as "a bright light and always upbeat….Martin demonstrated what it's like to be open, accepting, present, and able to enjoy the moment and how sharing the joy of simply being enhances our relationships and enriches the lives of those around us….Martin’s great purpose was to live a happy life, engaging others and communicating to learn more about them and what they might have in common."
The ground-breaking article "Toward a Positive Psychology in Mental Retardation" by VKC Director Elisabeth Dykens led David Jespersen and Leila McCoy, Martin’s parents, to the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center. Visiting the Center, David Jespersen saw that the Center’s research focused not just on challenges but also on the abilities and strengths of individuals with disabilities.
The Martin McCoy-Jespersen Discovery Grant in Positive Psychology, their gift in Martin’s memory, is being used to support two innovative research projects. The first is a SENSE Theatre Summer Camp to assess the effectiveness of theatre as a social-emotional treatment for children with autism. The second is a study of the spirituality, supports, and well-being of youth and adults with significant disabilities.
Discovery Grants encourage VKC researchers to conduct multidisciplinary, innovative pre-clinical or clinical pilot studies in preparation for submitting competitive grant applications to federal agencies or foundations. They are made possible by the generous gifts of individuals, like David Jespersen and Leila McCoy, as well as by members of the Nicholas Hobbs Society.
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."
Summer 2011 Discovery
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.