If you think your vote doesn’t count – just ask Debbie Hamler, executive director of the Special Learning Center in Jefferson – and she’ll tell you just how important your vote really is.
Thanks to the votes of thousands of people both locally and all over the globe, the center is the recipient of a $50,000 Pepsi Refresh Grant and the children at the Special Learning Center will have a new playground possibly as soon as the end of this year.
“We all feel so blessed to know that our community, and people from all over the world, went to bat for our kids,” Hamler said. “We heard from people in Mexico, Australia, England. They all said they were voting for us and that was truly overwhelming.”
Hamler said the playground at the center was built about 20 years ago. Since that time, there have been many new things that they have wanted to add but have never had the funds to do so.
“There are so many new things for kids now,” Hamler said. “Things we never dreamed of when we first built the playground. Now we can update the equipment for our kids. It’s very exciting.”
Hamler said watching the center’s place in the voting move up so quickly was simply amazing.
“For so long we thought it was a futile effort,” she said. “We were so far down on the list that we figured we needed to move up several spots each day just to make it to 10th place. Then, all of a sudden, we moved into 10th place and then we just kept moving closer to first place.”
Within a matter of days, the center’s grant went from 320th place to 2ndplace where they were able to hold until voting stopped at midnight on August 31.
The Pepsi Refresh Grant is awarded to the top 10 in each category. “It was really exciting to be a part of something like this,” Hamler said. “It is nice to know that you work in a place that God has his hands on. I don’t think any of really knew how much everyone cared. It truly is an awesome feeling.”
Before the funds are issued, Hamler said there is a two-week verification process. Once that is complete, she anticipates construction of the new playground will take place immediately.
“The funds are issued quickly and Pepsi is very efficient in how they run their grants,” Hamler said. “We hope to break ground within a month and hope to have the project completed by the end of the year.”
Hamler said her biggest fear is that she will forget to thank somebody.
“I just want to make sure that everyone that took the time to vote for the center every day knows how thankful we are,” Hamler said. “I don’t want to forget to thank everyone and there are so many out there who voted that we don’t even know.”
Hamler said other than building a new playground for the children at the Special Learning Center, she is proud that they were part of bringing something really neat to the Jefferson City community.
“The Pepsi Refresh Grant is an incredible program and all that it is doing for projects all over the country,” Hamler said. “And to be able to bring that to our community is a great feeling. It’s really a win-win for everyone.”