Almost 27 years ago, Renee Bennett stood beside her soon-to-be husband at 10618 Breckenridge Drive surrounded by family and friends, sharing the vows that would start a new chapter in her life. Little did Renee know on that December day that her ties to that very spot in the sanctuary at the Bible Church of Little Rock were just beginning.
When Renee’s oldest son turned three years old, she noticed he was having a few speech difficulties. Renee reached out to Tammy Simmons at Advanced Children’s Therapy (now ACCESS), and her relationship with ACCESS began. Less than one year later, Renee was lucky therapist number six to join the team – the only physical therapist at the time.
As ACCESS expanded, there was no space for preschool graduation. Renee suggested the sanctuary at her church might be a great option. For years, ACCESS continued operations at the original location while hosting annual graduation ceremonies at the church.
In the meantime, Renee found herself becoming more ingrained in ACCESS. All three of her children attended ACCESS when they were young. Renee reminisced on her children’s time at ACCESS telling us that she loved how her kids “grew up without noticing kids for their disabilities. In their minds, there was no diagnosis for anyone. Everyone in their class at ACCESS was simply their friend.”
In 2001, ACCESS had been at capacity at the Evergreen location for quite some time. It was time to look for a new space. The same church where Renee was married (called Walnut Valley Church at that point) and where classes of ACCESS preschoolers had marched across the stage every summer for several years was available for purchase. ACCESS jumped at the opportunity, and in the summer of 2001 the ACCESS opened fro business at 10618 Breckenridge Drive.
Renee explained that when ACCESS first moved into the building, the space was shared with Walnut Valley Church. “Even though it was challenging, it was fun to see the church employees interact with the children,” said Renee. Eventually, the church sanctuary was converted into the state-of-the-art Kelly O’Connor Therapy Gym as we know it today. Renee reflected on her role in the design of the new gym, calling it her proudest moment at ACCESS. “I was fortunate enough to be part of the team that designed this state-of-the-art facility. From laying out the floor design to choosing the best equipment, everything was strategically placed so that testing protocols would be accurate.”
Fast forward to 2016. Renee has helped countless children week after week by providing physical therapy in that sanctuary-turned-state-of-the-art therapy gym. Instead of “I do,” she tells kids everyday, “You can!” When asked what a successful day looks like at ACCESS for her, Renee answered, “Seeing a kid that has worked on a skill for so long, sometimes for months at a time, finally reach their goal. You see the light bulb click, and they finally get what you’ve been trying to teach them. It makes me feel like I served a purpose – that there is a purpose in all of that so-called play.”
Through all of the change that ACCESS has seen over the years, Renee thinks the biggest change is definitely in the number of kids receiving services and the size of the staff. “We all fit in one room when I started working here, a total of 6 therapists seeing less than 20 clients. Now we are a staff of 150 serving over 200 families per week and growing! But no matter how big we get,” Renee says, “ACCESS still feels like family. The staff and clients all feel like extended family members. Our family just keeps growing!”
Just 10 years after ACCESS moved into Renee’s old church, it is time to expand again. ACCESS opened second campus this month at the former site of the First Christian Church. This new campus is now home to the ACCESS school-aged and young adult programs. Renee shares “it is exciting to think of the possibilities of what we can do with that space…giving the older kids more opportunities to conquer even more challenges. Think of all the new families we will now be able to help! The possibilities are endless.”