February is Black History Month and we wanted to finish out the month strong by recognizing some icons who helped carry the load for those with disabilities during the Civil Rights Movement.  These 3 are just a few examples of those who went above and beyond, despite their abilities, to "be the change" that was so needed and to be a voice for those who were voiceless.  I encourage you to follow some of the attached links as resources and learn more about these and others who stood strong!

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Lois Curtis: Art and Advocacy

Lois Curtis lived out the formative years of her life as a resident of one institution for people with developmental disabilities or another. From age 11 through her early twenties this young black woman, diagnosed with intellectual and developmental disabilities as well as schizophrenia, found herself in this home from which she prayed so fervently to be released. Lois was her own advocate when one was not available, placing regular calls to the Atlanta Legal Aid Society begging for help getting out of the institution.

Lois was one of the plaintiff’s in the famous 1999 Olmstead Supreme Court decision. The Olmstead decision was a pivotal moment for those with developmental disabilities and reinforced that segregation based on disability was, in fact, a violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Olmstead Decision states:

“On June 22, 1999, the United States Supreme Court held in Olmstead v. L.C. that unjustified segregation of persons with disabilities constitutes discrimination in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Court held that public entities must provide community-based services to persons with disabilities when (1) such services are appropriate; (2) the affected persons do not oppose community-based treatment; and (3) community-based services can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the public entity and the needs of others who are receiving disability services from the entity.

“The Supreme Court explained that its holding “reflects two evident judgments.

“First, “institutional placement of persons who can handle and benefit from community settings perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable of or unworthy of participating in community life.” Second, “confinement in an institution severely diminishes the everyday life activities of individuals, including family relations, social contacts, work options, economic independence, educational advancement, and cultural enrichment.”

While Lois was a key figure in a disability rights case that changed the lives of so many, she is far more than just that. She currently lives in the community with the assistance of community-based supports and shares her love of art and her spirit of advocacy with all she meets. Lois is a self-taught artist whose medium of choice is pastels and acrylics. She loves portraits and has an incredibly unique way of capturing the emotions and expressions of her subject. Most notably, Lois was able to present one of her drawings to former president Barack Obama at the White House in 2011.

Through the example set by Lois we can see that one person can make a difference for many, she is definitely a special soul. For more information on the life of Lois Curtis please visit the following:




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Ever Lee Hairston: Activist

Ever Lee Hairston, a civil rights activist that marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wears many different hats. In addition to being a board member with the National Federation of the Blind, Ms. Hairston is an advocate, motivational speaker and author of Blind Ambition: One Woman’s Journey To Greatness Despite Her Blindness.

Born with retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a rare genetic degenerative eye disease, Ms. Hairston struggled with vision issues her entire life that eventually led to total blindness in her late 20’s. While this may have put a halt to her desire to pursue a medical career it did not deter Ms. Hairston’s great ambitions. A longtime advocate and activist Hairston would not let anything deter her spirit of perseverance, believing in herself, and fighting for her rights. Even after being asked to resign from a beloved teaching position because of her blindness she would not let anyone tell her she was not enough, she kept fighting to be of service to herself and of service to those around her.

Her attitude is beautifully summed up in the poem Ms. Hairston published (below) entitled “What it’s like to be blind”

As I travel throughout the United States and abroad, many ask, “What is it like to be blind?” Well, I’d like to sum it up in these words:

I can’t see the trees, but I can touch the leaves.

I can’t see the ocean, but I can feel the breeze.

I can’t see a child, but I can hear one grow.

I can’t see your smile, but I can feel your glow.

I can’t see a hillside or rainbow I can’t find, but I’m not missing out on rainbows because they are painted on my mind.

I can’t see a garden, but I can smell the flowers.

I can’t see a timepiece, but I can certainly count the hours.

I can’t see a house, but I know when I’m at home.

I can’t see you sitting there, but I know I am never alone.

I can see joy.

I can see happiness.

I can see love.

I can see blessings from above.

So no, I may not be able to see a hillside or a rainbow I can’t find, but I’m not missing out on life because it’s painted on my mind.

– Ever Lee Hairston

You can learn more about Ms. Hairston at:




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Brad Lomax: Disability Power

Brad Lomax, a member of the Black Panther Party in California during the civil rights revolution of the late 1960’s and 1970’s, was a disability rights activist and active leader during the 504 Sit-in in San Francisco (1977).

Signed in 1973, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation act stated that “no otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States shall solely on the basis of handicap, be excluded from participation, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” Plainly stated, it is unlawful for any program receiving federal funds to discriminate against a person with a disability. While 504, at that time, was excellent in theory, implementation was quite a different story. Given the broad strokes of what this brand of non-discrimination should look like there was no set of standards to put them into action. Despite a definitive set of guidelines offered by the Office for Civil Rights and despite actions by the disability community, by 1977 no regulations were issued; realizing that action was the only response the American coalition of citizens with disabilities called for sit-ins at eight HEW regional headquarters if the recommendations by the Office of Civil Rights were not adopted.

The San Francisco federal building sit-in, the only one that endured, lasted 28 days and was critical in forcing the signing of the regulations almost unchanged. This is where Mr. Lomax comes into the story. With a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis and wheelchair use, Lomax was a staunch advocate for the disability community, even moving the Black Panther Party to join his efforts. He recognized the need for more disability services and supports within his own community and pushed the Black Panther Party to sponsor a proposal to open a Center for Independent Living in Berkley, California (1972) where he was one of a two-person staff providing basic peer counseling and attendant referral. While the Black Panther Party had no real stance on disability policy, once one of their own was involved the rest of the party shared its support.

Mr. Lomax was an active participant in the 504 Sit-In as well as the contingent that took the resultant disability message to Washington, DC at its resolution. This 28 day sit in was grueling for all involved, but particularly those with disability. Lomax was joined by his friend and fellow Black Panther Party Member, Chuck Jackson, who participated alongside him and helped warrant a Black Panther Party response. With two of their own fighting on the front lines, the party then stepped in and provided what has been termed one of the most “critical gifts” given to protesters during the sit-in – a daily hot meal. The Panthers would not just support their own, thanks to the tireless efforts of Lomax, the Panthers brought a daily hot meal to every single participant at the sit-in.

Lomax was also part of the 25 person group that was chosen to represent the disability community in presenting the list of regulations, which were eventually signed into law in late April, to Washington, D.C. – that contingent returned to San Francisco to lead the protesters out of the HEW headquarters triumphantly singing “We Will Overcome. Mr. Lomax continued his work and advocacy through the Black Panthers Party for until his passing in 1984 from Multiple Sclerosis related complications. Brad Lomax was an amazing advocate during a time of civil unrest for not only people with disabilities but people of color.

You can learn more about Mr. Lomax and the 504 Sit-In at:





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I love books. Not e-books really and, if I’m driving a long distance, I can endure audiobooks…but hold it in your hand or check it out from the library, smells like knowledge and entertainment, old school, page turner, books. That being said, I really love books that involve, teach, or educate on developmental disability; and children’s books that make our kiddos with developmental disability feel involved, allow them to see themselves on the pages, and teach those without DD that we are all essentially the same – even though we are presented in different packages.

These resources used to be scarce, if they existed at all. But, thankfully, those days have passed and I wanted to take this blog to share with you some of my very favorites that live in my library so that you might have a look. If you want to listen on audiobook or use your e-reader I won’t judge you one bit…we all learn differently and the key is that we learn! All of these books are available on amazon or at your favorite bookstore and I didn’t receive any payments to endorse these books.

I hope you will take the time to check some of these out and that you enjoy them as much as I do!

Bekka Wilkerson

Director of Community Outreach


Adult Readers

The Way I See It, by Dr. Temple Grandin

In my personal opinion, everything that Dr. Grandin writes about her life is solid gold. The way I see it reads almost like a textbook of her life, how she has maneuvered situations with her Autism Diagnosis; but also how she has taken it upon herself to speak out on the behalf of others who share her experiences. Through her own brand of humor and experience Dr. Grandin gives her readers a birds eye view into life “as she sees it” and it is well worth the read!

A Thorn in My Pocket, by Eustacia Cutler

This book, however, tells a very different story about the life of Dr. Grandin and what it’s like as a parent on the outside looking in. Ms. Cutler represents the world of a parent who receives a diagnosis for her daughter and then learns to navigate this new world that they have been presented. But, this is not just a book for parents; it’s a great read for any and every one!


Resources for Parents

Shut Up About Your Perfect Kid: A Survival Guide for Ordinary Parents of Special Children, by Gina Gallagher and Patricia Konjoian

It’s been a bit since I’ve read this book in its entirety but I skimmed through to a few pages I highlighted as a reminder of why I do (and always will) keep it handy on my bookshelf. In short, I love this book. Even if you are not the parent of a “special child” sometimes you just need to be reminded that nobody is perfect and everyone is fighting their own set of battles. Gallagher and Konjoian blend real life situations with humor and perspective and then serve that up with a little life application in a way that is exactly what you need to hear and when you need to hear it. Go get this book and keep it around – you will thank me!            

A Special Kind of Love, by Susan Titus Osborn and Janet Lynn Mitchell

This book is a collection of stories, poems, and words from those who experience life with “special children” on a daily basis. If you need inspiration, someone to commiserate, advice, or a laugh you will find it in this book. This is one of those books that you could put your feet up and thumb through at the end of a hard day to find whatever it is you need to meet your need at that moment. Read and share with those you love.


Young Adult Readers

The Ables Series, by Jeremy Scott            

I ran across this series completely by accident and it was absolutely a happy accident. I have never run across a young adult book, much less a series, that focuses 100% on young people with developmental disabilities. More so, one that makes them the heroes of the story! Think X-Men but youth with various disabilities…it’s awesome. This is a fantastic series for all young adult readers but specifically our kiddos who might be struggling to fit in with their own skin. I have personally read book 1 (The Ables) and book 2 (Strings) and I can’t wait to read book 3 (Currents)!

The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate

This story of an unlikely friendship, while not obviously a disability related read, is a heartwarming tale of hope, love, and defying the obstacles. Not only is it a great read, but who doesn’t enjoy a story where the underdog becomes the hero!


New Readers

The From We Can’t to We Can Series, Written and Illustrated by Trinity Jagdeo

On my way in from work one morning I heard a segment on the Bobby Bones Show about a young girl whose best friend had a developmental disability and had been sick. To show her love for her friend Trinity Jagdeo decided to create a comic book for her friend with Down Syndrome and make her the superhero of the story, and as such, Alice The Ace was born. These comic books are FANTASTIC! Go online and purchase them all today! My collection includes: Alice the Ace, Zappy Zane, and The We Can Squad Saves the Day. Did I mention these are written, illustrated, and edited by teenagers!!! Love!


Children’s Books

Note:  Admittedly, children’s books are my absolute favorite. I am only going to give you a couple below but if you have a specific need or situation that a children’s book might be applicable for – I can help you find one! I am a firm believer that if we teach kiddos when they are young that children with disabilities are no different than children without we can head off a lot of issues we have as children mature. Below are my top 3!

What I Like About Me, Written by Allia Zobel-Nolan and Illustrated by Miki Sakamoto

This big board style book is an interactive, touch-and-feel book that celebrates the differences in all of us. It encourages children (of all ages) to celebrate and embrace their differences as things that make them unique and special; it emphasizes the idea that normal is boring and being different is what actually makes us special!

Special People Special Ways, Written by Arlene Maguire and Illustrated by Sheila Bailey

Special People Special ways shares a positive perspective on how each of us is made differently. From how we walk, talk, speak, and even our athletic ability this sing song rhyme style book shines a light on how we are all made uniquely and how each of us uses our unique gifts to make it through each day; and no matter how we look on the outside our hearts are the same!

Don’t Call Me Special: A First Look at Disability, Written by Pat Thomas and Illustrated by Lesley Harker

This book is a great resource for teaching children what it looks like to have a disability; providing opportunities for understanding, application, and education for children of all ages and abilities! From front to back this is truly a look at disability – including a list of resources and further readings!


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One of my favorite things about Civitan Services is how creative our men, women, and children are! From old to young we are full of talent and an adventurous artistic spirit! We are able to share this outlet in many different ways with our community and, thanks to social media, across the United States. We have shipped pieces far and wide and even shared our love for all things Arkansas Razorback with a couple of head football coaches – that was a special treat for sure.

Most recently we were able to create a special piece to welcome one of the newest additions to our local community, Arkansas Heart Hospital – Encore. Several clients from our Adult Services Art Classroom worked on this special piece that offered us the opportunity to share our heart with The Heart! We were excited to be able to present this piece to Ashley Hixon (Encore Chief Clinical Officer) and Jacob Robinson (Chief Administrative Officer) - we are definitely excited to have them in our community!

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We are always looking for opportunities to showcase our client’s art as they are able to use this as a source of income. For each individual piece sold the artist receives 50% of the profit and the remaining funds are utilized to purchase more supplies.   Our artists are available to produce commissioned projects and have done some beautiful pieces for other local businesses. The pictures below are a commissioned work we completed for The Counseling Clinic in downtown Benton.

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If you are interested in learning more about our Art With Heart Program please contact Bekka at (501) 776-0691 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. We would love to create a commissioned piece for you or share the artwork we have available. We have also been added as a regular vendor at Arkansas Alley (https://arkansasalley.com/pages/seller-profile?civitan-services-art-with-heart) so be sure and check us out there!

When George began attending Civitan Services his main goal was to get out into the community and get a job, but he was worried. Actually, he was terrified of failing and the possibility of getting fired. He set a goal for himself to train in the Independent Skills classroom for 6 months to a year so that he would feel comfortable working outside of this safe space, and he did just that.  George worked hard in the classroom and attained every goal he had set for himself.  When he was ready he approached Supported Employment Coordinator Julie Terry and told her he was READY TO WORK!

George started working for Big Red Stores at two days per week.  He quickly excelled and in a matter of weeks he was asked to take on full time employment!  After gaining the added confidence that full time employment provided him, George then decided he wanted to get his drivers license to be able to take himself to and from work.  He studied diligently and, with the help of the Civitan Services staff, passed the written and driving portions of the test the first time he took them.

George has since purchased his first sports car, is working full time, and has a new goal to get off of Disability and get an apartment.  To say that we at Civitan Services are proud of George's accomplishments is an understatement!  He is a prime example of goal setting, hard work, and perserverence!  We are excited to share his story with you and hope that George will be an inspiration to you that nothing can stop you from reaching your goals!

For more information about the Civitan Services Supported Employment Program contact Julie Terry at (501) 776-0691 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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