Pittman a winner with special needs children

Published 6:23 pm Monday, May 28, 2012

Many good things have come from Allen Pittman’s advocacy for Beaufort County’s special needs children.

Pittman began his nearly decade-long support soon after his son Jacob’s second birthday. That is when Jacob was diagnosed with autism.

To help his son, Pittman turned to the child development services offered through the Beaufort County Developmental Center in Washington and became a big fan of the assistance BCDC offers.

“(BCDC) helped Jacob to basically regain his life. I wanted to stay involved because they helped Jacob so much. I wanted them to be around to help others,” Pittman said of his decision to join the BCDC board of directors seven years ago.

Pittman has served faithfully on the board, including two years as chairman and currently as vice-chairman, but it is his founding of ExCEL — Exceptional Children Enjoying Life — that has had some of the greatest impact on the special needs community in Beaufort County.

“It’s one of the only activities that (special needs) kids have to do in the county. It lets the kids play like other children. Our kids like to be out there having fun like everyone else,” said Brenda Willis, who has two special needs children.

ExCEL is a nonprofit corporation supporting a little-league/T-ball program for special needs children.

For the past three years, beginning in September, nearly 40 kids, their parents and a host of volunteers have come together every Sunday for six weeks to play ball. Pittman has directed the program since its inception and is chairman on its board of directors.

“It was something I had been working on,” Pittman said about founding ExCEL. “When I heard other parents in the community talking about how their kids played baseball or basketball … I wanted my son to be able to play sports too.”

Pittman worked with his wife, Donna, and several other folks to establish ExCEL.

“I know (Allen) has worked very hard on this program. He should be very proud. I think it’s the best thing that’s happened in Washington for kids with special needs,” said Pamela Ross, whose son, Lawson, enjoys playing ExCEL ball.

Modeled after the Heroes League in Williamston, ExCEL differs in that it keeps the children constantly engaged and focuses on building skills while also having fun, Pittman said.

“The things we do in ExCEL — the little things we developed to keep the children engaged (like hula hoop and tossing the ball back and forth) — continue the therapy and goals these children work on. It’s an added opportunity to help the kids do therapy and have fun,” Pittman said.

The program not only benefits the kids, it also benefits the parents and volunteers.

The parents get some respite while watching their children have fun. The volunteers — many are young baseball players themselves — that work with each child on a “buddy system” develop a deeper understanding of the children’s abilities, and the children get to experience being with typical folk, Pittman said.

Ross echoes that sentiment.

“It makes (the kids) feel like any other kid. It gives them excitement, self-confidence … makes them proud of themselves. It also enlightens a lot of the volunteers. It opens their eyes to see how these kids are not really different.”

Pittman’s advocacy for the developmentally impaired takes many paths.

He is the current president for The Arc of Beaufort County, a national advocate for special needs children that works on policy at the federal level and provides local support and services.

He and wife Donna also worked together to form and lead the Beaufort Martin Chapter of The Autism Society of North Carolina from 2007 through 2010.

“He has a tremendous passion and deep concern for the needs of people less fortunate and the special needs population in particular,” said Chris Kiricoples, BCDC chief executive officer.

“We’ve known Allen and Donna for many years. They’ve done so much for the community,” said Jori Golden. “(On those) Sunday afternoons our kids get to be normal. The kids have a great time. The parents have a great time.”

“They hit the ball. They get on base. Everybody plays. Everybody wins. It’s just a blessing to see those smiles on the children’s faces,” Pittman said.