Gazebo Gazette

Over the nearly 50 years that has passed since The Children’s Center’s inception in 1974, it has seen remarkable change and growth, and been through hills and valleys along its path, as any evolving organization might expect.

But for the past 16 years, one thing has remained constant – the unwavering support, counsel, and leadership provided by The Children’s Center’s Advisory Board Co-Chairs, Jennifer Ingram Johnson and Terri Daniels.

The Children’s Center for Communication and Development is a non-profit with locations on The University of Southern Mississippi’s Hattiesburg and Gulf Park campuses. The Center provides early intervention therapies for children ages 0-5 with complex disabilities at no cost to their families.

Yet beyond the therapy provided, the Center offers a safe place, a listening ear, and a hand to hold (figuratively and literally), for families who have oftentimes just been given a diagnosis for their little one. Through the years of enrollment at the Center, bonds are formed that are not easily broken. A child may graduate at the age of five, but connections can last a lifetime.

“The Children’s Center for Communication and Development is near and dear to my heart and has been since my daughter entered the program almost 20 years ago,” said Jennifer Johnson. “Serving as Chair of the Advisory Board along with my Co-Chair, Terri Daniels, is among my most cherished positions of leadership. It has been an honor to support The Children’s Center and its Director and staff as they work tirelessly each and every day to truly change for the better the lives of the children and families in our community.”

And Daniels echoes her sentiments. “Frequently, I ask myself, ‘Does what I’m doing matter?’” says Daniels. “Without question, work on behalf of The Children’s Center at USM matters. Babies, toddlers, and preschoolers receive life-changing services on a regular basis, such as learning to communicate or walk. What an honor it has been serving as Co-Chair of The Center’s Advisory Board alongside Jennifer Johnson.”

This year marks a change in the Center’s board leadership as Johnson and Daniels step down from their roles and excitedly pass the torch to devoted friends of The Children’s Center and current board members, Mike Dixon and Amanda McLeod.

About the change, Daniels remarked that she looks forward to serving such a worthy program in a new way. “I can’t wait to continue this work as a board member, because this program, its services, and especially children with developmental challenges matter.”

And both Daniels and Johnson have full confidence that the Center and its Board will continue to thrive with Dixon and McLeod taking on their new roles.

“It is right and good to pass the mantle of leadership of the Board to Mike Dixon and Amanda McLeod, strong leaders in their respective fields, at this time when the Center is experiencing prosperity and growth,” said Johnson. “I know they will lead from a place of integrity and purpose. I look forward to continuing my service as an active Board member in support of the program for the years ahead.”

And strong leaders in their fields and within their communities, they are. Dixon currently acts as Executive Director of Greater Pinebelt Community Foundation and is Vocational Minister at Ekklesia Hattiesburg while McLeod is Vice President of Enrollment Management at Jones College in Ellisville, Mississippi.

Both have a passion for helping others and a profound belief in the work of The Children’s Center and its impact on South Mississippi.

“I could not be more excited to play even a small role in the life changing work of the Children’s Center,” said Dixon. “There are no more deserving children and families than those that walk through these doors every day. From the first time I walked into the Children’s Center, I knew I wanted to help however I could, and I suspect the same is true of everyone who is lucky enough to get to see it up close.”

“Stepping into the role of Advisory Board Co-Chair is a great honor,” said McLeod. “Jennifer Johnson and Terri Daniels have laid a strong foundation over the past 16 years as they have worked hard to build and grow the Center into what it is today. I look forward to working with Mike and the Center’s Director, Sarah Myers to ensure that the Center prospers in years to come and serves the children and families of Mississippi well.”

Director Sarah Myers is excited about the Center’s future with this shift in Board leadership. “Jennifer and Terri have not only been integral in helping the Center grow and thrive through many seasons, but they have played an important role in supporting the staff and myself throughout our journey with the Center,” said Myers. “Leading The Children’s Center has been that much more fulfilling and enjoyable with them by my side, and I have no doubt that the same will be true as our new Board leaders take the reins. It’s times like these, as I watch four incredible human beings making decisions, giving of themselves, and taking on roles solely for the betterment of our organization, that I find I have to pinch myself at the good fortune of The Children’s Center. We are so thankful, hopeful, and energized and we can’t wait to see what the future holds.”