After years of working with Williamson County Schools to help special needs students transition to post-education life, BrightStone founder and Executive Director Brenda Hauk said she saw firsthand what happens when a special needs adult ages out of the public school system and into a world with not enough resources to help them live a full life.

“I reached a point that I was aching for the parents, because when their student is finished their exit year of high school at age 21 and now they’ve turned 22, their public education is over,” Hauk said. “Part of my mandate was to help them tie into their future environment, and there was no future.”

Hauk later resigned from WCS and began work to help people with developmental challenges continue to learn beyond their time in school. In 1999, Hauk began work on BrightStone, a faith-based nonprofit that offers job training, help with employment, life skills coaching, health and wellness activities, and a day program for adults.

Hauk said while BrightStone serves 40 students, its waitlist has 42 adults still in need, due to both a lack of services overall and recent growth in Williamson County.

To this end, the nonprofit is working toward creating a college-like campus where students can not only continue to receive job training and life skills education, but they can also have a place to live as part of a community, Director of Advancement Randy Elliott said.

When complete, BrightStone’s new 138-acre campus—which will be located on Columbia Pike just south of downtown Franklin—will be able to accommodate 120 students in its day program, and 80 students will be able to live on-campus in supervised housing. The campus will include an equestrian center for equine therapy, classrooms and a horticulture center where students will maintain greenhouses.

The $25 million campus is expected to break ground this fall, and students are expected to begin moving in starting in spring 2021. Elliott said while the land has been paid for, the nonprofit is still in need of funding to complete all phases of the campus plan, as the center receives no government funding and is only 30% funded by tuition.

Hauk said one of the most important missions for BrightStone was not only to create a place for special needs adults to continue learning, but to create a place for them in the community.

“I think that helps us become a community; those with disabilities joining hands and sitting next to what we now call a typical person, then all of a sudden, that relationship becomes real,” she said.

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