HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - USM's Children Center celebrated the end of the school year with a zoo-themed celebration Wednesday morning.
Children from birth to 5-years-old are given therapy and assistance for free at the center. This year, the Children's Center has 21 graduates moving on to kindergarten.
Rhonda Dykes' granddaughter, Presleigh, is one of them.
"She wouldn't have been where she's at if it hadn't been for the Children's Center," Dykes said.
Presleigh was born with spina bifida. When she first came to the center, she had a hard time walking and could only speak a few words.
At age 2, Presleigh started talking in full sentences and now she uses a walker to play with her friends at the end of the year party.
The center also provides a built-in support group for families.
"Disability is never a word you want to hear when it comes to your child," said Katie Martin, mother of an 8-month-old with down syndrome. "The people at the Children's Center change that 'dis' into capabilities."
Martin's daughter, Rylee, has a team of four that works with her day in and day out. Martin has already seen the progress. Rylee can sit up, eat and is even learning to crawl.
"For kids with down syndrome that usually takes a little bit longer," Martin said. "I truly credit that to her team here."
Rylee's mother refers to her team as "angels."