A new non-profit geared towards helping special needs children and their families is making its way to Ellis County.

Ability Tree Texas is hosting its first-ever vision night from 7 - 9 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 25 at the Midlothian Conference Center for anyone interested in being a part of their programs. The programs are aimed at working alongside individuals, families, and organizations impacted by disabilities.

Sara Pickrell, executive director of Ability Tree Texas, decided to bring the program to her home in Ellis County after visiting her friends, Joe and Jen Butler, who founded the first Ability Tree location.

“We envision individuals and families living with disabilities being accepted and supported in their local communities, enjoying healthy relationships in their neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and churches,” Pickrell said. “I am personally impacted by Special Needs as I have a son with autism. Because of that, I see first hand the need and lack of after-school care programs, respite and other special needs programming in this area.”

Ability Tree exists to work alongside families of children with special needs using their recreation, education, support and training method with the hopes that special needs children will be better served in their communities. Each step of the process has its own attributes and goals.

For instance, recreation consists of community events, activities and programs, and interaction with peers. The recreation portion of the organization’s method hopes to provide a sense of joy and satisfaction while building healthy relationships and raising awareness throughout the community. Similarly, education aims to elevate awareness and equip people to embrace disability challenges.

Support is a component that hopes to relieve tension and stress in family members by spreading the gospel message. The last step, training, hopes to impart knowledge in parents and members of local organizations to give them all the skills to interact and adequately care for those with special needs.

According to statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, of the 53.9 million school-aged children in the U.S., about 2.8 million were reported to have a disability in 2010. Of those, as many as 89-percent are enrolled in public schools.

Texas ranks second in the nation, behind California, for having the highest number of children with disabilities with 4.8 million school-aged children living in the state.

“Being in the school district here in Ellis County, I have seen the need for after-school care programs for special needs kids and their siblings,” Pickrell said. “We will be offering after-school care, respite nights, Art Ability, VisAbility (community outings), and other programming for special needs kids and their siblings.”

But the program isn’t just for school-aged persons. According to the National Organization on Disability, 54 million Americans living with a disability are neglected by their communities.

“Talking to the special needs community in this area, there has been a great interest in what Ability Tree can offer our families,” Pickrell said. “Some needs are met through the efforts of state, federal and local organizations. However, many needs are still unmet, and this is why we exist.”

Currently, Ability Tree exists in Arkansas, New Jersey and Florida. The Ellis County location will be the first of its kind in Texas.

“We are still researching the best place to have the facility,” she said. “But, it will be in Ellis County.”