June 4, 2021

Nonprofit Stories: Signal Centers

Just down the street from a Walgreens on Germantown Road, within the hearing of four lanes of traffic, there is a playground that butts up against the parking lot.

It’s yellow and red and plastic green; there are swings, slides, and a tunnel.

Otherwise, it’s not like most playgrounds in the city, because it was designed and built for access. Children in wheelchairs, children with vision challenges, children who will never develop fine motor skills all feel welcome.

The aptly-named Friends Playground is a typical project of Signal Centers, an organization built around principles of inclusivity, of bringing together “typically developed” Chattanoogans with those who face greater challenges. In the belief that self-sufficiency and acceptance both grow in this soil.

Founded 50 years ago to serve nine children with cerebral palsy, the organization now supports 120 children with small classes and low student-to-teacher ratios that enable individualized attention.

Signal Centers also offers care services to disabled and geriatric adults, providing child care, teaching Baby University to first-time expectant mothers, and more.

In the past decade, the Foundation has supported capital projects like the playground, installation of windows and an elevator, but also the creation of a Low Vision Learning Center and employment services for people with disabilities. The Foundation even helped arrange campus security, to protect students who are often quite vulnerable.

“The values that we hold at Signal Centers align with those of the Foundation, because they firmly believe that all individuals deserve equal access, and equal opportunity for participation in life,” says Donna McConnico, CEO, Signal Centers.

Looking at the playground, it’s easy to see not just children but Chattanoogans who see each other with respect, who understand ideas like teamwork and hospitality in ways that are too often missed. And suddenly, Chattanooga feels like a small town, in all the right ways.

“Sustainability of programs like this is so important, and with the Foundation we’re lucky to have a partner that really wants to understand our work, the needs of our clients, and how projects will enhance a person’s life beyond the term of the grant. How best to bring a lasting impact.”