Erin Kiltz remembers, as if it were yesterday, the first time she watched her daughter, Gracie Rebekah, examine a flower with such wonder and delight. In that moment she realized, though her little girl may have been born with Down syndrome, and suffered other complications during a fight against Leukemia making her unable to walk or talk, the love that radiated from her 1000-kilowatt smile made her someone special. Many times thereafter, Erin and her family members wondered—who is actually teaching who?
With a gleam in her eyes and the power fueled by a mother’s love, Erin tackles each day with a fierce determination to change how the world perceives adults with special needs. But not a day goes by that she doesn’t reflect on Gracie.
Erin’s eye for detail is everywhere, a testament to the esteem she and BiG hold for their Citizens—hand towels folded just so in the restrooms, framed proverbs that line the restaurant walls, and upscale items beautifully displayed alongside the impressive Citizen-created products in the gift shop. All of these delicate touches are enveloped by the well-oiled machine of BiG’s day to day operations.
Guided by the Grace of God
Erin laughs as she remembers her first strategic plan, one she called “failing forward.” Resolute on finding a place for Gracie and others like her to thrive once they aged out of school, she came upon the Brookwood Community in Brookshire, Texas. She felt she was one step closer to creating what would later become “a God-centered nonprofit that provides meaningful jobs and community for adults with special needs.”
Erin recalls many miracles sustained her along the way. At the start, not only was Brookwood willing to share information, the executive director gave Erin her personal number and guided her every step of the way. The second blessing came when, for the first time in their 40-year history, Brookwood gave permission for the use of their name and Brookwood In Georgetown (BiG) was officially founded.
The blessings continued when Erin first met Luke Ellis. This charming young man and his wife, Kristi, were house parents for 12 male adults on the Brookwood campus. Seeing Luke’s obvious passion for Brookwood’s mission Erin needed no additional encouragement to hire him as residential director.
Over time, Erin realized this person who was of one heart with her should become her successor. Earlier this year she rallied for Luke to be named BiG’s executive director and the board agreed. Now founder emeritus, Erin’s dream has grown from a group of eight Citizens in a church, to 90 Citizens on three campuses—plus a wait list of 40. She has also begun another labor of love—mentoring Brookwood communities across the nation. At press time, BiG Great Lakes has commenced operations in Gurnee, Illinois, and additional BiG licensed models are gearing up in Alabama, Florida, Indiana, North Carolina, and Texas.
Just outside of Georgetown, a new residential concept is under construction and is the answer to another prayer. Grace Place by BiG is a 127-acre community that, when completed, will consist of four large homes, four medium sized homes, and a village of tiny homes for Citizens to live independently. There will also be safe spaces for Citizens to stay to provide respite for their parents.
Knowing there are already 100 families interested in Grace Place daily spurs Luke and Erin to continue building on their current donation level of nearly $10 million and reach their capital campaign goal of $25 million.
Guided by the Grace of the Community
The cornerstone of BiG’s mission is demonstrating that, when given the freedom to excel, special needs adults can be fully engaged in meaningful work and enjoy the pride of ownership. All of us can appreciate being commissioned for skilled work in a community, and the gratification that we are contributing to society. So BiG is rewriting history every time a Citizen bakes, creates, grows, builds, sculpts, and serves as a valuable member of the greater Georgetown community.
BE A PART OF IT
BiG is gearing up for its annual Golf Benefit October 10 at Cimarron Hills Country Club in Georgetown. Every Citizen will be a team captain and each team is asked to raise $10,000 with help from enthusiastic businesses and individuals who will assist in getting the word out to attain this year’s goal of $650,000. On the “BiG” day, Citizens and sponsors will breakfast together before celebrating with a day of noncompetitive golf.
BiG wouldn’t be as, well, big as it is today without the dedication of its staff, volunteers, and our generous community. Many are devoted parents, who are grateful to know their children will have a place and be among people who value and watch over them when the parents are gone. With BiG’s Wednesday tours booked for the next four months and customers from near and far coming to dine and shop, there’s no missing the magnetism and love that envelops this building, the vibrant vocational community, and the smiling faces of its Citizens.
Businesses and individuals are invited to support the golf benefit to raise money for operating expenses. Visit BrookwoodInGeorgetown.org/golf-benefit-2022 and sponsor a Citizen team today.
Joni Eareckson Tada, disability rights advocate, created the five stages of disability awareness, a resource shared by churches, schools, and communities that helps to define the spectrum of attitudes that people tend to experience:
Co-laboring, which sums up encounters as showing respect for each other and allowing ourselves to be teachers, as well as being taught.
Erin explains, “The basis of interaction with BiG’s Citizens is via the reverse inclusion model. The Citizens are first set up for success, gaining confidence and happiness in their newfound lives. Next, the community engages with the Citizens in their environment. This social engagement leads to opportunities for all members to learn from each other.”