BiG’s next steps are...well... big!
Brookwood in Georgetown, known locally as BiG, offers a vocational community for adults with intellectual disabilities and special needs. An expansion of the Brookwood Community located near Houston, BiG began their pilot program in March of 2011. Since then, BiG has been wowing the world with a new, innovative community that continues to grow. From gardeners, artisans, and bakers to card and jewelry makers, BiG offers its Citizens the opportunity to express their innate worth with dignity and purpose.
Just off I-35, BiG operates a café with catering, a boutique, and a greenhouse. Visitors may eat onsite at BiG Café, an ideal location for a casual lunch or for coffee and conversation; shop in the charming BiG Boutique for the beautiful, handmade wares the Citizens have made; or prepare for any holiday season with the variety of plants and garden items in BiG Greenhouse. The BiG community even invites visitors to “sample some of our famous homemade fudge while you’re here!”
Founder and director Erin Kiltz says, “There’s not a happier place to be than at BiG. Everyone feels it. People sense the love.”
John and Erin Kiltz know, first-hand, the heart of love behind this community. They didn’t just build the program in Georgetown; they planted their own hearts and lives into the BiG dream for the sake of their daughter’s future.
The Kiltz’s Inspiration
Rebekah Grace “Gracie” Kiltz was born with Down Syndrome. At the age of two, she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia, and at age 3, Gracie suffered a tragic complication that left her with a severe brain injury. Doctors told Gracie’s family she would never smile again. But believing in better things, Gracie’s older siblings prayed God would give their little sister her smile back. Six months later, Gracie made a miraculous recovery: she got her smile back.
“God restored so much of her personality, her beautiful smile,” Erin says. “Over the years, she has been like a magnet for people. Without one word, she would draw people to herself.” Gracie’s smile—described as contagious by those who had the opportunity to interact with her—had the ability to light up the entire room. It was a smile that reached past the moment, deep into the hearts and lives of thousands for the next two decades.
On September 8, 2018, Gracie departed this world, but her legacy of purpose lives on. “It’s one of those things we are in awe of now looking back at her entire life,” Erin says. “From most people’s standpoint, she would be looked at as a broken life; left with a very weak future and prognosis. The world would see her as someone to be pitied; a defect, or just a broken body. She couldn’t move or walk or talk. But I think there’s this broken mercy of grace for this entire community. As a family, we experienced that grace in such a powerful way in that Gracie was the greatest professor I’ve ever had. Her brother and sister would say the same thing. She taught us what was really important in life, what needed to surface and be held onto, and what would guide us through life.”
The BiG community is quite aware of the “big” part Gracie played in their hearts, lives, and future. “She paved the way,” Erin said.
Adele Brown, Program Director at BiG, said, “Gracie is the reason we all have jobs, that we all get to find purpose in our lives... and that fact is not lost on our Citizens. In fact, I think they know it more than we do, sometimes...Gracie was my best friend. And that is an honor I share with so many people.”
Gracie’s life and legacy have given a future and a hope for more than 75 Citizens, as well as staff and volunteers who work at BiG. Erin added, “Even our volunteers will say, ‘I didn’t know what I was going to do when my husband died, and then I found BiG. And now I have a reason to get up.’ It’s not just about our Citizens and their respective families. BiG truly is a gift to our entire community. And now we have the honor to train other start-up communities all over.”
Some big news for the BiG community is their replication and expansion to multiple locations. According to Erin, several families have moved from locations around the country just so their son or daughter can be part of BiG. But, as Kiltz pointed out, not everyone can move to Georgetown, Texas, so they are training people in other communities who have fallen in love with the model and want to know how they can replicate this incredible community.
Erin and the team at BiG continue to expand and mentor new satellites with the original model of eight Citizens in a free, church space. They look for other partnering churches who will say, “Yes, we realize the need is there. Come, you can have two to three classrooms for a vocational day program,” which is exactly how BiG began—meeting at Georgetown Church of Christ in 2011.
In 2014, BiG moved to its current location on N. Church Street, and has since grown to 52 Citizens. In the last year they have planted two new satellite programs. The first, BiG Light, is located at Georgetown Church of Christ and gives meaningful employment to 17 Citizens; the newest, BiG Bee Cave, has eight Citizens in its program.
Here in Georgetown, thanks to a $4 million capital campaign, construction is already underway for a 7,500 square foot work space expansion to accommodate the outgrowth from the current building. Upstairs will be administrative offices and downstairs will offer more work space for the Citizens.
Erin indicated they while they are looking at other churches in the Austin area and beyond, the vision for the Georgetown campus is to develop about 100 acres for a full vocational and sustainable residential community. It is their hope that the bigger vision and community of 100 acres will be within ten minutes’ drive of their central BiG location in Georgetown.
“When Gracie smiles, there’s this unadulterated joy. That’s the thing you see. It’s transcendent to the moment. It’s bigger than a
person—you see into the eyes of God in that moment.”
“She had a BIG heart in that little body.”
“My favorite part about Gracie was her smile.”
Quotes from a Tribute Video presented to the Kiltz family
“The exciting thing is that we are more committed now than ever to Gracie’s legacy. We know, first-hand what our families face and how scared they are of the future. The number one fear of a parent with a child with special needs is wondering what happens to that child when they are gone. Brookwood in Georgetown has given them such hope for the future, a bright future.”
According to Erin, rather than being pigeonholed as recipients of mundane custodial care, or being occupied with mindless tasks in uninspiring surroundings, the Citizens of BiG are “truly celebrated in all their God-given abilities. We are tapping into those and we are allowing them to become all that God has created them to be. They’ve been given this opportunity and community with their peers they would have never had.”