Students shop to support Rise

Katherine Martin

The 7th annual “Buy for Rise” sale to benefit the Stallings’s Rise Center on the UA campus will be held today and Saturday, Martha Cook, executive director of all Rise schools, said.

More than 50 local merchants, including Effie’s, Part Two and Solo, donate merchandise that is marked 75 percent off the lowest marked price, Cook said.

Jennifer Hamner, owner of Bow Regards and a parent of a child at Rise, started the “Buy for Rise” event in 2004.

“As a local business owner, there’s a lot of leftover merchandise, and you want to keep things in the store fresh and new,” Hamner said. “I contacted friends that were also local business owners, and they were on board.

“I don’t really know where we would be without the Rise program,” Hamner said. “It’s huge.”

Last year, proceeds from the sale reached more than $38,000, and both Cook and Hamner expect around $40,000 this year.

“We have no operating budget at Rise,” Cook said. “All of the proceeds go directly to the children.”

“We encourage people to come on Friday,” Hamner said. “You get the first look at the merchandise and there is food catered by Wintzell’s and FIG.”

Courtney Davis, a sophomore majoring in graphic design, said she attended the “Buy for Rise” sale last year.

“It’s a great opportunity for students because you can get nice clothes at a really good price, and the money goes to a great program,” Davis said.

“Buy for Rise” will also be holding a silent auction throughout the sale, with items that include Daniel Moore prints, football tickets and items from Hudson Poole.

Hamner said that because there are so many volunteers willing to help out, there really is not a problem getting the sale together.

“The hardest part is letting all the merchants and volunteers know how thankful we are for their help,” Hamner said.

The Rise program has been a part of the University’s campus since 1974, when the U.S. Office of Health Education and Welfare funded the Rise program as a demonstration program designed to serve children from birth to age five with physical disabilities. The program was one of the first 150 early intervention programs that were federally funded, according to riseschool.ua.edu.

The program started with six children, one teacher, a teacher’s aide and a family service coordinator operating out of one room of a house on the University’s campus, the website stated.

In 1977, after three years of federal funding, the University began funding the program. At this time, Rise had grown to an enrollment of 24 students in three classrooms. The program also expanded to include more diversity in enrollment. In addition to children with cerebral palsy and spina bifida, Rise began working with children with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities, according to the website.

When Gene Stallings became head football coach at the University in 1990, he immediately became an advocate of the Rise Program, which then had over 60 students. Stallings’ son, Johnny was born with Down syndrome in 1962 when Stallings was an assistant to Coach Paul W. Bryant.

Currently, Rise is home to 94 students and is “in the best place we’ve ever been,” Cook, who has been with the program for 35 years, said.

“We went from a program that lived from year to year in substantial housing with little funding, with a small staff, to having the most elite program in the country for students with disabilities,” Cook said. “We went from nothing to a premier program.”

The Rise school in Tuscaloosa is the only Rise school in the country that is free to students with disabilities, Cook said.

“What speaks volumes is when people have a child [with disabilities] they seek out the best for them,” Hamner said. “We’ve had families that have moved from New York and California to Tuscaloosa, Alabama just so their children can attend the Rise school.”

“We have a great facility, children, parents and teachers,” Cook said. “But we can’t be a premier program without money.”

Cook said she and others involved in the Rise program work to raise money for every service they need.

“It’s optimistic thinking,” Cook said. “We meet the needs regardless of the cost.”

Any student can get involved at Rise by contacting the Rise center and checking out additional information on the website.