Buy for RISE event attracts funds for special education


Photo courtesy of The College of Human Environmental Sciences

Olivia Davis, Contributing Writer

The Tuscaloosa RISE Center recently held its largest fundraiser with the goal of raising over $50,000 to fund the organization’s educational efforts and keeping the promise of never requiring money from the families they serve.

The Tuscaloosa RISE Center, a nationally recognized early childhood education program, is a part of the College of Human Environmental Studies at The University of Alabama. This program is dedicated to excellence in service, research and teaching, primarily serving young children with disabilities. The RISE Center equips children with the necessary skills needed for the next step in their education.

“We serve children with special needs in an inclusive setting with traditional learners,” Melinda Ingram, a teacher at RISE, said. “We serve infants to children of 5 years old, getting them ready for Kindergarten in their home schools. We have therapies provided in the classroom along with traditional learners such as occupational therapy, music therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy.” 

Gene Stallings, the head football coach for The University of Alabama in 1990, took a special interest in the RISE Center. Coach Stallings’ son, John Stallings, was born with Down syndrome and benefited from the services provided by RISE. The Stallings Center opened in 1994, greatly expanding the RISE Center’s resources and capabilities. BUY for RISE, the center’s largest fundraiser, is an annual event that benefits the center. 

“This raises money to provide therapy for our children with special needs,” Franny Jones, a former employee and current volunteer, said. “Children with special needs do not have to pay tuition to come to school here, so this helps fund that. I believe in RISE and what they do. It’s been something that was a part of my life for a long time, and I like to come back and give my time back.”

The motto of the program is “Where special kids shine,” a mission that stays at the forefront of the minds of everyone involved with the program. BUY for RISE showcases the passion of employees, volunteers and families that utilize the services provided. The community support was apparent, with people lining up before the doors opened and swarming the items for sale.

“There’s probably over 40 vendors, mostly local,” Jones said. “We work on it year-round. Everyone is very supportive. This has been going on for about 14 years, and it’s grown from making I think $14,000 the first year to a hopeful profit of over $50,000 this year.”

“It’s for a really good cause,” Hollon Skinner, a junior majoring in marketing, said. “It goes towards helping kids with disabilities. It’s such a cool thing that the money goes towards.” 

Local businesses such as Hudson Poole Jewelers, The Pants Store, Gracefully Done, Lucca, The Locker Room, Northport Pharmacy and many more donated items for the event. The two day fundraiser began with an exclusive opening, requiring a ticket to browse the 75% off selection. The next day was open to the public, and the remaining items were 90% off retail prices. 

These sales allow families who utilize the RISE Center and its resources to do so with no personal cost.

“RISE is responsible for 90 children and their families and making sure that they have everything that they need to meet their goals and maximize their potential,” Andi Gillen, RISE Director said. “We make a difference everyday. Sometimes it’s really small and sometimes it’s really big, but the children learn and grow and make gains. I think our families find hope here and that they also gain confidence. We are the only RISE program in the country that does not charge our families with special needs tuition. This fundraiser is really important because it allows us to continue to do that.”