Sometimes you choose your job, other times your job chooses you.

Laura Whitaker

Laura Whitaker, M. Ed., began her relationship with Extra Special People, Inc. by working as a counselor and, subsequently, a leadership team member in 2003.  With her passion for enhancing the lives of children with developmental disabilities and her specialized education in this field, Laura was selected as the director after the founder, Martha Wyllie’s sudden passing in 2004. She has found her dream job with ESP (or as she says, her dream job found her!).  As Executive Director, Laura uses her leadership and management strengths to manage staff, oversee multiple year-round programs and raise funds to run programs. Her favorite part of the job is getting to hug the many children who walk through the ESP doors.

Laura obtained both her Bachelor’s degree in Collaborative Special Education and her Master’s degree in Adapted Curriculum Classic Autism at the University of Georgia.  Laura has been awarded the 40 under 40 by the Atlanta Business Chronicle, 40 under 40 by the UGA Alumni Association and 40 under 40 by the Athens Banner Herald and 40 under 40 by the Georgia Trend. She has also been given the Super Citizen Award by the Athens Banner Herald, The Community Four-Way Test Award by the Rotary Club of Oconee County & Volunteer of the Year Award by the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce. Laura was recognized as one of UGA’s top growing business leaders as #12 out of the Bulldog 100. Laura and her work with ESP was featured in The UGA Graduate Magazine 2012 edition. She participated as a member of L.E.A.D. Athens Class of 2012 and has served in the past as a United Way of NEGA Board Member, North Oconee Rotary, Oconee Civitan and the Junior League of Athens.

She is now involved with the LEAD Athens Steering Committee, Leadership Georgia and Classic City Church. Laura was chosen to participate in the prestigious Leadership Georgia program and then chosen to serve on the Leadership Georgia Program Committee in 2018. Most recently, Laura was invited to speak at TEDxUGA in 2019 where she shared her powerful perspective on ability with a talk entitled The Dandelion Shift.

Laura’s most important roles include wife to husband Joseph and mother to Owen Patrick (10), Finley Gray (6) and newest addition Tate Alan (1). Laura shares her insights and ancedotes on her blog, Hope Sweet Home.

Professional Summary:

Laura has found her dream job as she cultivates growth and change in the movement of community engagement with individuals with disabilities. At the age of 19, Laura took over as executive director raising $50,000 in just months. Since then, ESP has gone through dramatic growth and restoration providing more children & their families the ability to thrive.

Highlights:

  • Accepting the call to serve as Executive Director at Age 19
  • Rebuilding a broken board of directors to provide support to the organization
  • Starting a fundraiser embracing the organization’s mission netting $150k+ yearly
  • Beginning an after-school program for kids of all abilities allowing parents to work jobs & kids the opportunity to engage in typical out-of-school activities
  • Created a strategic plan to one day serve the 2,000 kids in the area waiting through an organizational restructure, fundraising plan and new facility.
  • Raised $3 Million for a new facility
  • Facilitated and managed a 14,000 sq/ ft. building project
  • Lead the organization in purchasing the land for the first fully-accessible camp in Georgia and facilitating a partnership between the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech for a fully accessible, sustainable and unique concept plan.
  • Receiving the Bulldog 100 award in 2017
  • Chosen for Leadership Georgia in 2017
  • Recognized in 40 under 40 programs by the ABH, ABC, Georgia Trend and UGA Alumni Association
  • Chosen for the Leadership Georgia Program Committee Team
  • Launching the Dream of the ESP Miracle League Complex

Experience:

2003-2006Proctor and Student Staff
Disability Services, UGA
2004-2006Campus Ministry Intern
Alpha Omega Ministries
2004-2005 Leadership Staff
Extra Special People
2005-2012
Camp Director
Extra Special People
2005-CurrentExecutive Director
Extra Special People

Education:

Bachelors of Education,  University of Georgia, 2007

Masters of Education,University of Georgia, 2009