A Seed of Belief Grows into ESP Dream Home


This new building is a continuation of the ESP mission to empower and encourage individuals of all abilities that ESP’s founder, Martha Willey, began 30 years ago with the first camp. In a note to the crowd, Martha’s daughter, Jennifer Gilliam, expressed her gratitude.

Martha’s Road to Extra Special People
A Letter from Martha’s Daughter

Martha’s love for children with physical handicaps began while she was in the hospital recovering from rheumatic fever at the age of 12. Her physician asked her to teach a boy with polio how to swim. Martha was “hooked” and decided to become a teacher to share her many talents (music, art, athleticism) with children of all ages and abilities.
Once she moved to Athens, GA with her family, she became involved in different service and civic organizations while serving as a Special Olympics coach for over 12 years.
In 1986, once recognizing a need for children with special needs to participate in activities that their typically developing peers enjoyed, she founded Extra Special People, ESP. Martha began functioning as its volunteer director planning year-round leisure and educational activities, like bowling, an art program, swimming, skating, and field trips. ESP summer camp, a gypsy program hosted by cooperative community groups from public and private sectors, was seven weeks long along with a one-week residential stay at 4-H camp.
Upon hearing the news of receiving a 25 year lease agreement from the Watkinsville City Council to build their own facility, Martha said “ESP is home”. After working hard to raise money for the building, in 1993 ESP settled into their home – a 2,800 square-foot building on six-tenths of an acre overlooking Harris Shoals Park. Martha’s goal, to provide educational continuity all year round to even more children and their families was now coming to fruition with this new building ESP.
Now 30 years later, the Wyllie family is thrilled that ESP continues to thrive for the campers and families. Thank you Laura Whitaker, your marvelous staff, and the never-tiring community for making everyone’s dream come true – ESP Activity Building.
The dedication and love of ESP by “Maff” for her 18 years was unending. I remember her favorite motto to be “It’s all about the kids.” If Martha were here, she would smile at this new and improved ESP home and start the cheer “Hip Hip Hooray! Hip Hip Hooray! Hip Hip Hooray!”

– Jennifer Gilliam

Almost a year to the day after our groundbreaking, ESP opened the doors to our new 14,000 square foot building. Almost 700 people joined us to celebrate this exciting move and more importantly the over 300 families who will be served in our new building. We kicked the weekend off with a pre-party hosted by Southern Brewing Company on Friday night. Then Saturday, we had the big Grand Opening. There was a ribbon cutting, cake, tours of the building, and most importantly, a dance party to cap it off. A special thank you to Zaxby’s for the refreshments, the Oconee and Athens Chambers of Commerce for overseeing the ribbon cutting, each person who joined us for the opening, and our Dream Builders who have made this building possible.

That faith and support of this community has now paid off with the completion of a building that is truly a suitable home for us. We started putting our new home to good use on Monday when we welcomed over 90 participants into the first week of day camp. The looks of excitement and joy upon entering were clear on our participants faces.

This building wasn’t made for me, it wasn’t built for the staff, it wasn’t made for the donors. This building was created for YOU: our families.Laura Whitaker

If you would like to learn more about our new building, please take a look at our 30 & Thriving page here.

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