Madonna Learning Center celebrates 50 years

Madonna Learning Center celebrates 50 years helping those with special needs

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Madonna Learning Center in Germantown celebrated a monumental anniversary Friday.

It's now been 50 years since the school opened, and for decades it's been a place for children and young adults with special needs to learn and grow.

The Madonna Learning Center began in 1969 and it all stemmed from one man who was advocating for his son.

"Bob Winfield had a son with a visual-impairment, a hearing-impairment and a language impairment, and he said I needed more for my son,” said Jo Gilbert, Madonna Learning Center executive director.

Winfield found a school in Indiana that could help his son and he asked the director, Sister Mary Mark Graf, to come to Memphis.

“She came down with three of her sisters and that’s when the school began, starting at St. Peters Orphanage,” said Gilbert.

Since then, the Madonna Learning Center moved to Poplar Avenue and has provided for those with both intellectual and developmental disabilities from ages 4 to 30.

"We are a regular educational facility and we also get them ready for employment. We run a regular school day schedule and we serve children with down syndrome, rare genetic disorders, autism, cerebral palsy and dual diagnoses,” said Gilbert.

The learning center celebrated 50 years of miracles they've been making and in the front row was Bob Winfield's son, Keith.

He is one of hundreds that has seen success from attending the school.

"There have been a lot of students that have been here that are driving, they're married. They have fulltime jobs,” said Gilbert.

Caroline has been going to the school for 19 years and has some favorite memories.

"I'm in the career program now that I'm 24 and I would say the Christmas play... I’m not sure how many years we've done it but I fell in love with that,” she said.

With this milestone, those at Madonna Learning Center hope others will recognize what they are accomplishing.

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