Throughout 2020, Regions is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This story is part of our ongoing coverage of community partnerships that are providing a more inclusive and welcoming environment for all.
If Lisa Harless had a theme song, it could be titled, “A Joy for Living and the Power of Giving.”
Her sunny enthusiasm and generous spirit help Harless make new friends wherever she goes. Which makes her volunteerism with High Hopes Development Center a natural fit.
“Friend – that word is probably said hundreds of times each day in this building,” said Gail Powell, executive director at High Hopes in Franklin, Tennessee, just south of Nashville.
“This isn’t just a school,” added Dawn Blache, associate director of development. “We’re in the business of changing lives.”
Founded by five families seeking one place to receive therapy treatments for their children with special needs, High Hopes has grown substantially from its humble beginnings in a church basement followed by warehouse space.
“What was happening inside the walls made the walls themselves less important,” Powell said regarding the warehouse.
In 2014, High Hopes opened its own, permanent location. The warm, colorful space features a preschool and kindergarten, along with a state-of-the-art clinic providing physical, occupational and speech therapy, special feeding services, and more.
This isn’t just a school. We’re in the business of changing lives.
Dawn Blache, associate director of development at High Hopes
Harless, a Regions Private Wealth Management professional serving clients along Nashville’s Music Row, was introduced to High Hopes 10 years ago by Tim Nichols, a Grammy-winning songwriter and musician. Nichols has been supporting High Hopes for 25 years, playing at the nonprofit’s largest annual fundraiser, Hats Off to High Hopes. “They asked me to play and I said ‘Sure,’” said Nichols. “I’ve been saying ‘Sure’ every year since.”
In 2013, Nichols took his support of High Hopes to an entirely new level, inviting friends to a holiday celebration where a family served by High Hopes shared their story. Nichols then announced he wanted to help raise a million dollars to benefit the organization.
Hesitant to ask friends for money, Nichols instead wrote a “Dear Santa”-style letter to his musical contacts encouraging them to share their talents at a holiday benefit raising funds for High Hopes.
“In the letter, I wrote, ‘There’s only one thing I want for Christmas this year,’” said Nichols. “I have just one wish.”
Nichols’ friends answered the call, lending their support by performing at the event. Some even held additional shows where they donated their performance fee.
“Tim’s commitment to being ‘all in’ as he says really created a ripple effect,” said Powell.
Harless recalls the night Nichols shared that wish.
“Tim told me, ‘I want you to see what they’re doing at High Hopes,’” said Harless. During her visit, she discovered the therapeutic listening program which uses the organized sound patterns of music to impact the nervous system.
Nichols had found the bridge for Harless – herself a lifelong music fan and singer – to plug in with High Hopes. “Lisa has such a heart for people,” said Nichols, who currently serves as High Hopes’ board president. “I knew she would love it as much as I do – and she has.”
Harless has since brought others into the High Hopes family, including her husband, Winston, and even more of Nashville’s top recording artists.
“So many of our music clients want to give,” said Harless. “They like finding outlets to use their talents. Watching what happens at High Hopes inspires performers. They react with such emotion and empathy”
Like Harless and Nichols, Regions Bank supports High Hopes, too. Local bank leaders recently contributed $7,500 to help the clinic conduct therapy visits amid the pandemic. During a typical week, High Hopes conducts approximately 600 such visits.
“We quickly adapted by doing telehealth visits,” said Powell. “We are the lifeline for our children and parents right now.”
Ben Zeidman knows how true that is. The Regions Private Wealth Management advisor and his wife, Rachel, discovered High Hopes when their son, Baylor, was just nine months old. Born with a rare brain disorder, Baylor has faced significant challenges in the past nine years. But High Hopes has helped through physical, occupational and speech therapy. Baylor also attended High Hopes’ preschool and kindergarten.
“They’ve given us peace,” said Zeidman about the support High Hopes has offered their family. “Baylor has had the same therapist from day one, and that’s provided consistency. High Hopes has also provided him with normalcy to know there are other children like him. Just to know your child is safe, loved and cared for has been a huge relief for us.”
Zeidman also notes how High Hopes has helped Baylor overcome setbacks. This was especially true after he underwent surgery in 2018. Doctors prepared Ben and Rachel for the worst. There were weeks consumed by fear that Baylor would not survive.
“When you’re told that your child may die, you hit the lowest point you’ll ever hit in your life,” reflected Zeidman. “After that, there’s no day that goes by where you’re not grateful. Every day is a reminder of how much we love him.”
Zeidman’s younger son, Ramsey, age 5, currently attends High Hopes preschool, which is open to all qualified students, not just those with special needs. Zeidman is grateful for the inclusivity the school fosters.
“Ramsey grew up in that environment and learned to love every child,” said Zeidman. “It’s been valuable for him to see more people like his brother.”
Zeidman attends High Hopes fundraisers to support their programs and services. And he’s grateful to Harless and Regions for their help.
“Lisa has been a superstar for them,” said Zeidman. “And it’s extremely important that Regions supports families through these beneficial services. People say, ‘Wow, that bank really cares about people.’”
Powell notes that support is especially needed right now with High Hopes able to hold just two of its four annual fundraisers due to COVID-19. There’s also a surge of unexpected expenses to keep children safe during in-person therapy.
“The need for donations to serve our friends Baylor, Ramsey and hundreds more children is greater than it’s ever been,” said Powell. “I will do anything to keep this mission going because it’s critical. This is the most important work I’ve ever had the privilege to do.”
Harless and Nichols will be there, too.
“High Hopes gives children the foundation for their future,” said Harless.
“Each family has a story, and the power of those stories really resonates,” added Nichols. “We’re writing this next chapter together at High Hopes. We’ll be stronger when we get through this.”
Words that could inspire the beginning of a beautiful song.