Giving Back: The Exceptional Foundation of West Tennessee

Giving Back: The Exceptional Foundation of West Tennessee

The Exceptional Foundation of West Tennessee (EFWT) provides a variety of educational and social opportunities for those with special needs in our Memphis community. Their mission is to promote social recreation and continued education in a safe environment. EFWT provides a variety of programming opportunities for the special needs communities, ranging from full day to after school and summer. Participants have intellectual disabilities, including Down’s syndrome and autism.


EFWT’s programs include social skills classes, cultural field trips, music lessons, health and wellness activities, and arts and crafts, among many other opportunities. Programming is available Mondays through Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Programming is for children and adults, beginning at age 10. There are about 200 individuals who participate in EFWT’s programs, with anywhere from 50 to 60 usually taking part on a daily basis.


Field trips range from bowling to excursions to Gibson’s Donuts. When students aren’t on field trips they enjoy time in the gym and participate in various clubs with focuses on cooking, music, art and yoga. “We try to make it a fun environment,” said Jo Anne Fusco, executive director. “The main thing is they aren’t sitting at home alone with nothing to do. They’re with friends and they’re not bullied. Our staff loves these children and adults.”


Yes, adults. The Exceptional Foundation of West Tennessee hosts participants from school-aged up through middle-aged. Special needs individuals age out of school at age 22 and don’t always have opportunities. That’s the main reason The Exceptional Foundation of West Tennessee was founded. The average age of participants is 25 to 30, but the organization has students as old as 56, and they all enjoy the time they have together with their friends. “We might have a 56-year-old doing art with a 20-year old,” Fusco said. “They all love each other and take care of each other. They’re all friends. They do so many things together that age doesn’t matter.”


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When participants start their day, they have “houses,” but they aren’t required to stay in that space or with that same group. Students are encouraged to freely move to various activity rooms around the secure facility. One activity that is particularly beneficial is a job readiness program, called PRIDE, for a group of 10 or so students who spend part of their week helping out at organizations such as The West Clinic, Plato’s Closet and Southern Reins.


EFWT is based on The Exceptional Foundation of Birmingham. That organization helped the West Tennessee organization start with handbooks, policies and procedures, and other assistance. And while there remains a relationship, EFWT stands alone without financial assistance to or from the Birmingham organization.


Many participants need extra scholarship money to participate; in fact, EFWT subsidizes everyone by 50 percent. So EFWT is dependent on grants and fundraisers, including a chili cook-off, fashion show and a farm-to-table event in the spring. Participants come from across the region, from Frayser and Southaven to Collierville and Mud Island. EFWT welcomes volunteers who can help with various programs as well as using personal skills that can benefit students, such as art projects, flower arrangements and much more. Financial donations go a long way in providing scholarships and program enhancements. For more information on how to volunteer, donate to or participate in EFWT, visit


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