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esp, Inc. featured in Georgia Trend Magazine

All Are Welcome: Hooray, ESP’s Summer Camp signature brand, currently runs eight weeks of camp, including both day and overnight camp in Clarke County and Floyd County.

Michael, who has autism spectrum disorder, used to slog through the day by covering his ears, sometimes with headphones, to block out the sensory noise that overwhelmed him.

Nowadays, though, he shucks them and happily leads sing-alongs with hundreds of people. “He’s the life of the party,” says Laura Hope Whitaker, CEO of ESP (formerly Extra Special People, Inc.), a nonprofit that promotes life-enhancing, community-building experiences for people with disabilities.

“We envision a world where every person, of every ability, in every community has universal access to transformative experiences,” she says.

With offices in Atlanta, Athens and Rome, the nonprofit plans to branch out to three new cities, including Savannah, in the next three years. It offers after-school programs where participants can play sports, learn to cook, practice arts and crafts, and groove to music therapy. It also offers summer camp, with both day and overnight options.

ESP started in 1986 as a summer program for 21 participants. It has since grown to serve more than 1,000 participants, with 2,700 volunteers, 75 events a year and help from 60 sponsors.

“At our core, every human being wants a sense of purpose and a feeling of community,” Whitaker says. “We provide opportunities for connection, inclusion and fulfillment.”

ESP also helps its clients make a little money and learn some marketable skills at the same time. In 2013, the nonprofit launched the Bouncin’ Bean coffee service to provide vocational training, and that program since has grown into Java Joy, a mobile coffee cart in multiple locations that employs 50 people who “create a vibe of hugs and high-fives.”

“Our vision is to become the largest employer of adults with developmental disabilities in the United States,” she says.

This article appears in the June 2024 issue of Georgia Trend.


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