By David Tisdale
Brooke Jorns Davis of Hattiesburg will walk the walk at graduation today at the University of Southern Mississippi, only because the university’s Children’s Center for Communication and Development enabled her to talk the talk.
As a child, Davis had an articulation disorder that prevented her from engaging in normal speech.
“I pretty much couldn’t speak at all,” she said.
Today she receives her diploma at Reed Green Coliseum, within shouting distance of the CCCD facility where she got the help she needed to overcome the disability 20 years ago.
Ironically, she began working part time as a teacher’s aide at the Children’s Center this spring to gain experience in her chosen field of speech pathology and in the course of her work learned that she was assisting her former teacher, Diana Sawyer.
“I needed some experience as far as going into my field, to get my feet wet,” Davis said. “I didn’t realize Miss Diana (Sawyer) was my former teacher. Margaret (Buttross-Brinegar, co-director of the Children’s Center) told me, and I was just kind of shocked.”
Davis’ memories of her time at the Children’s Center are fuzzy two decades later, but after working with Sawyer she has gained a glimpse of the interaction the two likely had.
“She is so loving and reaches out to them (children). I see first hand the effort she puts into her work, and I’m sure she put that same amount of effort into helping me.
“If it hadn’t been for Diana and the Children’s Center’s staff pushing me to achieve my potential, I would not be graduating. It just makes me admire her and the work being done here even more.”
The Children’s Center’s mission is to provide an interdisciplinary team approach to the assessment and treatment of communicatively and developmentally delayed children ages birth to 5. Services are either home-based or center-based, depending on a child’s needs.
“They have a range of problems and disabilities, from Rhett’s syndrome and traumatic brain injury, and then there’s a variety of different language and articulation disorders,” Davis said of the children she works with. She plans to start graduate school at Southern Miss this summer to earn her master’s degree in speech pathology.
Sawyer said she had seen Davis on campus, but did not recognize her after so many years.
“Margaret (Buttross-Brinegar) mentioned that one of our former students was now enrolled at USM majoring in speech pathology, and when she said her name I said, ‘That’s one of my babies.’ I remember her as being very sweet and very cooperative.”
The two soon got in touch, and through Davis’ assistantship she came to work with Sawyer and other teachers at the Children’s Center in their classrooms.
Sawyer said her job always has been rewarding, but to have one of her former students come back to graduate from college and follow in her footsteps is “extra special for me and everyone here at the Children’s Center.”
Buttross-Brinegar said Davis displays a strong motivation both in her work in the classroom and as a teacher’s assistant because “I believe she has an extra determination to give back to the community because of what it did for her through the Children’s Center.”
For Davis, her career choice just comes naturally.
“There’s a part of me, having been here, that I can identify with these children on some level.”