Chronicle of Mt. Juliet

Empower Me Center: ‘Say I Won’t’ create permanent facility

Empower Me Center celebrates site of its newest home

Empower Me participants display their “Say I Won’t” signs at the Empower Me Center’s Party on the Property event on Sept. 17. The event celebrated the organization’s 25 years of service for the special needs community in Middle Tennessee at the 25 acres it plans to build a permanent facility at 1160 S. Hartmann Dr. in Lebanon. XAVIER SMITH.

People got their first look of the future Empower Me Center campus last Sunday as the organization held its inaugural Party on the Property event. 

The event helped kick off the Empower Me Center’s capital campaign for the organization’s future campus on S. Hartmann Drive in Lebanon and celebrated the its 25th year of serving individuals with special needs.

“Today is the beginning of us building this wonderful facility for all of these participants … and thousands more out there that need a place to call home,” Empower Me Center Executive Director Michelle Hill said. “We are so incredibly blessed for you all being here to celebrate this with us.”

The event featured live music, games, food and informational booths and was held on 25 acres of property on South Hartmann Drive. Empower Me Center, an organization dedicated to serving individuals with special needs, purchased the land in hopes of building a campus to serve the special needs community year-round. 

The Lebanon Planning Commission approved the site plan for the campus, estimated to cost about $20 million, earlier this year. Lebanon Mayor Rick Bell said the campus would be a benefit to Lebanon and surrounding areas.

“This has been great for Lebanon ever since it began 25 years ago with Michelle,” Bell said. “It’s a great organization not just for families here in Lebanon, but Wilson County and throughout Middle Tennessee.”

Bell said the organization picked a location that would be beneficial to the group and Lebanon.

“This is something that’s going to be a jewel in our crown,” he said. “We all support this in every way we possibly can.”

Hill said the organization has raised more than half of the $5 million for the first phase of the project.

Hill said the group aims to have the soccer field and bocce courts completed this year to have sporting events on the property in the fall. Construction of a 10,000-square-foot building is slated to start in 2024 and will take about 18-24 months to complete.

The organization will move all of its programming to the site once the building is complete.

Magen Dishmon and her son, Empower Me participant Triston, have been involved with Empower Me for about two years and she said the organization has made a significant difference in their lives.

“Coming here throughout the year and summer camp, he makes a lot of friends. They’re ones that he remembers, and they remember him,” she said. “I’m so excited for what’s happening here.”

Dishmon said the greatest benefit that Empower Me Center offers her is safety.

“It’s my child being able to participate in things with other children neurotypical and otherwise where I don’t have to bend over backwards to secure his safety. He can participate,” she said.

Triston and about 45 other Empower Me Center participants displayed signs during the ceremony with messages of “Say I Won’t” derived from the group Mercy Me and their song, “Say I Won’t,” which encourages people to never give up.

Some signs were highlights of accomplishments or future goals.

Other aspects of the complex to be constructed in future phases include a 38,000-square-foot building with a gymnasium, classrooms and open space and a recreational area that includes an adaptive playground, splash pad, Miracle League baseball field and potential multi-living program and housing. 

The entire development is accessible for wheelchairs.

Empower Me Center, which changed its name from Empower Me Day Camp in 2021, formerly operated its signature summer day camp program at the James E. Ward Ag Center for 17 years but moved to the Harold Dean Greer Center and continues to hold programs in other locations. 

A guest views information about the adaptive playground at the Empower Me Center’s Party on the Property event on Sept. 17. XAVIER SMITH
Magen and Triston Dishmon display a sign and listen during the ceremony at the Empower Me Center’s Party on the Property event on Sept. 17. XAVIER SMITH
A sign at the entrance of the Empower Me Center property highlights the planned campus. XAVIER SMITH
Kason Lester sings a ballad at the Empower Me Center’s Party on the Property event on Sept. 17. XAVIER SMITH
Carleigh Piciacchia transforms into a tiger as her face is painted at the Empower Me Center’s Party on the Property event on Sept. 17. XAVIER SMITH
Michelle Hill speaks about the future campus while Owen George displays his sign at the Empower Me Center’s Party on the Property event on Sept. 17. XAVIER SMITH