Editorial | Nonprofit for region’s mentally disabled children needs help

04/08/2014 5:57 PM

04/08/2014 5:58 PM

When 10 students from Loris High School participated in an outing last fall at the Garden City Pier, it was the first fishing experience for many -- and their first view of the Atlantic Ocean.

The fishing experience was one provided by Toomey’s Kids, a nonprofit dedicated to providing non-academic services to mentally disabled students in Georgetown and Horry counties. Toomey’s Kids founder Ted Prehodka of Murrells Inlet says contributions go to teachers of special needs children in 37 classes and 26 schools.

The teachers may use the funds for whatever they choose to help their students, who are trainable mentally disabled (TMD) or profoundly mentally disabled (PMD). “The donation from Toomey’s Kids has allowed us to participate in several activities that we would not have been able to without financial assistance,’’ Loris High TMD special education teacher Marie Hemphill writes. Fishing at Garden City Pier was quite popular. “Out of my 10 students, only 2 had ever seen the ocean! ... The volunteers were so welcoming and the lunch at Ryans was a wonderful opportunity to practice our table manners.’’

Hemphill uses the $1,000 from Toomey’s Kids for the activity bus “to take us to planned activities such as Ripley’s Aquarium at Christmas and bowling in Surfside just a few weeks ago. It also helps fund our trips to work at Goodwill in Little River every Thursday.’’

At Carolina Forest High, teacher Barbara Teets says she “wouldn’t be able to provide these [on-the-job training] learning experiences to the needed extent without the support of Toomey’s Kids.’’ Waccamaw High teacher Mary Tester writes that her students “learn best from real life experiences. That is why you will see us out in the community two to three times a week cleaning churches, shopping and dining in local restaurants.’’

“We’re feeding their minds -- so they can live their lives. They have to know how to live... how to make change ... use the washing machine ... shop for groceries,’’ says Prehodka, who was The Sun News Volunteer of the Year for 2006.

Last month, the Georgetown Middle School class of Lauren H. Bruce received a SMART board, the fourth such placed by Toomey’s Kids. Television weather folks use the technology, touching the screen to show a new map, for example. “The ability to literally be hands-on and interactive ... has given my class a renewed excitement,’’ Bruce writes. Previously, the boards were placed in Forestbrook middle and Georgetown and Socastee high schools.

Toomey’s Kids is named in honor of the late Jim Toomey. It started with a group of South Strand golfers and was an Elks project when Prehodka and his wife Pat moved here from New Jersey 11 years ago. He had a 23-year U.S. Navy career as an enlisted man, warrant officer and commissioned officer and then owned and operated an executive recruiting firm with 20 employees.

He had a unique Navy career, first serving on the aircraft carrier Franklin D. Roosevelt. He rose to chief petty officer in the enlisted ranks, then was a warrant officer briefly before becoming a commissioned officer in the Supply Corps. He served in the post World War II occupation forces in Europe and later built guided missile ships for U.S. allies.

Prehodka is proud that Toomey’s Kids is a United Way agency in both counties, receiving a $5,000 allocation from the United Way of Horry County and $3,000 from Georgetown County United Way.

He’s looking for fundraising volunteers, to enable the nonprofit to add four or five more schools. “The more money we get, the more schools we can add.’’

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