By Thomas Sellers Jr.
The construction of Kem’s House Inc. began with Helen Edwards graduating from Carver High School in Brownsville and then earning a degree from Lane College.
She had a daughter and gave her the unique spelling of the name Kim as “Kem.” Back in 2002, Kem bounced an idea off her mother about giving area children with disabilities an alternative for them to grow and be educated.
“It started out with us working with children who were disadvantaged,” Helen recalled. “We started out doing camps and field trips. We just said, ‘Hey, this is Kem’s House.’ That was one of the reasons we decided on that name because we invite you to come.”
Kem and Helen hosted their first camp in 2003 and a year later officially became a nonprofit organization.
“It counts as an invitation because only children who have a disability could come,” Kem noted. “Kids who don’t have a disability have plenty of places to go in Shelby County. But kids with disabilities, especially visible disabilities, they don’t have avenues and places to go or things to do, period.”
Now Kem’s House is at 2851 Stage Village Cove Suite 3 in Bartlett. Kem’s House Inc.’s Educational Programs impact the community by preparing students to think critically and solve problems. The Edwards’ goal is getting their students to have the ability to think critically and solve problems.
“The impact statement is what we say, ‘We want kids to be productive citizens in this community,’” Kem said. “‘We want kids to feel like they have something to contribute.’ Just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you can’t contribute to your community and be a productive citizen. Doesn’t mean you can’t feel worthwhile and valued. That’s why we do it.”
In almost 15 years of business, the Edwards have taken students across Shelby County and West Tennessee. Kem said interacting with the world gives her students a solid foundation to build from.
Just like her mother, she spent years in the education field. Kem graduated from Hillcrest back in 1984. After earning her undergraduate degree from LeMoyne-Owen College, Kem obtained her master’s from The University of Memphis.
Helen joined forces with her daughter after teaching at the Shelby County Department of Corrections.
“Working with people with disabilities was also in my heart too,” Helen said. “She and I got to talking. ‘We don’t have any money, but we’re going to do this anyway.’ We wanted to help those kids who are disadvantaged.”
The primary service of Kem’s House is direct education of the children.
“Even with the tutoring we do, parents pay,” Kem said. “But I don’t pay myself. Every dime pretty much pays for supplies we have and reading programs we buy. It’s very low price. We only charge $45. We’re about kids learning and getting it. That’s what we do.”
Half of Kem’s children are disabled and the rest are severely struggling in a subject.
“We don’t do homework,” Kem noted. “That’s not our goal. We want to close academic gaps. We want to strengthen them in the areas they have deficits. That’s how we choose children. We put that criteria in place.”
Since the first camp held back in the summer of 2004 at St. Augustine Catholic Church, Kem’s House has been closing the gap for many children for 15 years.
Now Bartlett is the home for Kem and Helen’s welcome mat to serve those children with a need.
“They will get intensive, direct instruction,” Kem said. “They’ll get a plan of action of showing them what their deficit areas are and where their strengths are. We work that plan. We work also with parents and teachers. We teach the kids, ‘Here is where your problem is. And this is how you learn. This is your learning style. This is how you get it.’
“It’s about them learning, ‘There’s nothing wrong with me. I just learn differently,’” she concluded. “Ms. Kem is going to teach me how I learn best. How I get it.”
Kem’s House is open Monday through Friday from 4 to 7:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
For more information, call on Kem’s House, call 409-1785.