With his family as guides, at just 5, Henry Ready has overcome challenges most people never dream of.
The Jefferson City boy was born with lissencephaly — a condition that translates to "smooth brain." The rare gene-linked brain condition means he doesn't have the normal "folds" in his brain. In addition to other struggles, that causes signals from parts of his brain to his limbs to be very slow, his father, Luke Ready, said.
Luke Ready told more than 300 people gathered for the Special Learning Center Foundation Moments of Magic event, held Friday night at DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, about other difficulties Henry has with simple tasks people with healthy brains take for granted.
He has trouble closing his mouth to swallow, touching fingers together or sipping from a straw.
When he was born, doctors didn't expect him to live past 2 years old.
But, there he was Friday night, smiling for friends and family.
Organizers of the fundraiser, being held in its 11th year, hoped it would bring in $40,000 during Friday's celebration, said Debbie Hamler, executive director of the Special Learning Center. Over its first 10 years, it had raised $400,000. And with a standing-room-only crowd, optimism was high.
The evening featured a reception, wine-tasting and performances.
It's theme was superheroes, Hamler said.
About five years ago, it went from a show featuring professional musicians to showcasing performances by the students from the center. The center is a nonprofit United Way agency that provides early intervention services for children with developmental delays and disabilities. It can provide a chance for small children to catch up with their peers; it also prepares children to move on to public schools.
Sixteen-year-old Grace Theroff tries to participate in the gala every year. The teen is dual-enrolled in Helias Catholic and Jefferson City high schools.
Before performing onstage Friday night as part of a dance troupe, she took a moment to say she enjoys a number of sports in which she participates during Special Olympics.
And, now that she's 16, she's ready to try to get a driving permit.
Gary and Millie Schell, sponsors of the event, mingled with familiar friends during the reception.
"Once you see these little kids, you realize how blessed you are to have a place like the Special Learning Center," Millie Schell said.
The center provides comprehensive classroom and therapy services for children with special needs from 22 Mid-Missouri school districts. It served more than 700 children with disabilities in 2018.
Grace attended the center until she was 6, according to her mother, Susie Theroff. Another daughter mentored at the center.
"We stay connected because, when she was born, we didn't know what we were going to do," Susie Theroff said. "We're paying back all the things they did for us."
Gary Schell said he holds Hamler and her staff in high regard.
"I think the people like Debbie Hamler and her crew are like saints walking around on Earth with us," he said. "They make this place better."