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WINFIELD, W.Va. — Jill Scarbro never thought of herself as a business person, but that hasn’t stopped the founder and CEO of Bright Futures Learning Services in Winfield from being recognized by both state and national small-business organizations.

Scarbro, 45, who lives in Winfield, West Virginia, near her facility, was recently named the 2022 State and Territory Small Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration, which is observing National Small Business Week the first week of May. She is now being considered for the organization’s Small Business Person of the Year for the entire country.

In 2019, Scarbro received the West Virginia Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year Award.

“I am humbled by the recognitions, but I prefer to use this platform to bring awareness to the lack of behavioral treatment programs for children with autism,” she said.

Scarbro says as a child she was diagnosed with a learning disability.

“I had dyslexia and ADD (attention deficit disorder) and my dad was in the military, a policeman and a conservation officer, so we moved all over southern West Virginia in my childhood,” Scarbro said.

Scarbro said she had a first-grade teacher in Wyoming County who recognized she wasn’t learning to read.

“This was at a time when learning disabilities were a new concept,” she said. “She recognized I needed something different to learn.”

The problem was that in 1980, there were no resources for a child like her.

“There still really aren’t today either,” she said.

Scarbro said during that summer after the first grade, her parents got a specialist in Huntington to work with her while she stayed with her grandparents.

“She was a reading specialist and taught me how to learn,” she said. “It was very effective for me and changed the trajectory of my life. I think I knew from the second grade that I eventually wanted to be a specialist that worked with kids with learning differences.”

Scarbro said after high school, she attended Marshall University to study special education.

“I majored in elementary education, mental impairments and physical handicaps, kindergarten through the 12th grade,” she said.

While at Marshall in 1997, Scarbro saw a flyer from a mom recruiting for her son for an in-home program to do applied behavior analysis (ABA).

“I wanted some experience before I graduated from college, so I took the job,” she said.

Scarbro said historically, if you had a child with autism in the 1980s, you were typically told there was not much you could do.

“Mothers were blamed,” she recalled. “They were called ‘refrigerator mothers.’ They were told they weren’t loving enough to their children or they would have to institutionalize their children.”

Scarbro says in 1988 a study showed taking children with intensive learning disabilities and giving them intensive one-on-one behavioral therapy had a 90% effectiveness rate.

“Half the kids made so much progress they were able to transition into kindergarten and be with their friends and have a pretty typical experience from then on, and another 40% were still identifiable on the autism spectrum but they also made massive gains,” she said. “Their lives were greatly improved. That started a tidal wave of families looking for access for these types of resources and therapy.”

Scarbro said Bright Futures started in her grandmother’s kitchen in 2007 and continued to grow until she was able to open her facility in Winfield in 2011. She said Bright Futures specializes in applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy.

“We provide children with autism one-on-one care with trained behavioral health experts,” Scarbro said.

Bright Futures has grown and now employs 26 people, compared to the four it started with in 2011. The multistory home-turned-medical center features several offices and activity rooms, with different tools and toys for children across the autism spectrum. Sitting on three acres of land, there also is room for expansion.

However, even with Bright Futures’ success, there are only a handful of facilities throughout the state that offer similar services and resources, leaving the facility with a “miles-long” waiting list for parents looking to enroll their children.

“It’s heartbreaking not to be able to help every child and their family because the state doesn’t have enough specialists in the field of applied behavioral analysis and enough facilities. I don’t think people realize this is also a cause for a loss of population in our state,” Scarbro said. “When families can’t find help for their child, they are going to leave and go to a state that can help them. I know we have lost doctors and their families because of this very reason.”

Scarbro says the only thing that is going to change the dearth of resources for those in the state with autism is if lawmakers invest money to train and retain specialists.

“We can’t compete with other surrounding places when it comes to training and pay, and we need to, because the children here that need help are being failed when the people that could help them leave,” she said. “Also, a lot of people don’t know about this as a career field, so when people are growing up, figuring out what they want to be, this isn’t an option. We then have to recruit people who have never heard of this and have no clue what it is, so we have to educate them.”

Scarbro said she or her staff answers at least one phone call a day from a parent looking for guidance after their child is diagnosed with autism.

“It’s heartbreaking to tell them we have a waiting list and knowing there are so many out there desperate for help, but not enough places for them to receive it,” she said. “I opened Bright Futures because these services need to be for the kids like me in West Virginia. It’s home and I love it here, but there’s a lot of need. We’ve made the progress we have because West Virginia decided to invest in children with autism, and it paid off. We need to be sure we keep investing.”

For more information about Bright Futures, email jill@brightfuturesaba.com or call 681-235-3114.

Fred Pace is the business reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. Follow him at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD.

Fred has been in the newspaper industry for 30+ years. He continues to be excited to bring readers news that only comes thru local journalism. “Being able to share the passion felt by entrepreneurs in our community with readers is exciting,” he said.

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