Dr. Allen with buttonsAs Dr. Gwendolyn Allen reaches into a nearby file cabinet in the Exceptional Education offices, a slight smile slides across her face. She then pulls out a black cloak with 20 colorful, decorative buttons attached. This year, she will add another button in support of a worthy cause.

Each year, in preparation for Exceptional Children’s Week, students with special needs across the DeKalb County School District (DCSD) participate in a contest to design artwork to grace decorative buttons. The winning design is then included on buttons sold across the community as a fundraiser to support scholarships to summer camps for students with an exceptionality.

This year, more than 5,000 buttons are expected to be sold; the cost is $1 a piece. Allen, a DCSD special education liaison and a member of the Council for Exceptional Children’s Dogwood Chapter, says the contest is an opportunity for students with special needs to showcase their artistic talents to a broad audience.

“The benefits are an opportunity to be creative, and also an opportunity to compete in a contest,” Allen, also known as “the Button Lady,” said. “They have the opportunity to enter something, to feel they are included in something just for them.”

The Dogwood Chapter began sponsoring the contest in 1995. Each year, the contest artwork is based on a theme decided by the Georgia’s Council of Exceptional Children for Exceptional Children’s Week. Over previous 20 years, the Dogwood Chapter contest grew, Allen said, as the buttons became popular.

Dr. Allen showing buttonIt’s not unusual to sell out of buttons prior to Exceptional Children’s Week, she said. Demand is high, with some hurt feelings for those who choose to buy at the last moment.

“Sometimes we have whole schools buy them, or special education departments,” Allen said. “There are students who also buy them. Just anyone and everyone.”

As a result of the contest, approximately 20 to 25 students with exceptionalities earn scholarships to the summer camp of their choice. Meanwhile, the contest winner earns a $100 check from the Dogwood Chapter.

“The contest has always been successful. Each year when we are selling buttons, everyone is interested in the design,” Allen said. “There’s lots of excitement from adults. They ask what does it look like. It makes our teachers and staff proud. It shows our students are being successful.”

This year, Exception Children’s Week will be celebrated during March 6-10, 2017.