united way of greater chattanooga



From silent to center of attention

Imagine being frustrated, hungry or in pain, and not being able to express that discomfort to the one who can help you. Libby, a special needs child who was adopted from Hong Kong at age three, knew that struggle all too well. 

At the time of her adoption, Libby knew zero words in English and could not walk or stand by herself — she could barely even sit up by herself. At that young age, she was already dealing with congenital CMV, cerebral palsy, restricted vision and bilateral hearing loss. 

Lucky for Libby, she could not have entered into a more supportive environment.

“In the beginning, there was a lot of frustration equally on our part and on Libby’s end. All she could do was scream, cry and lash out physically,” explains Priscilla, “and she just didn’t know how to tell us what was wrong.”

After bouts with an ENT specialist and a Total Hearing Screen, things really turned around for Libby when she was referred to an intensive auditory verbal therapy specialist (AVT). 

“She absolutely blossomed,” says Priscilla.

Thanks to the AVT, her speech language pathologist at Chickamauga Elementary School — where she is enrolled in the Pre-K program — Libby has made major strides in communication. 

“It’s truly incredible to think about where we were and how far we’ve come,” Priscilla says wistfully. “She has just blossomed, and I cannot wait to see where she goes next.”

For her, success is found in those events that are seemingly insignificant to others.

“I think we have a lot more joy in the small stuff — more than a typical parent, maybe,” says Priscilla. “We didn’t just clap when Libby started walking. We cried.”

The Leonard family credits their incredible community support system for Libby’s triumph. Though it won’t be without its hurdles, Libby’s story will be an impactful one.

“I can completely see her graduating college and maintaining a job,” declares Priscilla. “That’s my dream for her, and I’m not giving up on that.”

United Way is proud to fund programs like the one Libby benefitted from. Early childhood education has a big community payoff — and that means all of Greater Chattanooga is affected. For every $1 invested in early education, there’s a potential return of up to $17!