EmployAbility’s History

From our humble beginnings as a series of small programs for Savannah-area children with special needs, to our work empowering adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) today, EmployAbility has made a steadfast commitment to quality care and innovative programs for people with disabilities in our community for more than 60 years.

We are proud that over the decades EmployAbility has grown from a small, grassroots organization to a mid-size non-profit, providing services to people living and working in Chatham, Bryan, and Effingham Counties, but has never lost sight of the reason we exist: to empower those with disabilities to live full, meaningful lives.


During the 1950s, the Savannah-area school district did not have special education programming or accept children with disabilities into their classrooms, leaving parents to either send their children to Georgia state hospitals, or keep them at home without much-needed resources. In response to these limited options, a grassroots movement led by Lillie Mae Kicklighter and five other parents, resulted in the creation of a day program for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities that would later be known as EmployAbility.

1951 – The Kicklighter School founded as a private, one-room school in Forsyth Park, serving children with disabilities with education, socialization, and enrichment opportunities.

1957 – The organization is officially incorporated.


The 1970s were a time of dramatic expansion for EmployAbility, as the organization began serving adults, in addition to children, became an independent non-profit with its own Board of Directors, and went through the process of changing its name to reflect the addition of serving adults.

1972 – The organization known as Kicklighter School was renamed The Chatham Association for Retarded Citizens and began serving adults as well as children in its facilities on Eisenhower Drive.

1979   The Chatham Association Center begins to focus solely on serving adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).


The 1980s helped further refine the mission and the focus of EmployAbility, as the organization developed the first work activity program in Chatham County for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), developed its expertise in supported employment, and built business relationships with area employers.

1980 – The Chatham Association Center develops a work activity program, known as the sheltered workshop model, which provided piece rate work for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Innovative in its time, it served as a model for other organizations in Chatham County.

1985 –  The Chatham Association Center begins its supported employment program seeking employment opportunities for program participants interested in working in the community. This era marks the start of a focus on building business relationships which have become one of the organization’s greatest strengths.


The 1990s marked a period of growth and development for EmployAbility, as services expanded across multiple counties in Coastal Georgia.

1990 – The State of Georgia awards our organization its first contract to provide specialized and supported employment services to adults with developmental disabilities.

1994   The Chatham Association Center changes its name to Coastal Center for Developmental Services, Inc.


The 2000s were a period of relative stability as the organization flourished from the changes it made in the last decade. In this time, EmployAbility developed a model of social enterprise that provided both experiential learning opportunities and additional revenue. The organization also saw continued growth of supported employment.

2005 –  Chatham Industries becomes a subsidiary of Coastal Center for Developmental Services and implements a social enterprise training model to offer both experiential learning and revenue for program growth.

2008 –  The organization, in partnership with the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System, St. Joseph’s / Candler Health System, and Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency (GVRA) launched Project SEARCH, an innovative school-to-work program offered to high school students with developmental disabilities.

2010 – Present

Since 2010, EmployAbility has continued to expand, creating new programs to prepare individuals with developmental disabilities for employment and community integration.

2010 – The introduction of the MePower Campaign and dedicated the MePower Garden.

2015  The organization launched a Community Employment Transition Program, a 10-week community-based training in preparation for employment.

2018 – The organization is renamed EmployAbility to create positive dialogue about people with IDD – focusing on abilities, rather than disabilities.

2019 – The Community Employment Transition Program was replaced by the Job Seekers Program, focused on workplace readiness as participants transition from Pre-Vocational Training to Supported Employment.

2020 – The Academy is created.  The social enterprises are closed as EmployAbility returns to its core mission of pre-vocational training.