BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Jason Blanchard has been involved with the McMains Children's Developmental Center since before he can remember. Now, he's trying to make an impact for years to come.

Blanchard, who received treatment at McMains for most of his childhood, is chairman of the center's inaugural annual fund campaign, the Capable Kids Campaign. McMains is a nonprofit outpatient pediatric therapy center that provides physical, developmental, academic and communication services to children, regardless of their ability to pay in full. The campaign will help the center continue to offer those services.

Blanchard, 48, who served on the center's board of directors in the 1990s, says he always wants to give back and so stepped into the campaign chairman's role.

"That's my goal because of what they've allowed me to do in my life," he said. "Without them, I wouldn't have everything I have today."

In 1970, Blanchard was 18 months old and living in Pierre Part when his mother noticed he wasn't developing as he should. Her search for answers led to Baton Rouge and Dr. Frank McMains, for whom the center is named. He diagnosed the toddler with cerebral palsy, a brain disorder that affects movement. In Blanchard's case, it attacked his legs.

Blanchard's mother drove him to McMains every day after school for therapy that lasted from one to three hours. Blanchard didn't like the braces that McMains had him wear, and he often would take them off to play with schoolmates.

"A lot of times, it wasn't the happiest times of my life," Blanchard said. "I had to wear braces. I could hardly move. But when I realized that the braces were working and the therapy was working . then I bought into it."

The buy-in happened when Blanchard was 11 and was able to take his first steps. Today, he uses crutches walk when he leaves his house but walks without their support at home.

His development at McMains and some summer trips to the Lions Crippled Children's Camp (now called the Louisiana Lions Camp) in Leesville convinced Blanchard that he could make it outside the protective bubble of his Pierre Part community. When a friend came to Baton Rouge for college, Blanchard moved in as his roommate at Chateau Dijon Apartments and began looking for work.

The lack of effective public transportation made that difficult, so Blanchard started walking to the United Plaza complex near Chateau Dijon and seeking work.

"I went so much they thought I had a job," he said. "Most of the employees there thought I was employed there, but I wasn't."

One day, an executive asked him what he did there, and Blanchard said he was looking for work. Three weeks later, he was offered a temporary job in the United Cos. mail room. He eventually became the company's switchboard operator, a job he repeated when United Cos. closed that office and Blanchard was hired by Wells Fargo, which occupied space in the complex. Blanchard is now records management specialist at Turner Industries, which also is based there.

Blanchard eventually bought a house that was close enough for him to walk to work, which he did until company officials noticed and had employees provide rides. In 1993, United Cos. bought him a golf cart. He is now on his third cart, which he uses for his daily commute.

"I've had a wonderful journey, and it's all possible because I had a good support system, my family — my mother, my brothers, my grandparents," Blanchard said. "They supported me throughout this whole journey 110 percent."

Naturally, he also is thankful for the McMains center.

"It's a family," Blanchard said. "When you go there, they welcome you with open arms. . I like to say there's no place like it in the world. People say they like to go to Disney World. That's Disney World for me."

___

Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com