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Richmond Hill mother dreams of program for disabled
Nauman Chris  Nick
Chris Nauman pushes his 15-year-old son, Nick, during the Pacing for Polio 5K at J.F. Gregory Park in Richmond Hill last month. Nick has cerebral palsy. - photo by Julia Harison

Want to help?

Maria Nauman wants to start a Montessori-style day center for people with profound to severe special needs in Richmond Hill.

If you are interested in helping, email her at

Nick Nauman and his father, Chris, have participated in many races together.

Last month, they joined runners at J.F. Gregory Park in Richmond Hill for the Pacing for Polio 5K race.

Chris Nauman pushed Nick, 15, in a Wike, a specially stroller for people with special needs. They are a father-son team who regularly participate in races.

Chris Nauman, 48, relishes these races for the quality time they allow him to spend with his son. Nick has cerebral palsy, a disease that affects every aspect of the teenager’s life.

And Nick’s mother, Maria, hopes the community will step forward and help her make a dream of hers come true: a Montessori-style program to serve people with special needs.

The Naumans made Pacing for Polio a family affair. Chris and Maria Nauman were there with Nick and their other children: Grace, 12, John Paul, 10, Anna, 8, Ben, 6, and Luke, 6.

But Nick and his father left the rest of the family in the dust not long after the horn start the race. Father and son pushed across the finish line in 24 minutes, 36 seconds as they were cheered on by other runners and supporters.

‘A blessing to our family’

Maria and Chris had been trying to have a child for nine years without much luck. So they decided to adopt.

“Being told we couldn’t have children, my husband and I adopted Nick from a Ukrainian orphanage in 2000,” said Maria Nauman, 46.

Nick was 9 months old, weighed only 9 pounds, and was subsisting on pureed borscht, which is Ukrainian beet soup.

Born premature at just 29 weeks, he had endured hospitalizations for pneumonia and major abdominal surgery.

“They told us he was blind, had a hole in his heart, a cleft palate, right side paralysis, developmental deficiencies and ‘germs in the blood,’” Nauman said.

Such a long list of health problems could have deterred some from welcoming a child in to their family.

But the Naumans were so grateful that their prayers had been answered, they welcomed him with open arms.

“Nick has been more of a blessing to our family than we will ever be to him,” Maria Nauman said. “And after bringing him home, the Lord sent us five more children in the usual way. … Isn’t God funny?”

Every day is a challenge for Nick. His primary diagnosis is severe spastic quadriplegia.

And in addition to his primary diagnosis, the teenager is slightly visually impaired and weathered cleft-palate surgery.

“He is confined to a wheelchair, cannot fully express himself, and requires total assistance with his personal life skills, including dressing, feeding and diapering,” Nauman said. “He requires constant physical, occupational and speech therapy, and a lifelong enrollment in schools in Maryland dedicated to children with special needs.”

But she quickly adds, “Nick touches and inspires people not in spite of who he is, but because of who he is.”

One might think that Nick’s life is boring, but that’s not true. He is currently a sophomore at Richmond Hill High School, where he and his classmates receive adaptive instruction and physical therapy once a week.

He volunteers at McDonald’s on Highway 17 as a “special employees volunteer” with his classmates, and is active in the South Bryan County Recreation Department’s Special Needs Activities Program, or S.N.A.P.

Maria Nauman’s dream

Even though Richmond Hill offers these programs for people with special needs, Maria Nauman has a bigger dream.

“That’s just the tip of a potentially groundbreaking iceberg,” she said. “Individuals with severe to profound special needs — and the professionals who serve them — can have an enormous positive impact on Bryan County and Richmond Hill.”

Nauman wants to see a center in Richmond Hill that caters to people with disabilities.

“A Montessori-style day center, specifically dedicated to helping these individuals realize their full capabilities in creative and practical ways, would be an outstanding beacon in the Coastal Empire!” she said. “It would make Bryan County famous not only for its schools, but also for Richmond Hill’s premier developmental center, on the cutting edge of adaptive technology, education, therapy and advocacy for those with special needs, helping them become as independent as possible.”

Nauman acknowledges that she and her family do not know “everything there is to know about creating such a facility of hope and achievement for those with special needs and their community.”

“But a diverse team of individuals who share this vision — business leaders, special educators, strategic planners, therapists, those with profound challenges who wish to succeed — can make it happen,” she said.

Nauman said she hopes people will step forward who share her vision and passion.

She can be reached at

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