Wes Brooks came by his job honestly. Although he wouldn’t say for certain that divine intervention was involved, Brooks did have a good reason to become the development coordinator at the DuBard School of Language Disorders on the Southern Miss campus.
He and his wife, Shane, had been walking through DuBard’s doorway years earlier with their son, Campbell, who is now 13.
Brooks, who was born in Jackson and raised in Laurel, has lived in the Hub City for the past 20 years. He graduated from William Carey University, plays in a band called “The 6550s” (a name borrowed from the electron tube used in old amplifiers) and has served in every position for the Hattiesburg Rotary Club. He also received the “Heart of the Club" Award for going "above and beyond" in his service and dedication to the Rotary Club of Hattiesburg.
However, when Brooks decided he wanted to change jobs, the result was almost one in a million.
“I was in business-to-business sales for what was then called CellularSouth, now CSpire,” he said. “I did outside sales for them and did that for about six years. I found myself looking for another career because that one was substantially more stressful than I would like to be. Quotas and things of that nature are difficult; it’s a tough game. So when I was looking, I wanted to be sure that I found something that didn’t have to be as rewarding financially as it had to be for my life away from work.”
Wes and Shane were dealing with Campbell’s health problems. For about two years, Campbell didn’t speak. The Brookses were at a loss.
“It’s a frightening thing,” Brooks said. “Fourteen months becomes 16 becomes 18 and he’s still not saying anything. We should really be able to understand something by now, and nothing. It was almost to the point where he wasn’t making any sound at all.
“Everyone had an idea what was wrong and, of course, they wanted to help. There were dozens of versions of ‘You ought to…’ and ‘You should…’ You want to do the right thing (when you’re dealing with your own child).
“Like most other families when you have a child that goes through that, the first thing that usually goes through is a thousand different opinions of what these people think is going on with your child,” Brooks said. “It was extremely like the world had been lifted off our shoulders when we found what we needed for him right here in Hattiesburg. It didn’t mean having to take long drives or move somewhere.”
Campbell’s time at The Children’s Center with the speech pathologists and professionals was what he needed.
“After a few years, he went into regular school in kindergarten on grade level at the right age,” Brooks said. “Actually, on an educational standpoint, he was actually a grade or two ahead of the other kids in class. He still As and Bs to this day.”
Today, Campbell is an eighth-grader who plays second-chair trombone in the Oak Grove Middle School band.
“So when I was looking for a position and happened upon this one,” Brooks said, “a friend called me and said, ‘Have you got your resume together? Bring it down here right now. The DuBard School is looking for a development coordinator.’ I had never done any professional fundraising or anything like that. He described it as ‘You’re basically doing outside sales, but you’re not selling a commodity. You’re asking somebody to invest back into the organization that you represent.’ It’s about being able to work the living room and have the talk down. You’ve got to like people; you’ve got to want to go out and meet new people.’ I said, ‘Sign me up. It’s the DuBard School?’”
Obvious to Brooks, the job was a godsend.
“I wasn’t going to haggle over what the offer was,” he said. “I felt indebted to be able to come back and do this kind of work for this kind of place because it can help sustain them in their efforts to help the Moms and Dads who went through what my wife and I and our child went through. Show me where to hang my hat when I get here and let’s get it done. It was never a question of buying in and believing what you were doing. That never factored into it.”
Trying to find reasons not to take the job was difficult for the Brookses.
“It wasn’t something that my wife had to sit down and talk about for very long,” he said. “‘Yeah, you’re good at doing this. Yeah, you’re good at doing this. And you’re going to be doing it for them? Sold.’”
Brooks said he is able to help parents who are going through the same anguish that he and his wife suffered through.
“Unfortunately, there are Moms and Dads out there who hang their hats on the first diagnosis that comes,” he said. “It may be somebody who says, ‘Make him comfortable. This is about as good as it’s going to get.’ That’s not really the case for most and every Mom and Dad that I have ever met who is trying to find the right thing for their child. It’s not a question of how much it is going to cost because they would give everything away.”
Working at DuBard is even a bigger plus for Brooks.
“I’m glad to get to work in a place that already has just a sterling reputation and has had for more than 50 years now,” he said. “It’s well-established. I think the Hattiesburg community should be proud of, and I think it’s something that people could brag about and say, ‘Hey, we have this resource right here in Hattiesburg.’”
Brooks said some humorous stories have been involved in some patients’ care.
“The parents of a child who’s with us now moved here from Pittsburgh,” he said. “They often laugh and tell us when they were packing the house and preparing to move, they said they were ‘moving to Hattiesburg, Miss., so our son can learn how to talk.’ ‘You’re going where for him to get speech therapy?’ people would ask.”
DuBard School also determines whether the children who are referred to them could be better helped at another facility.
“There are many options and one thing they are great about here is determining whether this is the right place for that child,” Brooks said. “Not only that, but they are an incredible resource for what your next step should be if this is not where you rest.”
Brooks’ role as development coordinator is described as the school’s dominant fundraiser. And it’s very possibility the work he does for the DuBard School that got him recognized as this year’s ‘Behind the Scenester’ in 2016 Best of the Pine Belt voting.
“I’m the fundraiser and grant writer who goes to speak to the civic organizations,” he said. “As my director, Maureen (K. Martin) likes to say, I’m the ‘designated friend-getter.’ I have come into contact with a lot of exciting and different people. It is part of what makes the job very interesting. I get to meet new people.”
As a public school, DuBard must manage like any other public school in the state, despite its intensive healthcare responsibilities.
“We’re a public school for the children who are enrolled here,” Brooks said. “They don’t pay a dime; it’s like being enrolled at any other school. So it’s not a question of tuition or donations. We seek donations because we’re underfunded and we’re not a line item in the university’s budget. It behooves us to go out and make sure that we have enough dollars just to provide the services that we do.”
For Brooks, raising funds for such a worthwhile organization is rewarding.
“There is a new feel-good moment every day,” he said. “It’s really special. You get a chance to see that light go on in some of them. It’s one of the happiest places I’ve ever been.”
The job is especially rewarding for Brooks after his son’s early learning problems.
“It’s something that you can apply your skillset to and at the same time, you can give back to the people who have basically given your son a life,” he said.