Emily Powell began volunteering at what is now Edgewood Community Developmental School in 1968 and says it changed her life.

At the time, it was housed in First Presbyterian Church, serving about 20 special needs students, ranging in age from one year to 10 years old.

"I learned early on when I first came that instead of being hopeless, for these children it was not hopeless at all," she said. "They had so much to give. These children never held a grudge. They were just full of love.

"No matter what their level of ability is, the love is foremost."

She volunteered every day, Monday through Friday, something she estimated she did for 15 or 20 years.

After her first year, she was co-director with Marcia Bennett, who recently passed away.

Powell was a volunteer the entire time, never paid a penny, she said.

But it was time well spent.

"Marcia and I were instrumental in getting it to be part of the school system," she said. "And I was chair of the advisory board when it became part of the school system."

Powell was among those who turned up at the school Friday morning, celebrating Edgewood's 50th anniversary.

The event drew a crowd of past and present staff, teachers and family members.

Barbara Wagner spent 22 years at the school. She started as a preschool teacher and became a primary teacher as well as assistant principal, serving twice as interim principal.

"It's a great gift to this community," she said of the school. "Any parent who has a child who's normally developing can say, for the grace of God, I will support this because tomorrow I may need (it).

"There's not many schools like this around the state. Goldsboro is very blessed to have it."

It is like a family, said Martie Saylors, who spent 28 years working as a physical therapist at the school.

"The staff just always went way above and beyond out of sheer love of students," she said. "This place still has such a strong pull and bond. I believe in this program."

Lori Thomas has been a physical education teacher at Edgewood for the past 14 years.

"The reason I'm here is the love of the students," she said. "Instead of me inspiring them, they inspire me every day."

She started out working with children ages 3 to 22, but now primarily works with those in kindergarten through ninth grade. But she still works with all the students because of her involvement with Special Olympics.

Beverly Carroll called Edgewood "the best-kept secret" in Goldsboro and said it was wonderful to be a part of it for the 10 years she served as principal, starting in 1994.

"When I was asked to come over here, I really wasn't thinking that this was going to be a place for me," she said. "I got over here and everything I saw I wanted to fix -- I'm talking about the children.

"Then one day I came around the corner and Martie (Saylors) was inviting a six-year-old to take his first steps. And I realized I was not here for what they couldn't do but what they could do."

Current principal Tasha Christian Adams gave a brief history of the school during a program in the gym to commemorate the occasion. It was launched on Oct. 2, 1967, she said.

"It started as Community Developmental School, that was the official name before it started but there was another name -- it was named the Development School for Retarded Children. Of course we don't use one of those words," she said. "It was housed at First Presbyterian Church. The average enrollment was 20 students, from one year to 10 years old."

"Seventy-five strong dedicated women volunteered for one to three mornings a week."

Financial support came from such areas as Wayne County Mental Health Association and Church Women United, she said, with families charged a nominal fee to send their child -- for three days a week it was $5 a month, for five days a week it was $8 a month.

The school schedule, she added, was 9:30-11:30 a.m. five a days week.

"The program at that time was based on stimulation of five senses," Adams said, explaining that the array of activities ranged from passive and active exercises to games and songs. "At that time, the point was to help the children."

The only thing missing from Friday's celebration was the student parade, postponed due to rain.

It has been rescheduled for next week, to be held Friday, Dec. 15, at 9:30 a.m. at the school. The public is welcome.