WALKER — Anna Matson spent much of Thursday evening crafting a plan to help her three grandchildren she is raising — all of whom have special needs — succeed in school and life.
Matson took her grandson, Eithean Stevens, to the Livingston Parish school system’s Winter Wonderland Agency Fair. She needed information about how to deal with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
“If adults don’t stand up for children, then who will?” Matson said, of her reasoning for moving from agency to agency to find help.
Matson was one of more than 130 people who attended the event. The parent outreach event was designed to help Livingston Parish residents learn more about services, supplies and assistance offered by the Livingston Parish Special Education Department.
Outreach was made available for families with children ages 3 to 21 who receive special education services or are in the gifted and talented program in Livingston Parish public schools.
“This lets parents know what’s out there to help their children,” said Kim Manuel, family facilitator.
Representatives from more than 15 agencies from Livingston Parish and surrounding areas attended the event to help parents find help for their children.
For Tiffany Pettitt, the event offered valuable information about a special therapy she said she believes could help her 15-year-old son better manage his bipolar disorder.
“I finally found something that I think could help him,” Pettitt said.
Pettitt found Horses of Hope, Inc., a nonprofit organization that offers all forms of equine assisted therapies including individual, family, couples and group, the organization’s website, www.horsesofhope-eat.com said.
Waiver Manager Rona Burkett, of Florida Parishes Human Services Authority, visited with more than a dozen parents during the first hour of the fair and let them know how FPHSA helps people of all ages with disabilities. “We also help them figure out how to enter into a system,” Burkett said about initially getting much-needed services for their loved ones. “The sooner they enroll, the better.”
“The goal of FPHSA is to help people with disabilities become independent, self-sufficient contributors in their community,” said Leslie Barnett, a licensed clinical social worker.
In addition to finding help for her son, Zander Ross, 7, Brandy Ross said they attended the event because “he enjoys it and it gives him a chance to interact with other children.”
During the event, Ross learned about the variety of local resources available to help her son. Manuel said the event has been conducted for about 10 years and each year, more and more parents attend.
Jeanne Ebey, director of special education, said organizers invited several agencies outside of the school system to attend the event and talk to parents about the resources those agencies have available.
“Our children need lots of support,” Ebey said. “We help support students and families transition these students into the community.”
By partnering with agencies such as the Family Resource Center, Ebey said, the school system is better able to “round out” the whole education process for a child.
“Education is so much more than two plus two,” Ebey said. “It includes the whole child and the community connection with the schools helps facilitate that.”
Among the attendees were parents and their children, special education teachers, occupational therapists, adaptive physical education teachers, physical therapists and teachers for the visually and hearing impaired.
The Livingston Parish school system serves over 4,000 students with disabilities and exceptionalities, Ebey said.
Shantelle McDonald has one daughter in the Livingston Parish school system who takes advantage of the services provided. However, McDonald was looking for resources her daughter, Shay, who has neurological problems and is now 18, can benefit from following school.
“Now, we’re to the point where we’re out of options,” McDonald said. “We didn’t know what to do after school.”
McDonald said she came to the event to find out what, if any, activities can help her daughter transition to life after high school.
For more information about the programs offered for special education and gifted and talented students in Livingston Parish, call Manuel at (225) 667-1098.