Nonprofit Aids Disabled Children

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EUGENE, Ore. — Parenting is one thing. Parenting a child with disabilities is another, and for some parents the demands can be too much at times. Direction Service on Willamette Street in Eugene is a nonprofit that can help those parents. And this year, Direction Service is getting help from the Great Rotary Duck Race.

“Sometimes we’re a coach, sometimes we’re a good listener, sometimes we’re a resource, sometimes we’re an advocate…but we’re just here. That’s what we’re really about,” says Aimee Walsh, the Director of Development and Family Support. She says for a family with a child with disabilities, there are school systems, medical and health care providers to navigate. Direction Service provides what they call a Family Service Coordinator to navigate that road with them. They could have autism, ADHD, depression or other conditions.

In dire situations, they get resources for families and connect them to agencies, along with a safe center for a three day break. Other times, it can be something simple. “If you think about the typical child’s paperwork , a child with disabilities is going to have specialized programs in school. That’s going to require reams and reams of paper, diagnostic materials and evaluations and making sense of that really requires a person who speaks the language of the professionals,” says Walsh.

Staff members at Direction Service are special educators, or are trained as special educators. They have masters degrees in special education, and understand disability, laws and regulations governing special education.

One boy in particular is an example of why they do what they do. “When I met him he was in a single classroom with two adults. He had not been in a regular classroom, and was so behaviorally challenged they couldn’t keep him safe with other kids. He wasn’t verbal, he was destructive and he was the hardest kid that many teachers said they had worked with,” says Walsh.

Five years later, he was in regular school, eventually graduated high school and went on to play a sport in college. Walsh says his story makes the long hours and hard work worth it. “You work here not for the money, you work here because you’re being invited into somebody’s life to make a difference and you may not leave here every day knowing that you’ve made a direct difference, but you can feel it over time.”

Last year, five coordinators worked with 700 families. Money raised from the Rotary Duck Race will pay for a full-time coordinator. Duck Race tickets are on sale at all area Bi-Mart and Dari-Mart stores.

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