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Event focuses on special needs kids

Professionals will be on hand to discuss scholarship options

POSTED: May 20, 2011 11:05 p.m.

For the first time, Northeast Georgia parents can find resources for their special needs children all in one place.

Today's Special Needs Expo will feature information about private schools, home support, legislation, scholarships, financial aid and disability law.

Ava White of Ava White Academy began planning the event when she received numerous phone calls from parents about where to go for services.

"So many people call and don't realize what resources are available," White said. "I like to connect them with the people who are out there. Why not let folks know that there are trained people who can help?"

The expo will also include free child care and snacks for the students.

"We'll have movies and games for the kids so the parents can talk to the professionals," White said. "There are some great services that are beneficial for families if you have the time to ask the right questions and know where to go."

The expo will feature information about educational opportunities with Academy teachers, home care and medical staffing services with BrightStar, lobbying efforts by the Center for an Educated Georgia and speech therapy resources with the Northeast Georgia Speak Center.

"In this area, there are resources, but it can seem somewhat limited," said Jacqueline Daniel of ConnectAbility, a special needs service group in Dahlonega. "Pulling this together in one place for parents is a very positive move, and I hope to see more opportunities like this in the future."

ConnectAbility holds a monthly respite evening called Sidekicks, which gives parents and caregivers time to socialize while students make crafts and do activities.

The group also hosts support group meetings each month for caregivers in Dawson, Forsyth, Hall, Lumpkin and White counties to listen to guest speakers and share resources.

"It would be great to recruit more folks to be part of the team for our parent share group," Daniel said.

The expo will also include professionals who can help parents to navigate the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship and calculate how much funding is available.

"Any opportunity provided for parents in the community to increase their awareness about services that are available is great," said Kevin Claussen, chief operating officer of Parents Educating Parents and Professionals.

"They can also build general knowledge as to their rights when it comes to working with the school system."

Claussen's group focuses on educational advocacy for special education students and operates as part of the Hall County System of Care, which offers tutoring services to students at risk of not graduating high school.

The event also gives the groups a way to reach out to new participants during a tough budget year.

"Many nonprofits and service providers don't have funding for advertising, though they're services for the public," Claussen said. "Many grants don't want you to promote the service, so this is a great way for parents to increase their awareness about the opportunities without advertisements bombarding them."



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