Personal experiences lead woman to become professional volunteer

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sabina Childers, wife, student, advocate, writer, artist and Southeast Missourian blogger has taken on another role since September.

She is now an AmeriCorps volunteer. Volunteers receive a small stipend and an education award at the end of their service. AmeriCorps was created in 1993 when President Bill Clinton signed the National and Community Service Trust Act to expand opportunities for Americans to serve their communities.

Childers defines AmeriCorps as the domestic peace corps.

She got involved with AmeriCorps as the result of an e-mail that kept popping up recruiting for a community support navigator for MPACT, a not-for-profit parent and training information center serving parents of children with all disabilities partially funded by grants from the US Department of Education.

"We only have a small number of staff members for a statewide program that includes six regions," said Janis Traughber, MPACT southeast region coordinator. Traughber's region includes 23 counties. She is responsible for seeing that parents receive training on the parent mentor program, special education law, understanding the IEP (individual education plan) process and the disagreement resolution process.

"With Sabina's help, as we recruit more mentors and develop trained volunteers there are more support people that can empower parents," Traughber said.

Childers knew nothing about AmeriCorps but a lot about providing support and getting help for special needs children. As the mother of two special needs children, Childers has navigated the system since the time her son, Larry, (now in fourth grade) had begun early childhood speech, occupational and behavioral therapy at Jackson Schools.

Childers struggled to get a diagnosis for her son before early education at Jackson. Childers learned all she could about autism and became an advocate for her son and later other parents. Her daughter, Brandie, 11, has dyslexia and ADD and participates in after school academic booster programs.

Childers has been involved with Ethan and Friends (a local a not-for-profit advocacy group for autism), Judevine Center for Autism Southeast Missouri Autism Project, the Thompson Center University of Missouri, Columbia and the Collaborative Autism Intervention Project and has served as an unofficial parent mentor, passing on what's she's learned through her involvement.

"Sabina is now reaching out to a much larger audience to make parents aware of what's available for students," Traughber said.

AmeriCorps community support navigators became available to MPACT this year through a collaborative relationship with the Institute for Human Development at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, whose focus is on families.

"I have been using my parent mentors at the Jackson Schools for six years," Childers said. "I would not have been able to get my son the help he needed otherwise."

Parent mentors help explain IEPs and interpret their meaning. Childers said parent mentors work well to advocate for special needs children when parents know their child and how he learns and are open to suggestions from the school.

"It is my turn to pay it forward," Childers said.

Upcoming MPACT training available is an IEP boot camp.

"It is a combination of three other trainings in one: special education law, IEP and disagreement resolution," Traughber said.

The free training is from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 29 at Missouri Delta Medical Center, 1008 N. Main St., Sikeston, Mo. RSVP is appreciated to assure training materials for all in attendance. Call 877-876-2831.



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