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Winter 2005 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Uniting the Village

By Juanita Barker, Regional Supervisor and Al'An Kessler, Children's Specialist, Abilene, DARS-DBS,
Tricia Lee, Education Specialist, Region 9 Education Service Center, Wichita Falls,
Sharon Trusty, Education Specialist, Education Service Center Region 17, Lubbock,
and Pat Pearce, Education Specialist, Region 16 Education Service Center, Amarillo

Abstract: This article describes the unique collaboration between a number of the education service centers and the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services - Division of Blind Services in providing training activities for parents and students with visual impairments in the Panhandle and West Texas regions of the state.

Key Words: Family, blind, deafblind, workshops, camps, collaboration.

The year 2005 marks the eighth anniversary that a sprawling 91-county village consisting of counties in the Panhandle and West Texas decided to come together to better meet the needs of the children we all had a mission to serve.

The Cluster, as we named ourselves, was formed out of the simple recognition that what was undoable alone was achievable together. Results from this collaboration are a series of annual events offered to the children and families we serve. The powerful and effective nature of these collaborative events is best illustrated by the following quotes from families who have benefited from these services.

Comments from the Families

"This conference had information on (a) therapy method by Lilli Nielsen that will be very useful to help improve the quality of my child's life. Networking with other families about doctors and therapists and equipment not available in my town. In addition to this _ This conference gives families coping with children's disabilities the opportunity to walk into a room full of people and not feel outcast. We experience compassion and understanding at this event that nothing else we take part in provides, not even church or family. We are empowered to prevail by each other's struggle and success. This is so important for new, young parents and old war horses (like me). We draw strength from each other. Can anyone not living this life understand how closed out we feel sometimes?

To see the families mingle on Saturday night is a pure joy. The children and adults dance, hop, follow, lead and visit like nothing else I have ever witnessed; there is a peace and an almost abandon about it. The joy of acceptance, I guess.

Two other points I want to make are these: Many of the families are probably unable to articulate their feelings on this, and more important it is often days or weeks after the conference (before) we can wrap our brains around all we learned this weekend. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your financial assistance for this event. It is a ray of light in a dark, lonely world."

"Good networking opportunity finding other families in my area."

"Allow(s) me to be a better advocate for my child. Useful info on transition and preparing for ARD process. Wonderful help in networking with other families."

"We have received valuable information to help us understand the ARD process and how to help the committee understand our child's needs. We also gained knowledge on how to get our daughter to explore her environment and items around her. We are from a rural area and do not always get to meet families with needs and disabilities like ours. The information and relationships formed at this conference have been the most valuable."

"I was really excited to learn specific techniques on how to teach my VI child how to communicate with me and my husband and especially others."

"Things I can do with my child at home. First time here and enjoyed talking to other parents. Would like to come back next year and meet some more parents, and bring my baby back because she'll be older and she'll be able to enjoy it."

"Learned new ways to let my child explore her world and interact with others. How to use play for teaching which has been a real problem with her multiple impairments. I also learned about new tools that are available or that we can make ourselves. Networking and talking with other families who are in similar circumstances or have dealt with similar problems already is very useful and provides needed emotional support."

"Will help us to make decisions that are best for our children."

"Because of this conference I have gained info on how to begin preparing for my child's future. I have also met people who have the same needs as my family. I hope we have this conference each year, because I know I will need answers to more questions as (my child) grows up."

"There were several good presenters that gave us good information that I will put to use with my VI/Multi-handicapped child in school through IEP's and ARD meetings. Keep the conferences coming! The conference allows for families to meet and greet and continue networking and helping each other throughout the year. We look forward to coming from year to year."

"I have learned how to better plan for my child's future and what steps to take in getting started."

"Gained lots of informative information concerning school and home activities to better serve my child in learning to deal with his disabilities."

Uniting the Village

This article is in response to the multiple requests we have had from others wanting to "unite their villages." The process we recommend involves three steps and a number of key components.

First, identify who is in "your cluster."

The Cluster is comprised of families and service providers in a 91-county area of North and West Texas that includes the cities and areas surrounding Abilene, Amarillo, Lubbock, Midland/Odessa, and Wichita Falls. The service providers include the Division for Blind Services (formerly Texas Commission for the Blind), Education Service Centers in Region 9, 14, 16, 17, and 18, the Outreach Department of Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and Texas Tech University.

Second, meet and establish your common goals and objectives.

Each partner in the village brings a different set of resources, experience, and expertise to the table, but it is the combining of these differences that allows the creation of a group that derives its strength from its diversity.

Third, determine the activities that will most effectively meet your needs.

The Cluster currently offers a wide range of confidence-building, group skills-training opportunities that include annual activities (Family Conference, Camp VILLA, Camp Experience, Project SWEEP), and one-day events.

Specific Events Sponsored by The Cluster

Family Conference

A weekend-long conference that offers training to parents, caregivers, children with special needs, siblings, professionals and paraprofessionals. The training topics are determined by input received from families. Our next conference, "Discover the Magic Within," will be held on April 1-3, 2005 in Lubbock. This year's sessions will target the areas of deafblindness, multiple impairments, transition, infancy, preschool, resources and independent living.


VILLA: Vocational, Independent Living, Leisure/Recreation Activities. This marks the 20thanniversary of our week-long camp held at Ceta Glen near Happy, Texas. The 9 to 15 year old campers participate in rigorous confidence and skill-building activities such as primitive tent camping on the prairie, mountain climbing in Palo Duro Canyon, and orienteering in the rugged outdoors. Camp VILLA is June 6-10, 2005.

Camp Experience

Camp Experience was designed to introduce the camping experience to families with younger children as well as children whose needs might limit them in other camps. This camp is open to children who are not attendees of Camp VILLA or Project SWEEP. It was designed to be a family camp where all members of the families benefit from a variety of confidence, skill-building activities. These include swimming, a ropes course, wall climbing, as well as nature hikes, crafts, and an evening by a campfire. Specialists are on hand to provide assistance with education, therapy, networking, and skills training. This year's camp will be August 1-4, 2005 at Camp Butman, near Merkel, Texas.

Project SWEEP

Job training and independent living skills are the focus of this five-week program for students who are 14-21 years of age and enrolled in public school. The Project is held in Lubbock. The students reside on the Texas Tech University campus and acquire summer jobs at various sites in the city. They have the opportunity to work with job coaches and develop job skills, travel on public transportation, using both local and long distance buses, develop and perform independent living skills such as laundry cooking shopping. One of the most valuable benefits is the opportunity to have ongoing social interactions with peers and community members. Project SWEEP will run June 20 to July 22, 2005.

One-day Topical Workshops

Various training opportunities for families and professionals on a variety of topics are offered each year.

Key Components of the Collaboration

Key components to develop a powerful and strong group that is able to deliver world-class services to children who are blind and visually impaired and their families are:

1) Each partner will have differing resources at different times.

Don't allow your cluster members to get bogged down by "Each partner's contribution has got to be equal for each event." Value each member's contribution. Recognize that each member's resources will vary from event to event and from year to year.

2) Make sure that what your group offers to children and families is driven by assessment, feedback and evaluations of those you serve.

It HAS to be about these expressed needs, not what you "think they need". Planning for each event should be driven by the regional needs assessments that have been done and feedback received through evaluations and input from the families and students throughout the year.

3) Leave your individual identities (agendas, territorial concerns, conflicts, turf issues, politics, etc.) at home.

Come together as a group with the intent and purpose of creating something new. Each partner must have an equal, valued, and valid voice. Disagreement is part of the creative process. It must be done in an accepting atmosphere through a proactive, open process. Ultimately, all must come to consensus; discard individual differences and support fully the group decisions.

4) Allow the time to meet and work as a group.

It is an evolutionary process. Like with any village, you must get to know one another, identify individual strengths, develop trust, and each of you must be committed 100% to give "birth" and "raise" the results of your village's efforts. Having regular times to meet and discuss goals and issues without distractions is critical to this type of collaboration.

Do not veer in your commitment. You can unite your village. The rewards will far exceed the effort.

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Last Revision: September 1, 2010