They come from different backgrounds, different family situations and different development challenges, but at the end of the day they share a desire for support in caring for children and young adults with special needs.
Since April, nearly 20 women, all mothers of children with varying conditions — from autism spectrum disorder and Down syndrome to epilepsy, schizophrenia and genetic disorders — have formed a support group in FishHawk to offer one another emotional and spiritual support as well as vital medical and therapeutic information.
The group, called "Parents of Children with Special Needs," meets today and the first Friday morning of each month at the Osprey Clubhouse Meeting Room in FishHawk Ranch.
It's led by longtime FishHawk resident Beth Bailey, a mother of three. Doctors diagnosed Bailey's daughter Hannah, 11, with a rare form of autism at an early age. Her youngest child, 3-year-old Gabriel, recently received a similar diagnosis. Jacob, 13, has no development disability and is a source of inspiration for Beth and his younger siblings.
Bailey says her spiritual faith had much to do with starting the support group for other parents, who often don't speak up but clearly need the help, guidance and resources that come from associations with reputable doctors, dentists and therapists in the area.
"I can't lead a support group and leave out the number one element that got me to where I am now, the spiritual aspect," Bailey said as she gathered with a small group of mothers. "I have to be true to myself as I walk this journey. The common thread for all of us is the faith walk. This group will address the emotional and spiritual side as well."
The group has grown thanks to a number of factors: an active Facebook page; Bailey's blog, Turning Life's Lemons Into Lemonade; area teachers who have raised awareness in the education community; and a learning ministry for special-needs children sponsored by Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon.
Beth Tyree of Bloomingdale volunteers for the ministry and has a 19-year-old daughter, Christy, who has dealt with mild cerebral palsy, a heart condition and schizophrenia that makes her afraid of crowds and loud noises. Christy is a graduate of Bloomingdale High School and attends the Hillsborough Achievement and Resources Center in Riverview, which helps adults with disabilities.
"Networking is a big part of coping because you need to know that other people care and that's not always evident," says Tyree, who has been a part of the ministry for more than two years since she first moved to the Brandon area. "The ante is upped considerably having a child with special needs. Networking is huge because what works for one child might work for another and feeling other people's energy is inspiring to me."
Riverview's Lina Willburn has a 3-year-old son, Samuel, a fraternal twin, who was born with a chromosome disorder that left him delicate and weak and in need of open heart surgery after his birth. Willburn, her husband and her mother, visiting from Colombia, nursed Samuel for an entire year while trying to raise his twin, Gabriel, as normally as possible.
"Whenever you have the children we have, you are willing to go to the ends of the earth," Willburn said. "We have already lived the situation. If I can be there to listen and share my experiences with someone just beginning the process, I can help make it easier for them."
Besides building the group and gathering support from the larger FishHawk community, Bailey hopes to turn the group into a nonprofit in order to raise research money for the different disabilities represented. The money will also be used to assist families with medical expenses that aren't covered by insurance, such as specialized devices, equipment, therapy and home care. Bailey needs $470 to complete the process.
In the long term, she is planning a 5K race next April in FishHawk to celebrate the anniversary of the group, a family picnic around Easter when everyone, including siblings and husbands, can participate and bond.
Kathryn Moschella can be reached at [email protected]