Late last year, twelve Franklin County families met at The United Arc Family Center in Turners Falls with then State Senator-Elect Adam Hinds (Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden District), Jessie Cooley, aide to Rep. Paul Mark (Second Berkshire District), and Paul Dunphy, Director of Constituent Services for Rep. Stephen Kulik (First Franklin District). This meeting was a result of a newly formed Parent/Caregiver group started by United Arc’s Family Support staff. The group meets twice a month, once in the evening and once in the morning. It is not a “support group” per se, but provides opportunities to unite parents and caregivers and bring them together for camaraderie, sharing of resources, advocacy, information, and fun.
A number of the regular attendees have children of transition age. Previously, Paul Dunphy stated that he and Rep. Kulik wanted to know more about the transition process. The group decided to invite area legislators or their representatives to meet with families.
United Arc’s Family Support Program Manager, Martha Lewin, also a parent of an adult son on the Autism Spectrum, provided an introduction about the transition process. Every parent had an opportunity to share their experiences. As the parents of children with disabilities, they faced challenges helping their children get basic educational and community supports while still taking care of other members of their families. There were a number of tears shed as parents described in heartfelt details about some of their challenges. There was also a collective outpouring from the parents about the importance of Family Support services and funding to support the wellbeing of their children and families. Although the meeting was scheduled for 10-11:30, all present stayed longer, with Hinds, Cooley and Dunphy each speaking individually to parents and Family Support staff before they left.
At the next meeting of the Parent/Caregiver group, personal thank you cards were written to Hinds, Cooley and Dunphy. Thank you notes were written to Reps. Mark and Kulik for sending their staff to meet with the parent/caregiver group. Over the next several weeks, each thank you card was hand delivered by a Family Support staff person who was able to have follow-up conversations with the office staff.
The feedback from these legislators has been very positive. Paul Dunphy talked about how moving it was to hear directly from each family. Jessie Cooley restated that she and Rep. Mark are committed to helping address bureaucratic and other barriers that negatively impact families. At a follow up gathering, Family Support staff delivered the thank you note to Senator Hinds preceding the start of a “meet & greet/community conversation” about the needs of his district. His staff person arrived early and spoke with several friends of the new Senator and even helped set up chairs for the event. One of the parents in his district had wanted to deliver her thank you in person, but without respite care she was unable to leave her two teenage sons who have autism. Senator Hinds spoke about his support for the parents and the needs faced by them and so many other families. The Senator said the meeting with the parents had given him a much better understanding of their needs as well as the issues they faced. He felt that experience will help him better prepare for the many budget discussions and legislative issues he will face during the coming legislative session.