New Group Supports Special Needs Families in FishHawk and Beyond

Beth Bailey attended a church picnic in May with her two children Hannah and Gabriel. The picnic was run by HOPE, a program at Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon that teaches and takes care of special needs children on Sunday mornings so that parents can attend services.

FishHawk resident Beth Bailey has lived nine years as the mother of children with special needs. Her daughter Hannah (age 12) was diagnosed at the age of three with a rare form of Autism, and her youngest son Gabriel (age three) was diagnosed in February. Bailey’s walk has been physically, mentally and spiritually demanding.

“We get an idea of what we want God to do, and for me it was healing my daughter before she started school,” said Bailey. “When three years came and went, I got very mad.” But eventually, Bailey said, “I came to a place of being thankful He didn’t heal Hannah all those years ago, because I would’ve missed out on what He wanted to do in me.” When Gabriel was later diagnosed, she was at peace with the situation. “I know God has a special plan for Gabe and Hannah,” she acknowledged.

“I love FishHawk because it is very community-oriented, but [special needs children] are often overlooked,” noted Bailey. FishHawk elementary schools, like Bevis and FishHawk Creek, only offer limited ELP (Extended Learning Program) classes, so the children must travel to further schools like Buckhorn and Cimino in Valrico. “Our community is missing out on the true blessing of having these special kids,” commented Bailey. And so in April, Bailey started a new group in FishHawk called “Parents of Children with Special Needs” to raise awareness and support for this distinctive community within the larger FishHawk community.

The group had its’ first meeting in April with nearly 20 attendees – the group’s Facebook page has more than 58 members. “This is a group that doesn’t just go into the doctors, dentists and therapists, but addresses the emotional and spiritual side of the walk as well,” said Bailey. Some of Bailey’s short-term goals are to achieve nonprofit status to raise funds to distribute to the different disabilities in the group – Down Syndrome, Epilepsy and Autism are just a few – and to compile a list of doctors, dentists, therapists and more. for parents to pull from. Some of her long-term goals are to host a 5K race in 2013 on the anniversary of the group’s first meeting, and to gather the parents’ stories to be published in a book that will encourage other parents of special needs children.

“Parents of Children with Special Needs” is open to all ages and backgrounds, and is not limited to the FishHawk area. Some Facebook members are even out-of-state. Everyone is encouraged to support and get involved. “We are looking for financial sponsors as well as volunteers for the 5k race,” mentioned Bailey.

Meetings will be held the first Friday of every month, starting June 1, from 10 a.m.-11:30 a.m. at the Osprey Clubhouse in FishHawk (across from Bevis Elementary School). Contact Bailey at 892-1785 or by e-mailing ecb_beth@yahoo.com.