Making an Impact: Creating Independence

United Way of Whatcom County invests Community Impact Fund contributions in more than 30 proven programs that make a difference for our entire community. Several of these programs support and strengthen individuals who have developmental disabilities.
 
For families of people with developmental delays and disabilities in Whatcom County, like all families, the concern is simple: they want their sons, daughters, siblings and friends to have happy, fulfilling lives.
 
Between finding access to necessary resources and facing misconceptions regarding people with disabilities like Down syndrome or autism, caring for a child with special needs can be challenging. 
 
This is why United Way of Whatcom County invests in several programs to support individuals and families.
 
Families search for support for their children and themselves and they find it in several United Way Partner Agencies: the Arc of Whatcom County, Whatcom Center for Early Learning and Max Higbee Center. These organizations and their programs focus on supporting people with developmental disabilities and ensuring their well-being and inclusiveness in our community. With the support of mentors, peers and families, members of these organizations learn skills to be more independent individuals and are empowered to be active in the community.
 
The first three years of a child’s life is a critical stage of development. Whatcom Center for Early Learning (WCEL) focuses on early intervention by working with children as well as families to decrease developmental delays or substantial risk of significant delays. Thanks to funds from United Way of Whatcom County, therapists can visit families and provide training for parents—at home, at school or at the daycare, through their Primary Coaching Program.
 
The work leads to remarkable progress. After collaborating with the center’s therapists, families learn to understand their children’s behavior and learn techniques for working on issues together. A participant’s mom wrote to WCEL’s staff, “With weekly coaching, we have learned strategies to help our daughter communicate her basic needs.”
 
Studies show that approximately 30% of children with special needs who enter behavioral therapy in their early years show signs of strong behavioral improvement. In many cases, the children no longer need to rely on special programs once they enter the public school system, which also helps save costs for schools and taxpayers.
 
For parents of children with developmental disabilities, having interaction with other parents, and talking to parents who are going through the same experiences is often a lifeline.
 
More than 11 years ago, Beverly Porter came to the Arc of Whatcom County with her son, Calvin, who has autism. “When I came I was worried and stressed about my son, so I came to the Arc for help, looking for a rescue,” she said.
 
She went through advocacy training with other members and became a volunteer, working with other families. Now Porter works as the Arc’s Executive Director, reaching out to other families and helping them find the resources and services their children need. With funds from United Way of Whatcom County, the Arc is able to connect families and strengthen individuals with developmental disabilities.
 
“The Arc really provides an amazing support system for individuals and families,” Porter said. 
 
Often the most challenging stage for people with developmental disabilities is the transition from childhood to adulthood. Parents or caretakers worry if their sons and daughters will be able to be on their own — riding the bus, interacting with other community members, finding a job and even their own apartments.
 
The Arc provides workshops and education for supporting and easing that transition. Often, that means figuring out how best to communicate needs and preferences while empowering individuals to find jobs and become independent.
 
Max Higbee Center recently heard from a mother whose son came to their program for a couple years and not only learned to ride the bus but learned to deal with community stimulations—sights and sounds, which previously caused him anxiety. Because of this program he was able to find a job and was able to ride the bus from his home to work. The change for him and his family was monumental, and United Way of Whatcom County funds helped make that a reality.
 
Max Higbee Center, a safe and recreational space for adults with developmental disabilities, focuses on activities that are fun but always have the deeper purpose of skill building.
 
“We might be going to a coffee shop to listen to some music but we will take the bus there, so we’re helping people navigate the bus system. In a bookstore, the staff will guide them to purchase books and practice transactions,” says a representative from Max Higbee Center. “It opens a door to freedom that they wouldn’t otherwise have,” she said.
Thanks to United Way dollars, the center puts on activities that promote well-being—mental and physical health: nutrition education through cooking classes, and encouraging people to make healthy food choices along with fitness activities.  Members often reach out to other members and serve as peer mentors, solidifying a strong support system.
 
These organizations and their programs are truly making a difference in the lives of their clients and in our community as a whole.  Their clients are our friends, neighbors, community members and are able to be self-reliant independent citizens thanks in part to funds from United Way of Whatcom County.  Gifts to the Community Impact Fund support these and many other programs that create the building blocks for a better life – Education, Income, and Health.

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