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Families who have children with disabilities face personal and financial challenges more often than families who have children without disabilities. In rural communities, people often lack internet access, experience higher rates of poverty, and are physically more isolated from each other and from agencies that can help.

For years, Starbridge has provided individual advocacy support in rural areas like Allegany and Cattaraugus Counties. In 2018, we offered several open forums for parents but attendance was often lower than expected.

Through research and conversations, we realized that we needed to offer opportunities to connect that would meet the needs of the entire family, not just parents or caregivers.photo shows mother and two young children standing with their backs to the camera and looking off at the horizon over a rural field

In 2019 Starbridge began hosting monthly “Family Fun” events in places like bowling alleys, skating rinks, mini golf courses, parks, and pumpkin patches. These social and recreational events allowed the whole family – grandparents, parents and siblings – to enjoy time together and begin to build their own networks of connections. In 2019, we reached 10 times the number of families that we reached in 2018.

We also established a Family Advocacy Committee composed of county residents who have family members with disabilities living at home. The Committee’s purpose is to guide us in better understanding what families in that area need and helping us plan programming.

Like everyone else, once the pandemic arrived, we had to adapt our 2020 plans. Our in-person Family Fun events are on pause until we can safely offer them again. In the meantime, our advocates are supporting families in a few ways:

  • Going virtual with events – In May & June, we will be offering drum circles, a dance party, a magic show, and virtual bingo.
  • Emailing or calling families – With the shutdown of schools, families are often wondering what schools are responsible for providing and how to best support their children in continuing to learn. Many schools are finding creative ways to deliver education, but it is still challenging for all involved.
  • Connecting with care coordinators – Particularly while schools are closed, care coordinators play an even bigger role in helping families learn about options. Our staff are staying in touch so that care coordinators know we are there to assist.

These connections would not have happened without the creativity and willingness of our staff to take a fresh approach.

Thank you to our advocacy team!

Starbridge’s Family Fun events are provided through a grant from OPWDD’S Western NY DDRO.