An Empowerment Parent Resource Center Success!

By Dr. Gary Walby

On July 28, the place to be was Marcus Pointe Baptist Church in Pensacola where the first biannual mini-conference for parents and caregivers of persons with disabilities was held. Attended by over 50 parents, caregivers, and providers, the Empowerment Parent Resource Center (EPRC) provided multiple learning and skill-building sessions. The conference also supported a resource fair with 25 vendors. An opening session by Debi Bennis, Parent Trainer from Parents of the Panhandle Information Network (POPIN), and Jim Howard, Parent Resource Specialist EPRC, titled Caring for Caregiver Stress & Burn Out: Tips for Taking Care of Yourself, started the day. This was offered to all participants, as parents of persons with disabilities are at higher risk for stress-related conditions. This session was very well received, and parents walked away with some useful ideas and tools.

Breakout sessions continued the learning and support of parents addressing real needs. Irma Cofield, Parent Resource Specialist from Early Steps, and Debi Bennis (POPIN) addressed a critical need of parents through offering the IFSP to IEP Academy: Organizing for a Successful School Year. This included giving parents an IEP binder to help them organize and prepare. At the same time, Dr. Chrissy Ogilvie from the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) provided a session on Promoting Children’s Success: Identifying the Importance of Teaching Social Skills.

The later sessions included a repeat from Dr. Ogilvie on the Promoting Children’s Success workshop. This highly anticipated and well-received session was offered twice for parents to have an additional opportunity for this critical learning experience. Also in the later session, Amy Scott Lorton, Special Education Consultant & Advocate, offered a Transition IEP Planning workshop that complimented the earlier IEP to IFSP workshop.

The day ended with a panel discussion that fielded multiple questions on services, communication, sharing between organizations, parent’s needs, and other topics. This panel consisted of Dr. Gary Walby, (Project Director, EPRC), Debi Bennis (POPIN), Irma Cofield (Early Steps), Tammy Kunze (FDLRS), Rachelle Wood (SEDNET), Dr. Ogilvie (CARD), Susan Byram (Autism Pensacola), Destry Lebrun (Site Coordinator, EPRC), and Annette Zeeb (APD).

The next mini-conference will be held October 27, 2017. The focus of this conference is health, medical and behavioral, helping parents to improve their skills in helping their loved ones with disabilities to handle issues of anxiety, depression, medical concerns, and related disorders. As always, the EPRC will address its primary mission to support parents in managing their stress and reaching the highest quality of life possible for them and their families. Families in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, and Walton counties can reach the EPRC at 850-444-8554 or

Kneeling: Sally Severson (Canines for Christ) and her therapy dog Nia. Standing left to right: Destry LeBrun (EPRC Site Director), Dr. Gary Walby (EPRC Project Director), Tara Potter (EPRC Executive Director), and Pastor Michael Collins (EPRC Board Chair)