Nonprofit helps children with disabilities

Positive parenting for challenging behavior classes offered five times per year in Moscow, Pullman, Colfax



Brother Garen Growing Thunder and sister Laren Paul play around in the foam pit Monday night at Planet 3 Extreme Air Park. The nonprofit Families Together was created to provide support to parents who have children with disabilites.

LOREN NEGRON, Evergreen editor-in-chief

Staff at Families Together, a local nonprofit, work to help people with disabilities through programming that involves the whole family.

Karen Nelson, Families Together executive director, said the organization was created more than 30 years ago to provide support for parents who have children with disabilities. The nonprofit intends to help individuals reach their potential and live a secure and meaningful life.

“The reason we focus on families is because they are often the ones that care for individuals with disabilities,” she said. “We recognize the stress it can sometimes put on a family, so we provide programs for families that are going through that.”

Nelson said Families Together provides a variety of programs. Outreach and house visits are available for families who may need additional support at home. Families can take positive parenting for challenging behavior classes to learn effective strategies in preventing unwanted behaviors from their children.

The classes are offered five times per year, she said. The courses are available in Moscow, Pullman, Clarkston, Lewiston, and Colfax.

Gia Paul, a parent involved with the program and a member of the Nez Perce Tribe, said she has been attending the parenting and behavioral classes for about a year. She is grateful for the classes because they are free and occur in the evening, which fits her busy schedule. The classes also provide child care.

Gia said the nonprofit has given her daughter Laren Paul, 5, a community where she can connect with others. Gia said Laren has level three autism, which causes her to experience auditory hypersensitivity.

“A lot of times when you have a child with disabilities, there isn’t a network for them,” Gia said. “It’s hard for them to have friends. It’s hard for them to get together with others that are like-minded, regardless of age, race or gender.”

Laren receives treatment four times a week, Gia said. Her treatments include speech, occupational and physical therapy. They travel to Pullman, Moscow and Clarkston to get those treatments. Gia said she is thankful for the parents’ night out events because it gives her some time to herself, and she can connect with other parents.

Gia said she values the personal relationships and connections the staff has with the families. Volunteers have helped her 17-year-old son, Garen Growing Thunder, prepare for college. She said the organization gave her son a chance to show his compassion and care to other families.

“It gives him the responsibility, and it teaches him that other families are just like us, that other families struggle with a disabled child,” she said. “It benefits us all as a household.”

Other programs the nonprofit provides include theater acting classes, Nelson said. They do this in partnership with Artists Striving to End Poverty, an organization dedicated to transforming youths’ lives through art.

Nelson said they host family unity recreation activities to give parents the opportunity to connect with other families, find resources and bond with their children. They focus on providing parental support for their children’s emotional and social development.

“I know when I struggled, I’ve always been very grateful for the knowledge that I have, but I can’t imagine for the parents that don’t have that knowledge,” she said. “If we didn’t feel a need, then we wouldn’t be here.”

Nelson said all of their programs are mobile because their programs are dispersed throughout the surrounding communities. They are also grant-funded and provide free services to families.

“Usually money is pretty tight already,” she said. “We serve people with various income brackets. This way they can come do something fun without having to worry about the costs.”

The nonprofit runs with three part-time staff members, Nelson said. They also have volunteers from WSU and the University of Idaho who receive class credit for their involvement.

Elise Johnson, WSU junior basic medical sciences pre-pharmacy major, said she started volunteering for Families Together last month. It is a unique volunteer experience for her, and she likes her job because she is able to serve a community that has special needs.

“Especially when you’re in an area that’s so geographically isolated and it’s low population, there are a lot less resources for families that have high-need children,” she said. “It’s very important that these people have a community and that they’re able to find people who are experiencing the same things as them.”