‘Celebrate Hope’ reaches out to parents of special needs children

Support gatherings offered at Pine Tree Center

To register contact Julie Gutman, Director of Special Education at Julie.Gutman @lok12.org. All events will be held at Pine Tree Center, 590 Pine Tree Rd.

Support gathering times are: 12:30-2:20 p.m. Nov. 15, 8:30-10 a.m. Jan. 10, 6-7:30 p.m. Feb. 11, 6-7:30 p.m. March 19, 8:30-10 a.m. April 16, and 6-7:30 p.m. May 21. www.celebratehopellc.com.


By Jim Newell

Review Editor

John Ball and Lisa Goyette cofounded Celebrate Hope LLC three years ago with the hope of reaching those parents who need support and a place to share the emotions and trials they face.

“It came about because John and I are both parents of children with unique and special needs,” Goyette said. “What we found is when we were trying to work through just the myriad of emotions that go along with coming to terms with parenting the child that you have versus the child that you thought you were going to have it’s a lot different. It brings about a lot of grief and intense emotions.

“We found help for kids, but we were not finding help for ourselves as parents. It wasn’t plentiful,’ Goyette said.

john and lisa bannerSo Goyette and Ball brainstormed, asking what would be good to offer parents going through what they had gone through?

“Celebrate Hope was really birthed out of a place of intense love for our children and wanting to make the journey a little more comfortable. So, we created a program that is there to provide support to parents on a very intimate and personal basis, where they can share the feelings that they have and know there’s going to be no judgment,” Goyette said.

Ball and Goyette meet with parents of special needs children at their homes and also host support gatherings and seminars. Now, the two are holding support gatherings at the Pine Tree Center.

While the “heart” of Celebrate Hope continues to be providing support for parents of special needs children in a personal setting, their outreach has evolved.

“It’s morphed into building relationships with school districts. They were catching on to what we were doing, and they wanted to incorporate that into their programming,” Ball said.

“What happens with education, often times you have educators that are swamped, busy, overloaded and everybody gets their respective bucket,” Ball said. “There can be fragmentation and especially when you’re dealing with a population that’s in crisis what will happen frequently is parents will do a transference of pain on to the educational system and that just creates hell.”

Parents of special needs children may not know how to deal with their pain and the needs of their children, they said.

“Parents may feel, I had dreams of this and I got this, and I don’t know how to deal with my grief so the easiest way to deal with my pain is put it on (the schools),” Ball said. “What we’re doing is trying to create a holistic environment of health, providing support for families; and then we also provide support for educators.”

Ball and Goyette hold seminars – “Finding Hope” is the kickoff seminar – followed by monthly support gatherings built around a specific topic to help educate parents. They are certified social and emotional intelligence coaches.

“And that’s a big component that we bring to the work we do,” Goyette said. “That involves helping people become aware of themselves and the emotions that we all carry, and also becoming aware of others and how we interact with other people.”

Ball and Goyette have worked with several districts in southeast Michigan: Berkley and Lake Orion. They’ve also worked in Bloomfield Hills, West Bloomfield, Walled Lake, Waterford and Lapeer schools and Macomb ISD.

They stared having conversations with Oakland ISD. “They were looking at a similar initiative, creating an initiative to provide support for families because they realized that was one of the components that was missing in Oakland County,” Ball said.

“What is a healthy relationship based on? It’s based on becoming a healthy communicator and becoming a good listener so you can hear the needs of someone else. It’s based on empathy,” Goyette said. “So, those are the things we focus on in any seminar, whether it’s with parents or educators.”

Programs at Pine Tree Center are paid for by the Oakland Intermediate School Districts, Goyette and Ball said. “This is not being paid for by Lake Orion schools; this is completely funded by Oakland schools.”

The school initiative program is also open to parents in the Clarkston, Rochester and Oxford schools. The seminars begin with a specific topic on which Ball and Goyette provide education. A group sharing period comes next, followed by Ball and Goyette helping parents build skills based on that topic.

“It’s a lot more comprehensive than a typical support group,” Goyette said. “We want to hone in on specific topics that we know are a part of the challenges that moms and dads deal with in parenting these kids, but we want to have them addressed to (their) specific needs. We talk about things like flexibility, balance, acceptance, dealing with trauma, how do we deal with anxiety in our daily life, implementing healthy boundaries.”

They also work with school staff, such as bus drivers and ParaPro’s, helping them understand special needs children and how to interact with them, even if the child seems to be agitated, and focus on empathy and understanding.

“They have this huge responsibility. They are the first people that often deal with these kids when they walk on the bus. They can make or break a day for a child based on their interaction with that child,” Goyette said. “Just knowing that this kid had a story before he got to you.”

“And knowing that one diagnosis is going to look different from one child to the next, so we can’t do a broad brush with a diagnosis… and also being receptive to the fact that relationships are reciprocal. So, we do our best to help parents understand that the teachers are dealing with things in their lives, too. If we can peel away a few layers and meet each other at a different place, then everyone benefits,” Goyette said.

“The parents have never been offered anything like this before, so it provides a safe place for them to get support and connect with people that are walking the walk with them, which John and I do,” Goyette said.

“We’ve gotten really great feedback from everyone that we do our presentations with,” Goyette said, adding that school employees’ have commented that “’We haven’t really seen anything like this before, and you’re tapping into things that really help us.”

Ball points out that parents of special needs children are not “victims” but experience the frustration of dealing with a situation that they did not expect and are not prepared to handle continuously without support.

“When you end up with a kid that has special needs in any regard, it becomes a very, very lonely environment,” Ball said. “A lot of people say, ‘If you need anything give me a call’ and that’s where it ends. A lot of special needs families are very isolated because the intensity of the need is so overwhelming. Very few people are willing to step up to the plate and provide the support those families need.”

“This is one component of providing that sense that ‘I’m not alone in the journey. That someone is walking with me and someone is willing to care,’” Ball said.