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NEWS | Nov. 1, 2012

Annual event showcases resources for special-needs families

By Robert Goetz Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Public Affairs

Special-needs families from all three Joint Base San Antonio locations came together Oct. 13 for an annual event showcasing organizations that can help them and a recreation park that provides them with a fun, safe haven.

The third annual JBSA Special Needs Resource Fair and Activity Day at Morgan's Wonderland, a family fun park in Northeast San Antonio designed for children with special needs, attracted dozens of military families enrolled in the Department of Defense's Exceptional Family Member Program.

"The resource fair gives EFMP families an opportunity to be educated about support agencies and programs, both on their installations and out in their communities, that are available in the greater San Antonio area," Wanda Cooper, JBSA-Randolph school liaison officer and EFMP coordinator, said.

More than 40 organizations from the San Antonio community and military sector, including Any Baby Can, Children's Association for Maximum Potential, One for Autism and Sunshine Cottage School for Deaf Children, participated in the resource fair, setting up tables in the facility's event center.

This year's event included a new feature, Child Find.

"With Child Find, parents have the opportunity to have their children screened as early as possible for detection of a possible disability," Cooper said.

Amy Rodriguez, San Antonio Easter Seals public outreach coordinator, said professionals from Early Childhood Intervention providers, Pediatric Therapy Associates and Behavior Keys interview parents and talk to and observe children for about 15 minutes.

"If they feel there is a developmental problem going on, they recommend further comprehensive evaluation," she said.

The resource fair also featured remarks by Air Force Col. Christine Erlewine, 902nd Mission Support Group commander; performances by musicians from Fort Sam Houston, singer Sierra Cecil and San Antonio-based Kinetic Kids; and appearances by members of the San Antonio Scorpions soccer team and H-E-B Buddy.

Families attending the event found it educational and entertaining.

Air Force Maj. Melissa Rokey, San Antonio Military Health System Resource Management Branch chief, said the resource fair was a "good opportunity to look at the resources that are available to my family."

She also said her four children enjoyed Morgan's Wonderland's attractions.

"The kids rode a few rides and thought it was great that the park was designed with so much effort into making everything completely accessible to children with much more special needs than my own kids," Rokey said. "It warmed my heart when I watched a child swing with an ear-to-ear smile. The swing wasn't a standard swing, but was specially designed with the intent for the entire wheelchair to be secured on. This is a child who may have never had an opportunity to swing before, something that most of us probably take for granted."

Heather Strable, whose husband, Air Force Master Sgt. Bradley Strable, is the 59th Medical Operations Squadron Internal Medicine Flight chief, called the resource fair "beneficial."

"We've lived in San Antonio for about a year, so this is the perfect time to get all this information," she said. "The people we've talked to are very helpful, knowledgeable and caring."

Ericka O'Bryant, Fort Sam Houston community health nurse and a volunteer at the resource fair, said it's "rewarding" to assist special-needs children and be a part of the event.

"I get to see children grow, flourish and thrive in spite of their needs," she said.

O'Bryant said the resource fair has already established itself as an important event for military families with special-needs members.

"We know it's successful because it's growing and more people are getting involved each year," she said.