WSU students share fun times at Family Enrichment Weekends.
 
Temple Grandin, left, and her mother
Eustacia Cutler.
 
Temple Grandin to speak
at autism conference
 
PULLMAN, Wash. – Temple Grandin, who overcame the challenges of autism to become an expert in animal behavior, will speak at the “Family is Important” autism conference on Nov. 8.
 
Grandin’s mother, Eustacia Cutler, also will speak. Both are nationally known advocates for people with autism, a spectrum of behavioral problems ranging from mild to debilitating. Their story was told in the 2010 HBO feature film “Temple Grandin.”
 
The public conference will be 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at the SEL Event Center, 1825 Schweitzer Dr. It is sponsored by the Pullman-based nonprofit Families Together in collaboration with the Washington State University College of Education and College of Veterinary Medicine.
 
The agenda and registration information are available at http://www.familiestogether.org.
 
The program also will feature Arlene Mantegna of Autism Families Together; Sally Burton-Hoyle, founder of sibling program Kidpower, and a father’s panel including Doug Pierce, Tom Weddle and invited guest actor Joe Mantegna.
 
Grandin is credited with revolutionizing practices for the humane handling of livestock on cattle ranches and in slaughterhouses. She is a professor at Colorado State University. Her visit to Pullman will include a public lecture at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 7, in WSU’s Compton Union Building ballroom.
 
For more information, contact Sherry Watson, sherry@familiestogether.org, 509-335-2321.
PULLMAN, Wash. – Alumnus Jason Cooper begins the story that changed his life this way: “There was this little girl. Her name was Holly.”
 
Cooper is a special education teacher in Colfax, Wash. His classroom is filled with students who have disabilities, many of them severe. Talking about Holly, the first such student he got to know well, still chokes him up.
 
He met her 13 years ago at a Family Enrichment Weekend, the signature event of the nonprofit organization Families Together. The goal of each weekend – a hotel getaway with an entertainment-packed program – is to strengthen families stressed by taking care of children with disabilities.
 
Life-changing experience
Cooper was among hundreds of Washington State University student volunteers who joined those children and their siblings for the weekend. His partner was 9-year-old Holly. She was born with Down syndrome, which affects appearance and mental development.
 
“She was always happy,” he said. “I got to know her and her single mom. I was intrigued by how this lady raised this beautiful little girl and always looked at the positives of life.”
Because of this experience, Cooper changed his major from speech pathology to special education, graduating from the WSU College of Education in 2001.
 
Famous supporters
Families Together was founded by Chris Curry, a special education consultant in Pullman, Wash., who serves as its executive director. She saw parents exhausted by caring for, and seeking services for, children with disabilities. She wanted to give them a time out, a chance to focus on the family unit and find support from those in similar situations.
 
“I tell parents ‘You didn’t have children to have a project, you did it to become a family,’ ” she said.
Her approach has been endorsed by two of the country’s best-known advocates for people with autism: Eustacia Cutler and her daughter Temple Grandin. Both will be keynote speakers at the Nov. 8 “Family Is Important” conference in Pullman.
 
“Eustacia came to several Family Enrichment Weekends two or three years ago and fell in love with the program,” said Curry.
 
The Temple Grandin-Eustacia Cutler Autism Fund has been set up to support programs that serve families affected by autism. Last week, the founders announced that Families Together would administer the fund.
 
A bond with WSU     
The first Family Enrichment Weekend was held in 1982 in Kansas. Curry and her husband, Ed Helmstetter, later took jobs at WSU, where he was a faculty member in the College of Education and she directed the Center of Supportive Education, a statewide training program that promoted inclusive education.
 
In 1986, Marilyn Lilly, wife of then-education Dean Steve Lilly, asked Curry if she could organize a Family Enrichment Weekend in Pullman so their children could attend. A later College of Education dean, Judy Mitchell, worked out a formal arrangement with Families Together that provides it with free office space in the Smith Gym building.
 
 
Family Enrichment Weekends, held as often as funding is available, are the cornerstone of Families Together. But its help goes far beyond that. Staff members regularly hear from parents who need advice about how to work with schools, get financial help and cope with daily struggles.
 
“Families call from all over the country,” said Curry. “We do a lot of home visits to work with children having behavior problems.”
 
Three local employees and a nationwide board of directors keep the organization going. Volunteers have always included Curry’s family. Helmstetter, now retired, helps write grant applications. The couple’s two sons, Preston and Nolan, assist in running the children’s program during Family Enrichment Weekends.
 
Families Together receives some support from Pullman United Way, the Moscow-Latah County United Way, and the Twin County United Way. PUSH America, an outreach project of Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity, contributes both money and volunteer time.
 
Football player princesses
If you like to have a good time, Curry tells WSU students, you’ll like volunteering for Family Enrichment Weekends.
 
“We get children who like to dress up football players as princesses,” she said. “We have games, music, skits.”
 
So many students want to meet their community service obligation through Families Together that Curry must turn some of them away. 
 
“In any year, we provide practicum experience for 200 students. We get fraternity members, accounting majors, students from the veterinary college. We have a lot of students who become teachers.”
 
Value of experience is immeasurable
The College of Education’s Special Education Endorsement Program has had a long and supportive relationship with Families Together, said Professor Darcy Miller. Future teachers fulfill course requirements by working at conferences, camps and workshops.
 
“Families Together has changed the lives of many of our students,” said Miller. “They see what it’s like for families to deal with disabilities, and they witness the love of the children’s parents and siblings. The value of that experience can’t be measured through tests and course credits.”
 
Cooper agrees wholeheartedly. He continued to work with Families Together after that initial weekend with Holly and still calls Curry for advice.
 
Even after 11 years as a special education teacher, he said, he has no trouble finding motivation: “I know that my worst day could be that little kid’s best chance at life.”
 
For more information, visit:
 
 
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Source:
Chris Curry, ftpd@familiestogether.org, 509-335-2321
Media contact:
Julie Titone, jtitone@wsu.edu, 509-335-6850