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Effingham Magazine

An Inclusion Revolution: The Effingham County Navigators Give Families of Disabled Persons the Tools to Thrive

An Inclusion Revolution: The Effingham County Navigators Give Families of Disabled Persons the Tools to Thrive

Story by Cindy Reid

More than ten years ago Pauline Shaw was in search of information and resources that could help her special needs daughter, Dakota Roundtree.

Driven by a desire to share the valuable information she found with other families, she started a parent-led support group for families and their special needs children, including their siblings. Angela Jackson, also a parent of a special needs daughter, Jadin, was immediately drawn to the idea and together as President and Vice President they have been at the helm of the Effingham County Navigators ever since.

The initial program was an immediate success. Continuing today, the support meetings are held monthly and usually feature a speaker, and the group also works as an advocate for their children.

“Far from being a sad environment, people need to know that we are definitely upbeat, and we leave our meetings better than when we came in,” says Pauline. “And it’s a wonderful opportunity for our kids to get together and socialize as well.”

All are Welcome

“We take every disability, and we do use the term disabled because we don’t want to get caught up in verbiage,” says Angela.

From ADHD, shaken baby syndrome, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, mobility issues including wheelchairs, autism, and cerebral palsy to Fragile X syndrome, the Navigators advocate for all because although each person’s diagnosis may be different, many of the resources are the same. And as children grow it’s important for families to know what assistance is available.

While they continue to host monthly support and informational meetings, the Navigators have become so much more than that. About once a week the children have a recreational activity.

Because their goal is to “make the whole family whole,” siblings are encouraged to join in and participate in the recreational activities, which range from bowling, basketball, softball, and soccer to attending fun community events.

Instead of focusing on the negative, the Navigators measure quality of life through the smiles on their children’s faces

One goal of the group is community awareness. As Pauline says, “Instead of just looking at our disabilities, look at our abilities. We help each other be acknowledged and included. We still have a long way to go to change people’s perception. We advocate for the most vulnerable population with the quietest voice, but when we come together our voice is loud enough to be heard. We need to be heard because there should be no discrimination.”

Both women urge families to get involved, build relationships, and become part of the Navigator community. “If an individual with a disability touches your heart, you need to join us. Come be a part of the Navigator family, it will only improve your life. The first time is new—for both parents and children—and being scared to try something is natural,” says Pauline. “But the second time they love it!”

It is helpful for families to know that there is no cost to participate in any Navigator activity. Everything is free—including t-shirts, admission tickets for outings, and sports team registrations—because they want to remove barriers to family participation.

“We started out with $80 in our checking account and our fundraiser was a huge yard sale,” says Pauline. “Today we are a 501(c)3 Non Profit Charity and we are funded by small grants, community fundraising, and sponsorships from local businesses.”

Sports & Recreation

“We are about building families—not athletes—and so we are so much more than sports,” says Pauline, “But recreation has always been a huge part of the Navigators because recreation is so embedded in our community. The parents in the Navigators want their children to benefit from all recreation has to offer, to learn friendship, to socialize, to create great memories—and to earn trophies too! “

Clarence E. Morgan, Director of Recreation and Sports Management for Effingham County, is the Navigator’s biggest fan and best advocate. They say he is their angel because “he has taken us under his wing. He makes sure we are not only included, but up front and equal with every other team and kid.”

Through the Recreation and Sports Management department, Clarence has also provided trophies, Easter baskets, Christmas goodies, and was instrumental in the creation of the fully accessible Josh Reddick Stadium at the Clarence E. Morgan Complex (CEM).

The CEM is very unique in that it has two adult changing stations, which as Pauline points out, “We have two at CEM and there is not even one at the Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta. That’s because Mr. Clarence understood what is needed to treat our families with respect and dignity.”

The Navigators use the Josh Reddick Stadium for softball and soccer season and it’s fully accessible features have made it a model for sports and recreation departments across the state.

Supportive Employment

The Navigators are invested in helping their children become independent adults through meaningful employment.

“Employment leads to less dependence on the state, while helping build a better life for our children as they become adults,” says Angela.

The Community Based Vocational Instruction (CBVI) program is a critical component and the Navigators fully back supportive employment opportunities throughout the community.

“We want it to be bigger, to include entrepreneurship, not just working for others but to have the potential to have others work for them,” says Pauline. “We are excited for the opportunities for our kids to gain experience, learn new vocations and expand their horizons.”

One vocational opportunity is the Puzzle Piece Boutique, managed by Angela, where you can “Shop with a Purpose & Change Lives.” The boutique provides vocational opportunities and the revenue helps support the Navigator’s programs. The shop features a large assortment of new merchandise and all types of customized products. It’s on Etsy, Instagram, and has followers all over the world. The boutique is located in the United Way building and has recently expanded.

“It’s fundraising, it’s social and it’s vocational!” says Angela.

Navigator Young Adults

A new program is the Navigator Young Adults, a monthly peer support built around friendship, inclusion, and guidance into adulthood sponsored by the Effingham County Navigator Team. It provides young adults with diagnosis of intellectual, developmental disabilities, autism or any other young adult who would like to join a safe place to transition into adulthood.

The Navigator Young Adults goal is to provide members with friendship, self-advocacy skills, and inclusive recreational activities, while gaining confidence and independence outside of their home unit. People from Effingham and surrounding counties are invited to join, and all activities are free of charge.

Heroes & Angels

Pauline says heroes and angels come in all forms. “Since Dakota was little, she has had two best friends, Nicolas “Tiny” Milbrandt and Annabelle Sheley, who have participated in so many of our events. Because of these two young people, inclusion has spread across the county, sparking an ‘Inclusion Revolution’!”

Pauline also includes Effingham County School District Superintendent Dr. Yancy Ford, Clarence Morgan, and State Representative Bill Hitchens, on the Heroes & Angels list, to name just a few.

And the two daughters whose parents started it all?

Jadin Jackson, a wonderful artist and one of the Navigators biggest sports fanatics, recently turned 18 and is thriving, and Dakota Roundtree, also 18, is a very active student at South Effingham High School.

As for Angela and Pauline, they will keep navigating the way for others to follow. Just follow the sounds of their angel wings.

The Navigators meet every second Tuesday of the month at 6:30pm at the Resource Center: 711 Zitterour Dr, Rincon, GA.