According to Parent to Parent of Georgia's educational materials, "A Navigator Team works to strengthen families, especially those with disabilities, through a countywide parent-led volunteer network. Navigator Teams help to find or develop resources to meet the unique needs of their county. They serve as a point of contact in the community, work in partnership with local leaders, share their knowledge of local resources and provide guidance to other families.
"Navigator Teams are a project of the Parent Leadership Coalition (PLC) under the supervision of Parent to Parent of Georgia. ... Some examples of what Navigator Teams have done are conduct a resource fair, form support groups for families, host an educational workshop, hold dances for children who have disabilities, start a Challenger Sports team, organize a parents night out or play groups. Every county will look different but all share a common goal of linking families to local resources through a parent leadership network."
Formed in February 2010, the Bartow team kicked off its regular schedule of meetings for the public Sept. 8 with a meet-and-greet outing at Dellinger Park. Drawing 74 people, the group welcomed families with needs ranging from cancer to autism.
"The main reason I felt like it was [needed in Bartow County] is to connect those families with somebody who might understand what they're going through and to give socialization for those individuals," Allen said. "Because, for the most part, they don't typically fit. They don't get invited to birthday parties. They don't get kind of the whole socialization that most people get because they just don't have that ability to form those friendships in your regular setting. [To help encourage socialization] we have a movie event for our teenagers and older, not this Sunday but the next Sunday, where we're just going to see 'Dolphin Tale,' which of course truly fits us because it's about this dolphin who had his tail cut off and they had to make him another tail, and it's a true story. But you know all these kids kind of overcome these obstacles, so that seemed like a really good movie for us to go see.
"And we try and pair them up with a buddy who is a typical person because we don't want them just hanging around with special people. We want to be able to integrate them into society a little bit better, and when they've got that one-on-one with a buddy, they've got somebody who automatically knows that they're special needs, who's going to try a little bit harder to help them fit. ... So we really just want to bring more awareness to the special needs population, integrate them more in society [and] educate them better."
Describing it as "well-rounded," Allen said the team's core group also consists of Kim Chester, Bartow County Schools' parent mentor, Cheryl Barnes with Babies Can't Wait and Joe Robinson with Challenger sports. Along with being the team leader, Allen also personally knows firsthand how vital Navigator Teams are to families like hers.
"The way that I got involved with Navigator is my daughter is special needs," Allen said about her 16-year-old daughter, Courtney Rediger, who has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, seizure disorder, cortical dysplasia and left hemiparisis. "She, three years ago, had a really, really hard time. We were back and forth to the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, and they were looking at taking the whole right side of her brain out because her seizures were so bad. One day when I went to take her to therapy up in Rome, I saw a flier for a cheerleading team that was forming for special needs. Her dream was always to be a cheerleader. So at this time when her whole life was fixing to possibly change, that was the only thing that was her positive.
"So we got involved with the cheerleading team up in Rome and for three years they've been going strong. They have competed in Gatlinburg. Well, the Navigator Team leader in Rome just so happens to be the area coordinator for Parent to Parent of Georgia. And one day she said, 'Well, Wendy, you can keep coming to Rome for everything that you need to do with special needs or you can form your own team.' So that's how our team was formed."
The Bartow County Navigator Team meets the second Thursday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at Oakland Heights Baptist Church, 1439 Highway 411 N.E. in Cartersville. While the Challenger league already is offering recreational opportunities, some possible events the Navigator Team is looking into include a boys' game afternoon, a girls' sleepover, and a high school and older peer group.
For more information about the Bartow County Navigator Team, view its Facebook page or contact Allen at 770-547-0234 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.