Summit assists families with special needs

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah — Moving is a way of life for most military families, but for families with special needs, a change of station can be particularly challenging.

The base held a Special Needs Summit for families March 15 – an information fair for military and civilian employees to learn about area services and programs available to families with special needs.

More than 130 providers from 90 on- and off-base agencies attended the summit.

Tammy Custer, a base Exceptional Family Member Program-Family Support specialist, said the summit gives families the opportunity to not only learn about all the different programs available, but to speak with mental health, special education and early intervention specialists on the spot.

“I’ve been with the program since 2010 and this is my sixth summit,” Custer said. “We have tripled the number of providers. It’s heartening to see families getting such great support from so many outstanding agencies.

“This incredible platform increases parents understanding of available resources while significantly reducing their burdens and stress,” Custer continued.

Scott and Wendy Heim attended Hill AFB’s first Families with Special Needs Summit in 2010 with their daughter Brianna.

They were captivated by the idea of finding a service animal for their daughter and said Canine Companions, one of the agencies that attended summit, left quite an impression on them.

The Heims thought about it for a couple years and when Brianna was at an appropriate age, and when they felt she could really benefit from a companion dog, they applied for one.

Brianna’s canine companion, Emily, has now been with their daughter for three years helping her with day-to-day tasks such as opening and closing doors, picking things up and carrying items.

Custer said the number of Hill AFB exceptional family members has more than doubled from 250 families to more than 550 families since 2010.

The increase prompted the base to recently add a second EFMP-FS specialist – Alysse Seligman – to Airman & Family Readiness Center staff.

Seligman has worked with children of military families for more than 14 years and said she thrilled to begin her work.

Custer said the Special Needs Summit is held every other year. However, she and Seligman are available throughout the year to assist families.

For more information, call 801-777-4681.