8 GoodLifeFamilyMag.com MARCH APRIL 2016 VIPAWARD Focus on the AbilitiesMOMS ADVOCACY BRINGS AWARENESS TO THE NEEDS OF SPECIAL KIDS It may take a village to raise a child but it takes a REALLY BIG village to raise a special needs child. So says Dallas mom Kelly Waterman who has created a really big village when one didnt exist. Twenty years ago when the Watermans daughter Sara was born with Down syn- drome my husband Robert and I made a commitment to give her as normal a life as possible explains Kelly. He and I are making this journey together as a team and we wanted Sara to be accepted and treated like any other child. Thats when Kellys fierce maternal instincts kicked in. Kelly dove right in and became her daugh- ters advocate if there was an organization Kelly not only supported it she held a seat on its board of directors. Sara whose sunny disposition earned her the nickname Happy attended grade school and mid- dle school in Plano. While some parents of special needs stu- dents might hold back Kelly made it her mission to become a PTA leader and soon was a role model for other parents of special needs children. I wanted people to see special needs kids abilities rather than disabilities she says. Waterman co-founded Special and Gifted Education S.A.G.E. to ad- dress those who learn differently distributing information about classes that accommodate special needs children. Soon neighboring school districts ad- opted S.A.G.E. When Waterman wanted to send Happy to camp and didnt know where to find one she cre- ated her own resource. Starting in 2009 with a handful of camps and a few hundred families Waterman created the S.A.G.E. Summer Expo featuring sum- mer camps that cater to S.A.G.E. kids or will accommodate them. Now the Expo has grown to over 75 camps and 1000 visitors each year. Happy thrived in elementary school and became a cheer- leader at Renner Middle School. Kelly says that being included in cheerleading boosted Happys self-esteem immensely. Once her daughter started high school Kelly wanted to find a high school transition program that would be a good fit for Happy. After thoughtful consideration and thorough research Kelly was particularly impressed with the transition program at Highland Park High School. The family moved to Highland Park and Happy is now thriving in her 2nd year of the transi- tional program. Public school transition programs allow spe- cial needs kids to stay in school until age 22. When Kelly heard that Happys new high school lacked a special needs cheerleading program she put together a pre- sentation for the administration and before she could finish her proposal her idea was approved. For Happy and the oth- er special needs cheerleaders the program builds their con- fidence and makes them feel that they are part of their high school communi- ty. Its wonderful says Happy. I like cheering at the games. Kelly is tickled the Sparkling Scots which pairs var- sity cheerleaders with special needs cheerleaders to teach them routines is so successful. I love not only advocat- ing for my daughter but advocating for all kids. Kellys advocacy is infectious with the whole family taking part. Son Nick an 18-year-old football player for the Air Force Academy and the best brother you could ever imagine has volunteered as a Best Buddy a peer tutor and for the Special Olympics. In her spare time Kelly serves on the Special Education Parent Advisory Committee that makes recommendations to better the school. She is also the schools transition program liaison researching internships training programs and more. By Karyn Brodsky I like cheering at the games. - Sara Happy Waterman on her years of cheerleading including currently for the Highland Park High School Sparkling Scots. To nominate someone you know for the GLF VIP Very Inspiring Parent Award go toGoodLifeFamilyMAG.com.