Meet Our Special-Needs Parent of the Day (Winner List from 2015)

We had close to 100 amazing special-needs parents nominated for special-needs parent of the day. We’re excited to feature one parent each day on the site and send him/her a gift from our sponsors.

August 1st- Jen Valentine, nominated by Beverly Sullivant. Beverly wrote:  “Twenty-two months ago, my friend Jen gave birth to her second child–a daughter. The baby was very floppy and slept a lot. She had shockingly blonde hair and a downward turned mouth. Within days, doctors diagnosed little Chelsea with Prader-Willi Syndrome. This was a difficult time for Jen and her husband, Jim. In the nearly two years since then, however, Jen has become a strong and vocal advocate for people with Prader-Willi Syndrome. She publicizes PWS information that parents need. She shares her story about Chelsea whenever she can. She is very engaged in multiple groups of the Prader-Willi Association. She as created a fundraising webpage, in Chelsea’s name, on the Foundation for Prader-Willi website. And, she has organized a northern New Jersey fundraising walk to take place on August 22, 2015. Jen Valentine deserves to be recognized for her willingness to embrace her daughter’s challenges and to allow them to inspire her to use her own talents and resources for the benefit of others with PWS.”

August 2nd-Duana Benn, nominated by Tara Davis. Tara wrote: “She has a son who is 17 years old who has cerebral palsy. Even with all her family deals with she still help others deal with issues and she is trying to start a respite service in our area to help out the parents that are underserved.”

August 3rd- Amy Stalling, nominated by Michele Berry. Michele wrote, Amy is an amazing woman and a spectacular mom. She is a wildly creative artist who has set aside her art in order to devote all her time and energy into raising and homeschooling not only her special needs daughter (autism and PANS) but he 2 sons as well. She brings her creative and flowing spirit into her parenting and educating of her kids in a seamlessly beautiful way. She cultivates their individuality and encourages them to reach for the stars. She has worked so hard to always meet the unique needs of each of her kids from medical and physical needs to emotional and educational. Her husband travels extensively and is gone for weeks at a time, so there is a lot of time that she is doing all of this by herself with zero breaks. If she read this she would blush and say “it isn’t that big a deal, I am just being their mom and hoping it is enough”, but I am here to tell you, I admire and respect her in ways I can’t even begin to describe. From one special needs mom to another, she deserves to be honored.

August 4th- Jessica Carey, nominated by Brett Spore. Brett wrote, “I met Jessica at the clinic where our son gets OT/PT/ST. She has little twin boys and she does everything she can for them.  She celebrates every small success in their lives, and I just feel like she’s a mom who could really benefit from something special this August. I would love for her to receive a positive boost as she is just at the beginning of a very long double header with those two little angels.  Thank you.”

August 5th- Amanda Guilfoyle, nominated by Nancy Guilfoyle. Nancy wrote, “My daughter in law is one strong lady Not only does her son Cody have 22q deletion syndrome, which means lots and lots of doctors appointments, speech therapy, physical therapy and a few operations, but she herself has dystonia. I have never heard her complain about her own pain, nor ever asked why me, why Cody. She really really could use some pampering just for herself.”

August 6th- Jody Sylvester, nominated by Eric Sylvester. Eric wrote, “She is amazing with our 17 year old Down Syndrome son. She decided early on to incorporate him into our world. We play in a band and he comes to every gig, helps with setting up equipment and even sings on stage with us. Everyone in town knows him. He loves our Saints parties and helps us clean up for them. He reads, writes and can work an I-pad and computer better than us. He is happy and healthy.”

August 7th- Dave and Aimee Jenkins, nominated by Jerry Warden. Jerry wrote, “Dave and Aimee are my neighbors. They are very loving and caring parents of three children. They are spiritual and great role models. They watched my daughter and got her on the school bus her fifth grade year. My 11 year old daughter commented to me on numerous occasions on how involved and patient they both were. This family deserves recognition and I’m happy to call them my friends and neighbors!”

August 8th- Jenny Ford, nominated by Laura McNemee. Laura wrote, “Jenny works a full-time job during the day and spends every night caring for her daughter with severe autism.  Although I see how tired she is picking up mess after mess, she never waivers trying to help Kendalynn.  She works with her everyday to help her become more independent.  She is also a big supporter of me.  I also have a child with autism and we are sisters.  We both cry on each other’s shoulders and lift each other up.  This was not always the case, but we are both battling our way out of depression and have found strength and solace in each other.  She is my inspiration and I see her tears of joy as Kendalynn is starting to talk.  She told her she loved her for the first time recently and it gave me hope.  She deserves to be encouraged and uplifted!  Love you sis!”

August 9th- Kathy Borello, nominated by Sheila Newcomb. Sheila wrote, “Kathy handles being a special needs parent with love, compassion, and a sense of humor. Her daughter Hannah was born 14 years ago with a rare chromosomaldosrder of Tetrasomy 18p and Kathy is dedicated herself to raising money for research. She is currently on the Board of Directors on the national level as well as being involved in many local charities to help her daughter Hannah. Kathy is Hannah’s advocate and cheerleader. She is her staunch defender and fighter. But Kathy also knows that you need to have a sense of humor in order to keep your sanity when raising a special needs child. She says that Hannah would make a great interrogator for the police because she is relentless in asking the same questions over and over. Hannah could any hardened criminal to confess their crimes after a couple of hours of hearing her ask the same questions over and over! Kathy is such a wonderful mom and she gives her all to her children and family. She inspires anyone that meets her to strive to be a better person.”

August 10th- Nathan Harris, nominated by Wendy West. Wendy wrote, Nate is the best father and husband in the world!  Our son Zander is almost nine years old and autistic.  Nate and Zander are best friends.  I decided to quit my job as a teacher two years ago and go to law school to be a disability rights attorney.  I have to work 14 hours a day on my school work and Nate has single handedly taken over daddy duties and is basically single parenting our high maintenance child.  We just found out I am pregnant and so Nate will take on even more responsibility.  I know that he is the best dad in the world but I would like a little recognition for him.  Thx!

August 11th- Melissa Keyser, nominated by Faith Keyser. Faith wrote, “Melissa has a 2 and 1/2 year old son with cerebral palsy. She has been faithfully nurturing him since he was born at 23 weeks. She searches out the best physical, occupational, speech and feeding therapy for her son. He has epilepsy and she has been dealing with finding the best neurologist and effective treatment for his seizures. She gives back by working with March of Dimes and is getting involved in starting a ministry to special needs parents at her church. She would be so encouraged and blessed by being a special needs parent of the day!”

August 12th- Elisha  Arguello, nominated by Lisa. Lisa wrote, I’ve watched this Mom and her commitment to her two special needs sons for several years. She even pursued and gained her nursing degree to be able to care for them and support her family. She’s a Rockstar.

August 13th- Melissa Gilley, nominated by Rebecca Wood. Rebecca wrote, I want to nominate Melissa because she’s an amazing advocate for her child and won’t stop until he gets what he needs. She still has time to be a good friend. Also, because Wyatt is super cute and has surpassed his doctors expectations. I love this family.

August 14th- Kris Stein, nominated by Jon Willett. Jon wrote, Kris is an AMAZING mom. She has 4 children, 3 of which are considered special-needs. Like many moms, Kris has put her own dreams on hold to raise these amazing children. Her 18 year old daughter suffers from Aspergers, her 13 year old daughter has selective-mutism, SEVERE anxiety, and depression. If she didn’t have her hands full enough, her 4yr old son has Childhood Apraxia of Speech and Sensory Processing Disorder. Through it all Kris tries to greet every challenging day with a smile on her face and love in her heart. She rarely takes any time for herself. Summer is more difficult for this family because they are missing the structure that school provides and the 3 hour break it gives Kris to run errands. I would love for Kris to know that her dedication to her children doesn’t go unnoticed. Thank you.

August 15th- Laurie Papotto, nominated by Donna Coghlan. Donna wrote, My daughter, Laurie, is the most amazing mother I’ve ever known. She’s a mother to four, one of whom is 13-year-old Thomas, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3. Laurie has fought and scratched to get Thomas the help he needed, in spite of resistance from schools, in particular, along with doctors, therapists, etc. In order to get Thomas into a small, private school, specializing in autism, Laurie works two jobs. She gets up at 5 a.m., takes care of someone’s horses, takes the children to school, then works in the Garden Department of three different Home Depot Stores. In the evenings, she goes back and tends horses again. In between, she manages to be Room Mother for some of the other children, plus managing her household, and ferrying the other children to their activities. Her husband works a full time job and helps when possible, but Laurie is the mom, and she shoulders more than most people could even bear. I tell her, God knew what He was doing when he chose her to be Thomas’ mom.

August 16th- Jen Finley, nominated by Jan Connors. Jan wrote, Jen has raised a special needs daughter, while working -& raising her daughter’s twin brother.  Her daughter, Kaitlyn, now almost 8 years was diagnosed @ 6 months with cerebral palsy & could not walk.  With much therapy, organized by Jen, Kaitlyn is walking by herself @ pool therapy. Jen has to carry & hold her much & has endured surgery’s to her neck & back due to Kaitlyn’s agent & weight while taking care of her twins! Jen is a saint & deserves much!

August 17th- Gay Neal, nominated by Candy Joyce. Candy wrote, My sister has an amazing son (20 years old) that she and her husband have raised and loved.  Noting that he needs friends and opportunities that were not readily avilable outside his school classroom, the have founded and chartered the Special Needs Sports Foundation in Hendersonville, TN, a 501(c)3 non-profit that connects kids and their families into sports programs and social activities.  What began as a personal family bowling night grew into a special needs family bowling league, now into a volunteer program that offers Basketball, bowling and softball for kids and their families, and prepares the kids for Special Olympics competitions.  They have a meeting space, community sponsorships and assistance, and provide social events and connections for children and young adults in their community.

August 18th- Elisabeth VandenToorn, nominated by Nikki Veurink. Nikki writes, “Elisabeth loves her son Joshua so beautifully.  She follows him as he roams while still maintaining a smile and a gentle tone.  She puts his needs before her own and doesn’t love him any less because of it.  Elisabeth strives to find out the best care and therapy that she can provide Joshua so he can develop to the best of his ability.  Her heart is full of love for Joshua, without any bitterness or resentment.  She is honest, but yet hopeful.  She is strong, but yet finds her true strength in God.  Elisabeth is a beautiful example of selfless motherhood.”

August 19th-Carol Ann Darden, nominated by Shasta Onarecker. Shasta writes, “Carol is an amazing woman who gives selflessly to her children as well as her friends and family. She has three amazing children and two of them have autism. One is a high functioning high schooler, who served on her student council and won a local beauty pageant. Her adult son requires substantial support, but is a gifted artist and takes classes at a local community college. Carol encourages her children to continue learning new skills and to care and invest in others even though they have experienced social rejection on many occasions. I am impressed that she does not allow them to give in to fear,  frustration and feelings of inadequacy.  As much as she cares for her family she helps those around her. She deserves praise and encouragement for being a “super” mom!”

August 20th- Glen and Mary Winslow, nominated by Joy Cozzi. Joy writes, I nominate my friends Glen and Mary Winslow.  They have adopted several kids from hard places. Last year they adopted two from Bulgaria a little boy and a little girl named JoyAnna. JoyAnna is from Bulgaria and spend 6 years tied to a crib, they also cut the tendons in her ankles to keep her from walking. Because of this mistreatment and lack of social interaction JoyAnna  is severely mentally delayed and its unknown if she will walk again. Their little boy also has many delays. Mary and her family brought these children into their home, loving them and rehabilitating them.  JoyAnna is just blooming in the Winslow’s care. Because of what they saw in the orphanages there in Bulgaria they have decided and have been accepted to go back and adopted/rescue another child there… one with down syndrome. Some may think this is too much for one family to take on,  but the way they look at it is there home is better then being institutionalized or tied to a crib. Seeing the children grow, and learn to interact with people is all the proof I needs. No child should be tied to a crib for years, hobbled, or given an unnecessary feeding tube just to make meal time easier on the “care”givers. JoyAnn has gone from having a glazed look to a bright eyes ready to engage in the world around her.  Yes this family is not shy about taking on hurt kids from hard places.  I would love to see them blessed … when they’re supported the children are blessed.

August 21st- Edwinna Eyrich, nominated by Emily Eyrich. Emily writes, “I want to nominate my mom. Our story is one that I believe is awesome. My parents have 6 kids. They adopted me and my sister. My sister Lizzy was born with down syndrome and a drug baby. The challenges i watch my mom walk daily are incredibly hard and rewarding. Her strength and endurance amazes me daily. I am 13 years old. My mom is the strongest person I have ever Known. My sister Has many challenges and behavior is one that Is always on the fore front. She also has sensory issues, lots if breathing issues. My mom always seems to work things out for everyone in our family to make sure no one is left out. I watch her scarfice everything. My mom hasnt seen 4 of her grandchildren in 3 years due to not being able to travel with my sister. My sister cannot endure a trip that long. Just recently my parents obtained custody of another one of their grandchildren. WOW!! I didnt know how this would work out. But my mom says it will work. What makes me see the strength within my mom is her determination with no family support, the love she has for not just her own family but always reaching out to help others. My parents are foster parents and they have seen 42 kids come through our home in 9 years. Mom says it was her dream to always be a mom. My mom is and always will be someone I look up to and she will always be my hero.. she’s amazing! Her love and endurance never ceases to amaze everyone!”

August 22nd- Lisa Anne Christopher, nominated by Jen Wilson Loggins. Jen writes, “I would like to nominate my best friend, Lisa Anne Christopher. When my son was diagnosed with autism 7 years ago, Lisa Anne was always there to encourage me and was my “safe place” to talk through what I was feeling. Little did I know that a few years later she would have a precious little boy who was also diagnosed with autism. She is not only the mother to an au-some little boy, she is a military wife and devoted daughter. The same year her husband was gone to basic training she provided round-the-clock care for her father who passed away after a long battle with cancer. Lisa Anne stays strong and always puts her son first. She is a loving, attentive mother who makes sure her son is healthy and happy even though she is far away from friends and family support due to the military lifestyle. She deserves some extra attention and encouragement more than anyone I know.”

August 23rd- Julie Styer, nominated by Jessica Styer. Jessica wrote, “I married into a special needs family. My mother in law had my husband, her typical child, and then my brother in law who has cerebral palsy. Because of his high needs, she was a stay at home mom for a long time. She recently went back for her degree and decided she wanted to be a special education teacher. Not only does she take care of her son with special needs, but she has a whole class of students in CDC. She rarely has time for herself, and gives her all for children with special needs. I think she deserves to be a special needs mom of the month everyday. It takes a woman of prayer and patience to do all the things she does!”

August 24th- Beverly Robbins, nominated by Donna McCall. Donna writes, “Beverly has been raising a 20 yr old non verbal autistic daughter.  She was a military wife and often had to battle and rebattle for her daughter.  All the while raising another amazing daughter.  Despite her own challenges she has been a source of strength, support and resources for others during there special needs parenting journey.  If anyone deserves to win it’s Beverly Robbins!”

August 25th- Rachel DePaulo, nominated by Holly Hornickel. Holly wrote, “Rachel’s son was born and diagnosed with Pitt Hopkins Syndrome, a very rare genetic abnormality involving deletaions of the 18 th chomosone.  He was the first case diagnosed at Children’s Hospital in DC.  Less then 200 in the world at that time.  Ryan is now 5.   Both parents are givers back to the community, Rachel a teacher, and Mike a police officer.  They have 2 other normal children.  No one could be more deserving!   This precious child makes everyone who comes in contact with him to look at themselves and become more sensitive and tolerate to children with disabilities.  As a couple they struggle with a 5 year old who needs complete care, but they do it with love and grace and help when needed.Ryan has made us all better people for being born into our lives!”

August 26th- Cheryl and Larry Cotter, nominated by Lesley Maxwell and Lisa Dill. Lesley and Lisa wrote, “I would like to nominate the Cotter ‘s because with all the adversities they encounter, they continually give back to the community with such open hearts. They wake up every morning and lay their heads down every night with a smile on their face, love in their heart, and the strength and determination to do it all over again tomorrow. They are hands down one the of the most deserving couples of any and everything  that could come their way.  We Love this family!!”

August 27th- Kelly Rumrill, nominated by Amber Howe. Amber wrote, “This is a very special need parent she is my mom had two boys we to young to care for them my stepped up and adopted them so i knew they were safe they have many problems dont really know everything but i know my mom really takes good care of them manages 10 to 11 meds each has a routine that at her age is getting hard for her but she does it everyday she needs someone to take notice of all her hard work and love for these children and she does a great job.”

August 28th- Mark Smith, nominated by Helen Smith. Helen wrote, “My husband Mark Smith chose to be a special needs parent when he married me and adopted our first two kids. Our oldest son, Romeo is 12 he is vision impaired,mentally, handicap, and Autistic. Heaven is 10 and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2014. We have been married 6 years and have had 3 more children. Elijah was stillborn at 37 weeks, Jacob our 4 year old was recently diagnosed as globally Developmentally delayed, and finally Eliyanah is a 10 month old handful! I am blown away daily at the love, patience, and grace he shows our children and myself! We are truly blessed by an Awesome special needs daddy!”

August 29th- Sara Gilliam, nominated by Sherri. Sherri wrote, “I met Sara 8 years ago when our sons were both diagnosed with congenital hydrocephalus. Sara is an awesome mother to both Lanie (her neurotypical daughter) and Owen (her son with special needs.  Sara recently became a single mother. Parenting a child with special needs is challenging enough with 2 parents. I know Sara could use the encouragement right now that she is doing awesome and everything will be OK.  She has been a blessing to so many. I’d love to be able to show her how amazing and inspiring she is.”

August 30th- Saybra Slayton, nominated by Debbie. Debbie wrote, “Saybra has 8 children.Two of the children are special needs. She handles everything with an amazing attitude.”

August 31st- Michelle and Chad Johns, nominated by BethAnn Fuller. BethAnn wrote, “Michelle and her husband Chad are parents of 2 special needs children. Seth and ReynaJoy are both thriving because the Johns household is specifically designed for the children’s safety. From special diets to individualized medical, learning and therapy regiments, Michelle and Chad live their lives for their children, while both working full time. The love and attention Seth and ReynaJoy receive is amazing! The ever changing needs are somehow made consistent without gaps or lapses because of Michelle’s constant care, involvement and research! Please choose this spectacular parent as your spotlight parent!”