In a time of confusion and fear, Parenting Impossible guest Laura Whitaker says that she is leading her business with courageous and thoughtful decision making rather than being reactive to the constant changes that are occurring. Laura is the Executive Director of Extra Special People (ESP) in Athens, Georgia, an organization that provides summer camp, resources, support, and services for families of kids with disabilities. She started in this role when she was 19 years old, and she says that while some people may choose their job, this job chose her. 

COVID-19 has made her organization’s traditional methods of operation challenging, so before attempting to create a system using what they already knew, they first asked each of the 600 families that ESP serves what they wanted and needed. Using the feedback they received, they created new services to provide support and resources for these families, including summer camp, “buddy calls,” support groups, counseling, and more. Laura’s favorite new activity to come out of the pandemic shift is Power Hour, a time for parents, kids with disabilities, camp counselors, program coordinators, and others to enthusiastically engage and share resources online. This program is available to anyone, anywhere, and you can find more information about it here

Beyond helping her create new services, the pandemic has confirmed Laura’s belief that relationships and connections are essential, even virtually, and that moving forward with courage can allow you to analyze a situation thoughtfully before making a decision. One of her favorite quotes from Winston Churchill states, “Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.” These words have helped shape the way ESP has continued to serve their community during this time. 

Throughout ESP’s years of service and their changing methods during the pandemic, Laura’s goal has always been to educate while instilling confidence and compassion in people who are involved in the special needs community as well as families and individuals who may feel confused or scared about engaging with people with disabilities.  

In 2019, Laura gave a TEDx Talk about what she calls the “Dandelion Shift.” This shift illustrates that, as children, many of us did not view race, color, ability, societal rules, or wealth in the same way as adults. She likens this to the way we see dandelions—a plant her young daughter enjoyed for its yellow beauty, but that her neighbor sprayed with weed killer in their front yard. Laura says that creating a knowledgeable and empathetic community can help people of all abilities learn new values and perspectives about life. 

Laura and her remarkable team continue to lead with courage and help other organizations looking to support families of kids and adults with special needs duplicate their success. They are working to make ESP available in more locations and to help others learn from their years of experience and established reputation in the community. You can learn more about this organization here

You can connect with ESP through social media on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Vimeo and Youtube, and you can contact their team here

Annette Hines has been practicing in the areas of Special Needs, Elder Law, and Estate Planning for more than 20 years. Ms. Hines brings personal experience with special needs to her practice and podcasts as the mother of two daughters, one of whom passed away from Mitochondrial disease in November 2013. This deep, personal understanding of special needs fuels her passion for quality special needs planning and drives her dedication to help others within the special needs community.