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Helping Hands Project brings resources to parents

By Natasha Clark

Assistant Managing Editor

WILBRAHAM The Hampden-Wilbraham Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC) has been working to bring supportive services to families with children of special needs since its chapter was founded in 2006. Since then, it has been collaborating with the Hampden-Wilbraham school district and surrounding PACs to offer a wide-range of educational resources.

On May 5 from 7 to 9 p.m. the Helping Hands Project, an educational resource fair, will take place at the Scantic Valley YMCA at Post Office Park off Route 20 in Wilbraham.

"It's a way for parents to become informed about the many resources available for their children," SEPAC co-chair Maribel Kane said.

Kane was invited to the Longmeadow Advisory Council for Education's fair last year, and was inspired to host a similar gathering in her own district.

"I then decided to bring the idea to our PAC where my co-chair Andrea Bertheaud thought it was a great idea, too. The Longmeadow PAC was not holding their event this year, so we decided to take it on," Kane explained.

Over 20 vendors (recreational, enrichment and therapeutic) are expected at the Helping Hands Project, bringing together companies and organizations that support school age children with disabilities. A number of local and statewide organizations such as Goodwill Industries, Communication Therapy Associates, Federation for Children with Special Needs, Whispering Horse Therapeutic Riding Center, Easter Seals Massachusetts and more.

"This is a way for us to get information and get the resources," Bertheaud said. "You can ask questions face-to-face and it'll be better than a phone call."

According to information provided about Hampden-Wilbraham SEPAC, the organization acts as a resource and advisor to parents and educators of children with disabilities in the Hampden-Wilbraham regional school district. SEPAC also works collaboratively with the school and district officials to improve special education in Hampden-Wilbraham. The Massachusetts State Special Education Law now requires that each district establish a Special Education Parent Advisory Council (sometimes also referred to as "PAC" or "SEPAC"). The Hampden-Wilbraham SEPAC meets during the school year on the second Monday of each month in the Thornton W. Burgess Middle School library.

Of the many goals of SEPAC, providing a forum to share information is amongst them. Bertheaud shared her appreciation for the YMCA joining on as a partner. Kane agreed.

"This has been a great opportunity for our PAC along with the YMCA to something for our community," Kane added.

For more information on Helping Hands Project contact Bertheaud at 566-2262 or Kane at 596-9987.