A Safe Harbor in the Stormy World of Special Needs

Posted by Katherine Carol

In rural Alabama, along the quiet shores of Lake Martin between the fresh paved two-lane highway and the naked hillside, not long ago a tornado uprooted over a thousand trees as it danced and skipped where children play is a safe port. Tucked in the woods is a rehabilitated place where shelter, support, fun and wisdom can be found in the often stormy world of parenting a special-needs child.

Children’s Harbor, Alabama

The weekend of June 8-10th began with the sun rising over the calm waters of the lake’s horizon. Birds skimmed the water looking for an early meal. In the nearby cove, stood a small pier and a large float where children spend an idyllic summer afternoons—just being kids.

Fifty families gathered at Children’s Harbor Camp from all over Alabama, Georgia and Florida to find sanctuary. Greeting them first thing on Friday morning was the smell of eggs, French toast and the deep rich aroma of a great cup of coffee served in the hall up the hill overlooking the lake. Their servers were a diverse cast of good-hearted volunteers. Acting as a brilliant community in action, they joined energy and talent to support, nurture and encourage these families as they navigate through the often complex waters of educational and vocational systems.

This event is one of many hosted by Full Life Ahead and is supported by both business and volunteers from the community. These families and volunteers left the hectic pace of life behind to find HOPE, be inspired, share strategies and learn from leaders understanding the systems designed to support us.  Leading the charge is Social Security expert John Roberts. John is  one of the most knowledgeable strategists when it comes to working with and navigating the nebulous but surprisingly rigid Social Security system.

Judy and Henry Barclay have left their heart prints on every family here. Once again, their mission of HOPE changes the lives of these extraordinary families as they facilitate, encourage, direct resources, people and community around each family in need of a new idea, a support team or an effective strategy to help their children. When families meet the Barclays and their collaborators Jan Cobb, Lisa Manly-Moats and the talented FLA Board of Directors, they know they have entered into love’s cocoon.  Where other systems and people have said “no,” here they will only here “Yes, we can do that.”

Judy Barclay, Founder of Full Life Ahead. Tammy and Kelsi Moore

Mikelle and I are have returned once again to the safe harbor of Full Life Ahead. Usually, I come as the expert. This year, I come with as many questions as answers.

I tell families here to learn to live with change, build your creativity muscles—be sure to exercise them daily. Finding stability in an unstable world is tricky—the most stable place for many of our children with special needs is in the safe harbor of our hearts and in the cocoon of a community built just for us. There we find the dreams, passion and the foundation for a prosperous life, all offered by the Full Life Ahead Foundation.