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Matt Fitzgibbons and family (left); Becky Walley and family (right)

Matt Fitzgibbons and family (left); Becky Walley and family (right)

Organized as part of the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program and often funded by grants from global partner Lions Clubs International, Family Health Forums are held to provide family members crucial information on caring for their loved ones with intellectual disabilities and give them the all-too-rare opportunity to ask questions from experts. In 2012, Programs put on 27 family health forums in 20 countries around the globe. Below is the story of how a forum in Wisconsin impacted the lives of two families.

On April 17, Special Olympics Wisconsin (SOWI) families and their community members gathered to broaden their knowledge of health and wellness and learn more about the support SOWI provides to people with intellectual disabilities (ID) at a Family Health Forum in Sparta. For Matthew Fitzgibbons, a Army/Reserve, Master Sergeant, and Equal Opportunity Advisor, and Sexual Assault Response Coordinator for the Fort McCoy Garrison, the Family Health Forum was a great educational opportunity for his whole family.

“The main reason [I went to] the Family Health Forum was to educate and open my kids eyes to those with intellectual disabilities and also to have us, as a family, volunteer,” he said.

SOWI offered a variety of activities and learning opportunities, including a session about Sensory Processing Disorder led by Niki Froelke, COTA/L and owner of Sensory Lovin’ Momma in La Crosse. Youth and individuals with ID in attendance discussed the Spread the Word to End the Word™ campaign (which seeks to eliminate the use of word “retard” or “retarted”) and helped brainstorm activities to engage youth at Fort McCoy’s upcoming summer camp.

For Becky Walley, a Child, Youth, and School Services Outreach Director, School Liaison Officer and mother of two, the R-word discussion was very beneficial. “I thought it would be a good experience for my older child to get involved and learn about helping/supporting the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign,” she said.

“My kids had educated me earlier in the year when I did use the R-word, so it was good that there was education on that subject at the forum,” agreed Fitzgibbons.

Walley and Fitzgibbons both agree it is important for military families to be aware of the resources SOWI provides.

“The military is not immune to intellectual disabilities. Education and providing lines of support benefits everyone,” said Fitzgibbons.

2 thoughts on “Family Health Forums Bring Communities Together

  1. This is an awesome story. It is such a good idea to educate your children that there are others with intellectual disabilities and teach them how they deserve to be treated. The R-word is used so frequently and it is wonderful that people are beginning to bring awareness of the subject matter! Thanks for sharing!

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