By Dena Martin
the Times 

New funding is game changer for Dayton disabilities group

Ad valorem tax funding opens doors


Courtesy photo

Families in Dayton and Walla Walla were invited to Camp Prime Time, a camp for special needs children and children with terminal illnesses. Kids camped cabins, fish, rode in a wagon, went on boat rides and drove a boat and made S'mores by the campfire. "Volunteers cooked all our meals and cleaned up. It was wonderful and allowed families to relax and enjoy," said Columbia County Disability Group President Jeanne Walter. Here Valkan Walter enjoys driving a boat during Camp Prime Time.

COLUMBIA COUNTY-For the first time, the Columbia County Development Disability Group (CCDG) has funds available to support, educate and meet the needs of the developmentally disabled and their caregivers in Columbia County. While $3,126 in ad valorem funds may not seem like a lot, the allocation makes all the difference to a group that has previously functioned with almost no budget.

"We're so used to working with nothing that we're very frugal. And we have a very supportive community with a lot of volunteers," said CCDG Board Chair Jeanne Walter.

Walter said CCDG is a sub-group of the Walla Walla County Health Advisory Board (CHAB). As Chair of the CCDG board, Walter represents the group on the CHAB board, voting on items that affect the entire CHAB.

Columbia County has its own Parent to Parent group, but now receives support from Walla Walla Valley Disability Network. Walla Walla Parent to Parent Coordinator Angie Witt now spends 10 hours a week in Columbia County, helping with events and organization.

"She has been fabulous at planning all this," Walter said.

"All this" refers to the activities and events the CCDG is now able to offer. Recent and upcoming activities include cooking lessons with Alicia Walker, crafts with Wendy Frame, computer literacy education with Dusty Waltner and even a session on acupuncture and essential oils.

Walter is quick to give credit to many volunteers who step up to help out and a supportive community.

The CCDG provides free tickets, complete with popcorn and a drink, for the developmentally disabled to sensory friendly movie showings at the Liberty Theater.

"Mike Ferrians (theater manager) and the board have been wonderful about keeping the sensory friendly movies going. We are trying to get more people to come out. Some children have never been to a movie because parents are concerned about the child making noise or causing a disruption. Here, kids can come and watch the movie and get up if they need to," Walter said.

Sensory friendly movies are open to the general public (though not free) and are also a good option for little ones who may not be able to sit through an entire movie. The movies are played at a lower volume with the lights slightly up to be less overwhelming.

Walter said the goal of CCDG is to support those with developmental disabilities and those who care for them in whatever ways it can. Through Parent to Parent, connections are made, and resources are shared.

In addition to providing activities for the children Parent to Parent also has monthly night out dinners for parents, which is a wonderful way for parents to receive support and friendship.

"There are so many people out there who are still winging it. They don't even know what help is available to them. When you get that new diagnosis, it can be very overwhelming, and they may not know where to go. We're here to help people connect," Walter said.

Walter said Medicare, guardianship, wills, trusts, qualifying for social security, and funding medical equipment needs are just some of the topics people have questions about.

"The state provides help with services and travel vouchers and there are sometimes funds available for walkers, ramps and speaking tools. Those things can be very expensive. We just bought a speaking tool and it was $6,500. Funding can really help those who are struggling. If people don't know it's available, they don't know if they qualify," she said.

Adults aren't the only ones that volunteer with CCDG. Walter said the group offers classes to train student volunteers. Youth who help out are able to use the experience toward community service hours and list the work on college and scholarship applications.

"It makes a really nice bridge. A lot of the kids have these same children in class with them but don't get to interact much. This lets them understand who they really are when they spend time with them," Walter said.

"We are hopeful to have more kids come and volunteer. Dayton and Waitsburg have a wonderful history of volunteerism," she said.

Walter said the CCDG was organized for years before finally receiving state support. She said there was a backlog of thousands of people who qualified for state support but the funding was never there.

In 2013, former Dayton resident Sherri (Huwe) Robanske received a $16,666 Developmental Disabilities Council grant that provided for the formation of the 2013-14 Dayton Developmental Disabilities Leadership Project. Through that project, a team of 17 individuals – all of whom have developmentally disabled family members – gained skills in leadership and advocacy, with the ultimate goal of becoming a resource to the community.

Team members participated in a year-long series of classes, workshops, advocacy trainings and internships. The DDC also sponsored thirteen team members in attending a three-day Leadership Legislative Advocacy Weekend in Olympia where they met with other leadership teams and made a mock presentation to legislators.

In May of 2014, Robanske told The Times that the group would like to create a resource similar to Parent to Parent in Walla Walla, providing emotional and informational support for families of children and adults with disabilities.

Thanks to the ongoing advocacy of those original group members, that dream is now a reality.

"We have visited Olympia, sent videos and talked with state and federal representatives. After years of advocacy we finally made it off the perpetual backlog list," Walter said.

Walter said that CCDG worked out an agreement with Walla Walla County to "share" Development Disabilities Program Coordinator Cindy Wolski who was "fabulous" in drawing light to local need.

"It's nice to have local opportunities for social interaction, recreation, support and education that we never had before without going to Walla Walla. Many children don't travel well and parents are already going all over the state and country for medical treatments, which is a hardship. Now people can gather locally for activities, to meet one another and to discuss local issues," she said.

The CCDG's annual picnic will be held July 13 at 4 p.m. in the Dayton City Park and is open to all families who have a family member with developmental disabilities.

"It is usually well-attended and there is free food!" Walter said.


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