HEIDELBERG, Germany - In the past, the Army Community Service Exceptional Families Member Program offices at U.S. Army Garrison Heidelberg and Mannheim each held a monthly support group meeting.

Unfortunately, it was not well attended by family members enrolled in the program.

In response, members of the now combined USAG Baden-Wuerttemberg EFMP team brainstormed about what changes could be made to increase community involvement.

First, the team thought of a name they felt would welcome all - the Exceptional Families Network.

The purpose of the network is to encompass all aspects of the EFM program and create a support system for families with special needs to ensure they receive the help they need to deal with challenges.

Team members also shifted the focus from a support group to an educational outlet to help connect EFMs, parents, spouses, service members, ACS staff and professionals under one umbrella. The changes proved beneficial with an increase in attendance at the first meeting.

"The first Exceptional Families Network meeting was a huge success," said Sherri McVeigh, EFMP System Navigator.

"We had a large group of family members and professionals come together and learn about federal benefits available for individuals with disabilities. I'm really looking forward to future meetings because this is a great way to bring together people in our Mannheim and Heidelberg communities, share our resources and expertise and support one another," McVeigh said.

"The neat thing is that you do not have to be enrolled in the EFMP program to participate. Everyone is welcome," she added.

Attendees echoed their excitement.

"The Social Security workshop was very informative," said Valerie SanJuan, Mannheim High School special education teacher.
"The speaker came with excellent information and answered all the questions posed by the group. After the meeting, I had an opportunity to share the information with a parent who was inquiring about social security benefits," she said.

Voncile Farmer, Mannheim EFMP Program Manager encouraged all to attend.

"Many of the difficulties individuals with disabilities experience results from a lack of understanding not from the disability. Our hope is that pooling several resources together will increase awareness, support, and, ultimately, improve the quality of life for EFMs and their families."

The next Exceptional Families Network meeting is 10 a.m. April 20 in the Heidelberg ACS conference room on the Shopping Center Kaserne. April is Autism Awareness Month, and two guest speakers will discuss autism in infants, toddlers and school aged children during this month's meeting.

EFN meetings are the third Wednesday of the month at 10 a.m. in either the Mannheim or Heidelberg conference room.

Page last updated Fri April 8th, 2011 at 04:16