In 1982, Families Together, Inc. was founded and the first Family Enrichment Weekend was held in Lawrence with a focus on bringing families together to share stories and gain support. In 2017 we celebrated 37 years of Encouraging, Empowering and Educating Kansas families whose children have disabilities.
A Glimpse into Our History
Submitted by Lesli Girard and Darla Nelson-Metzger
Many thoughts and emotions were evoked when we sat to write the history of Families Together, Inc. As we thumbed through past pictures and articles, we laughed, we cried, “we remembered”. The advancement of technology was evident as we peered over numerous “cut and pasted” articles and newsletters that were obviously written with a manual typewriter. What has remained constant, however, is the richness of the dedicated people who have individually and collectively contributed to the growth of Families Together.
1982 – Families Together was founded by Chris Curry and the first Family Enrichment Weekend was held in Lawrence with a focus on bringing families together to share stories and gain support.
1983 – Family Enrichment Weekends continued and the era of garage sales, bingo, and bake sales began.
1984 – The first Family Enrichment Weekend was held in western Kansas.
1985 – The University of Kansas received an Innovative Projects grant which provided the opportunity to develop parent assistance services through Families Together.
1986 – Families Together received a three year grant from the Federal Department of Education to establish a Parent Training and Information (PTI) Center in Kansas. The center was located in Topeka.
1987 – Families Together was awarded a contract from the Department of Social Rehabilitative Services (SRS), Division of Mental Health and Retardation Services, to develop a respite care training curriculum with emphasis on families of children with emotional disturbance. Five Family Enrichment Weekends were held across the state.
1988 – A staff of four conducted EIGHT Family Enrichment Weekends across the state of Kansas.
1989 – Families Together received renewal of PTI grant for three additional years.
1990 – Initial steps were taken to establish what is now known as the Parent-to-Parent Program. Parents were asked to volunteer their names to be on a list to be contacted by other parents of children with similar disabilities. Other highlights of the year included a contract with KSDE to provide Education Advocate Workshops and the establishment of bilingual workshops.
1991 – Families Together creates a volunteer network of parents who helped other parents understand and access Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. The Parent Contact Network also began during this year through a grant from SRS. The network focused on providing outreach about Families Together in various counties across the state.
1992 – Families Together reaches the important milestone of its tenth year and a new five year PTI grant was awarded. New programs included: Transition Systems Change, Pioneers of Change, Parent-to-Parent, and Child Advocate Program. Another highlight was the addition of a registered legislative lobbyist.
1993 – Satellite centers were opened in Wichita and Garden City. Videos were created to educate legislators on community services for children with developmental disabilities. Families Together received funding from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Infant-Toddler Program, to develop an early childhood video.
1994 – A legislative hot line was established. The initial Sibshops were held, and the first Families Together Cookbook was created!
1995 – Families Together coordinated the Assistive Technology Conference, “From Awareness to Access,” through a contract with the Assistive Technology for Kansans Project. Staff persons traveled to communities to provide Individual Planning Sessions for parents regarding their children’s IEPs.
1996 – Mini-conferences were started. Families Together made its first appearance on the internet. Regional Coordinators were hired through the Parent Assistance Network with funds provided by SRS. Coordinators worked from their homes to offer assistance and training to parents. For the first time, Family Enrichment Weekends were not held.
1997 – The year included: the introduction of Parent Networking Conferences; the opening of a center in Kansas City; renewal of five year PTI; and, Connie Zienkewicz became the Executive Director.
1998 – The return, by popular demand, of Family Enrichment Weekends! The Family Story became a regular feature of the quarterly newsletter.
1999 – Families were brought to the Capitol to provide testimony to oppose an elimination of parental consent to change in placement. The 25% rule was the result of a compromise among various groups, including Families Together, Council on Developmental Disabilities and the Kansas Association of School Boards. The Family-School-Community Partnerships Curriculum was developed with funds provided by the State Improvement Grant.
2000 – Families Together contracted with KDHE, Special Health Services, to interview families that included children with special health care needs. Created the Consortium of Family Organizations, through the Kansas State Department of Education’s State Improvement Grant (SIG) to discuss accountability systems and discuss the participation of students with disabilities. Spanish articles first appeared in the newsletter.
2001 – The contract with Special Health Services (SHS) was expanded to include a Family Advisory Group to facilitate the review of SHS policies.
2002 – Families Together began providing presentations in Spanish on Parents’ Rights and Responsibilities under Special Education Law. The Families Together website was created. Renewal of five year PTI grant was awarded. A Family Enrichment Weekend was held exclusively for families whose children were receiving early intervention services.
2003 – Western Kansas Community Foundation began partnership with Families Together to bring additional services to the Southwest Kansas region. The first Family-School-Partnerships Trainings were conducted in Fort Scott and Beloit Public Schools. With support from KSDE and Kansas Parent Information Resource Center (KIPRC).
2004 – Families and professionals were given the opportunity to receive the quarterly newsletter electronically.
2005 – A list-serve was created for families and professionals to network via the internet. Family Enrichment Weekend held in Garden City for exclusively Spanish speaking families.
2006 – The Parent Empowerment Project began through a contract with KSDE to help understand the relationship between IEP goals, state standards, and the general education curriculum. The iGrad Program was established to provide services to youth ages 15 and up in foster care across the state. The project was a collaborative project between Families Together and Keys for Networking and was funded by a grant from SRS. Families Together opened on-line specialty store. Governor Sebelius, KSDE and Families Together proclaimed December 4-8, 2006 as Inclusive Schools Week in Kansas.
2007 Renewal of five year PTI Grant was awarded, and Families Together celebrated its 25th Anniversary.
Remember, we depart stronger for having come together.