Where some may see people with disabilities and special needs as a population that should be segregated from the mainstream; others see an opportunity to help them reach their highest potential. Those other people are among the ones that work at the PEAL Center.
The Parent Education & Advocacy Leadership Center, or PEAL Center, was founded by parents who have children with disabilities and special health care needs, and professionals who work in these fields. Its mission is to educate and empower families to ensure that children, youth, and young adults with disabilities and special health care needs lead rich, active lives as productive members in their communities and in society, at large.
Founded in 2005, PEAL assists parents and caregivers to be proactive in advocacy for disabled or special needs children by directing them to available resources and services.
PEAL has created a focused initiative called, PEAL Sounding the Bell (SBI), to introduce the center to a wider audience that includes communities that have been historically underserved. SBI was created to reach out and address the needs of children with disabilities and other health issues in underserved communities (particularly low-income, minority groups), to provide access to resources or connect them to services for the purpose of removing the barriers that, at times, makes it seem impossible to get the on-going help that is needed to nurture these disabled children while on their paths to reaching their highest potential.
The long-term goal of the (SBI) initiative is to assure that minority caregivers, professionals, and persons with special health needs have access to resources, support and to encourage self-advocacy.
This outreach effort is under the supervision of Dionna Rojas Orta. Dionna has been involved in this advocacy since beginning as a paraprofessional at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Blind. “Fresh out of high school, I had the awesome opportunity to work as a para, which in my mind was like a human service/special education position. Being able to help children who were already fighting against so many other challenges was the hook for me because the children were full of hope and energy regardless of mobility,” says Dionna, a parent of a son with autism.
The need of greater awareness of PEAL has increased with a paradigm shift in the role of lifestyles. Parents of children with various disabilities struggle to accommodate after-school interests without neglecting attention to their special needs child. Part of the outreach is finding creative ways to reach non-traditional constituents by attending community events and initiating dialog within those neighborhoods through community conversations.
“The conversations provide an opportunity to share who we are, what we do, answer questions, and, most importantly, listen to community leaders and professionals to learn what they are hearing about the needs of families of children with special needs or health care challenges,” says Dionna. “We want to hear what the best and most effective ways to support and provide for parents and caregivers are in order for them to enhance their advocacy skills.”
Dionna wants the community to consider The PEAL Center as an agency that serves as a one-stop resource for educators, faith-based groups, and community groups wanting to foster advocacy and understanding for those who are disabled and require special needs care.
If you are interested in having Dionna come out and speak to your group, would like to receive PEAL’s newsletter or volunteer, or you would like to receive more information, you can contact PEAL at: www.thepealcenter.org
If you are interested in having Dionna come speak to your family, at a group meeting or an event; or if you would like to receive PEAL’s newsletter, to volunteer at the center or more information about the center,