A meeting was held quite far from earth!
It’s time again for another birth,
Said the angels to the Lord above,
This Special Child will need much love.
So begins the poem, Heaven’s Very Special Child, by Edna Massimilla.
My entire life has revolved in one way or another, around individuals with special needs. My older brother was born with intellectual disabilities, and he has played a significant role in my life decisions. And, while I moved away from Kansas City for almost 30 years, my brother was one of the main reasons my family and I moved back.
We grew up in a small town in southern Illinois. When my brother was young, there were no existing programs of any kind for people with intellectual disabilities. In fact, these individuals, for the most part, lived in the shadows of society – they did not go out nor were welcomed in public, and many were institutionalized.
So, my mother and a small group of parents of children with special needs, started the Parent Teacher’s Organization for Exceptional Children (PTOEC), to provide sport, recreation and social opportunities for their children.
From their commitment and dedication, the St. Clair Associated Vocational Enterprises, SAVE, was born, to address the educational and vocational needs as their children aged. It was a small, but significant step in breaking down barriers for my brother and others in the community. This organization, along with my brother’s involvement in Special Olympics, began my interest in serving others, particularly those who cannot speak for themselves.
My family eventually moved to Kansas City after my senior year of high school, and I attended University of Kansas. From there, I moved to Washington DC to take a job with Special Olympics International. While there, I met and married my husband, had two children, and for the last 18 years, worked at a scientific nonprofit organization in the governance area.
I continued my volunteerism in DC with several organizations, primarily with Special Olympics, but three years ago, when my mother’s health began to decline, I knew it was time to for us to move to Kansas City so we could help my siblings care for her and begin the difficult process of preparing my brother for life after my mother.
I spent my last several years taking my mother to her numerous doctor appointments, helping coordinate her care, and spending time with my brother in activities we previously enjoyed, like joining a bowling league, playing volleyball, going to movies, etc.
My mother passed away in December 2017. With her passing came the realization that she had guided me back to Kansas City, not only to spend time with her and my brother, but to steer me to Health Forward, an organization filled with volunteer board members and staff who are deeply committed to eliminating barriers and promoting quality health for those most in need; the same mission my mother had been promoting her entire life.
I am honored and thankful to be a part of such an amazing and dedicated staff. I am in awe of each and every one of them and can’t wait to meet all of the volunteers, grantee organizations, and everyone involved in Health Forward.
Karol joined Health Forward in October as a governance coordinator. She provides comprehensive support for our board of directors and Community Advisory Committee. Prior to Health Forward, Karol was director of governance and strategic visioning for a nonprofit scientific member association in Arlington, Virginia. She specializes in board governance, including policies and procedures, meeting logistics, bylaws, nominations, and elections processes.