GREENFIELD — Rich Emery approached every man at the expo, a sheaf of papers in hand.
Emery, a volunteer for Families United for Support and Encouragement, surveyed people who attended the 11th annual FUSE Inspiring Abilities Expo in hopes of gauging interest in a support group for male caregivers. Emery was among the dozens of parents and caregivers who recognized Saturday’s expo as a chance to network with those who understand the unique challenges of raising a child with special needs.
The expo for the last decade has been bringing service providers to one location to help overwhelmed parents of children who have disabilities, said FUSE director Denise Arland. This year’s expo featured 50-plus booths, including longtime exhibitors like First Steps, an early education program for children with disabilities, and newcomers like Camp Millhouse, a South Bend-based summer camp for children and adults with disabilities. This year’s expo also featured speaker sessions on topics like health care, nutrition and financial planning.
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Emery and his son, Jake, along with Jake’s service dog, Essie, roamed the expo at Greenfield Intermediate School to promote FUSE, a Greenfield nonprofit organization that provides support and resources to families of children with special needs.
The connections FUSE helps parents and caregivers make are invaluable, Emery said. In the last two decades, he and his family have made lifelong friends with other members of the nonprofit through the support groups and activities hosted by FUSE.
“They have been so good about providing information to us. It’s so good to have a place to go where we can get answers and the right information,” he said. “FUSE has been this invisible hand you can hold while you go through the journey of life with a child with a disability.”
Emery sees more women participate in events supporting people with disabilities, he said. He said he thinks maybe dads and granddads just need a nudge to be more active and open up. So Saturday, he was out giving that nudge in the form of a short survey.
Dedicated volunteers like Emery have helped FUSE build its network over the years, officials said; now, FUSE leaders are preparing to broaden their reach to parents and caregivers in Shelby County. Though there have been parent support meetings in Shelbyville for about four years, those parents have had to travel up to Greenfield for the annual expo, Arland said.
For the first time, an Inspiring Abilities Expo is now planned in Shelbyville, Arland said.
“We’re going to replicate (the expo) down there on a little smaller scale,” she said.
Arland is excited to offer the services fair to parents in the Shelby County area, like Lindsey Collier of Greensburg, a mom of a 1-year-old girl with vision and hearing impairments. Collier made the half-hour drive to Saturday’s expo, since there isn’t yet one closer to her home. She was seeking help with medical care and insurance, because her daughter’s many doctors’ appointments have become costly, she said.
“This last year has been quite overwhelming,” Collier said.
Though Collier has support from family members and organizations like First Steps, she said there’s still nothing quite like being able to talk to other parents who know exactly what she’s going through.