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WATN? Teresa Johnson
Posted on September 21, 2016, by GAPMP
How long did you serve as a parent mentor?
7 years in Walton County.
What advocacy training and experience did you gain from your time as a parent mentor?
I was the Parent to Parent Navigator Team leader, and also assisted P2P with development of Navigator Team handbook and guidelines for each County. I Served on GA Council for Developmental Disabilities and attended a conference in DC as well as met with Senators and Congressmen from GA on behalf of our state citizens. I served on the Focus monitoring teams with the GA DOE, which was an invaluable experience in understanding how the system works to support our students. I also was part of Project Search and attended their training in Atlanta. I attended many trainings through GA State and GCDD to better understand self determination, person centered planning, community building and so much more.
What was the focus of your plan: transition, early intervention, IEPs…. Etc?
My plan was specific to improving outcomes for students transitioning from school to the community. Through a Transition council, we provided an annual resource fair and parent workshops on what they could do to assist their child in transition to further education or workplace following graduation. We also wanted to increase the graduation rate for our SWD population.
I feel my work with transitions has been a great building block for this work. I fully expect I will serve as a volunteer in anything I do to improve the lives of our adults.
Describe a moment when you felt that the work you did as a parent mentor was really making a difference for families in your district?
There is no greater satisfaction than knowing you have had an impact on a family. Many instances come to mind where parents expressed gratitude as they saw their child succeeding. Working as a team with the parent, student, teachers and administration was the most important part of that success. Seeing students leave school and be gainfully employed because of those efforts were the highlight of my experience.
What career experience did you have prior to becoming a parent mentor?
My education was in early childhood education and I was a preschool teacher. I had also worked as a marketing director with Chick-fil-A. Just prior to becoming a parent mentor, I had been through GA Advocacy Parent Leadership Support Project Training and begun a support group for parents who had children on the Autism spectrum.
What is a unique skill set that you acquired because of your work as a PM?
Because I had a wonderful special education director, she encouraged me to return to school part time to finish my degree. After 2 years, I finished my Bachelor Degree in Psychology with an emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis. I learned how to advocate for the student and assist parents in knowing how to be an effective advocate. This helped me with my own child and provided many with the tools to be better prepared for the future through the Get It Forever Together workshops. These GIFT workshops have been replicated and taught statewide by many.
What position did you move to after being a PM? If you retired, do you find that your advocacy experience as the parent of a child with a disability and as a parent mentor still inform what you do in your community?
I am happily retired along with my husband. We moved from Walton County to McDuffie County near Augusta a year ago. I continue to advocate for my son who has been out of school 6 years. We continue to look for opportunities for him while waiting on waiver funding. My contacts as a parent mentor have definitely helped. I have not become involved in my community as of yet but I suspect I will at some future date.
What about being a parent mentor is unique to advocacy work?
There are so many knowledgeable parents in the GaPMP who provide information and resources along with support you don’t find elsewhere. Being a parent mentor opened many doors for me to be able to help my child and other parents plan for the future. The experience I gained in those 7 years are invaluable to me as I continue to advocate for my son.
Where do you anticipate your work life will take you in five years?
That is hard to say. Right now our focus is on providing a quality life for our son. We are loving the freedom of retirement and traveling. I’m talking with Ray Johnson of the Autism Society of Georgia to see about providing a support network for adults in my community. The needs do not leave once the school day ends. I want to see more opportunities for our adult population. Many do not have the waiver, a job or a day program available. Finding a way to keep regression at bay while keeping connected is so important. I feel my work with transitions has been a great building block for this work. I fully expect I will serve as a volunteer in anything I do to improve the lives of our adults.