Honoring the Giants Who Led the Way
We are thrilled to announce the following honorees, who will be celebrated at our 49th Anniversary Gala. These trail-blazers founded, built, and grew the Federation for Children with Special Needs. Their efforts transformed education, healthcare, and human services in Massachusetts and nationwide. Click the + to read more about them.
Visionary founder and Executive Director from 1974-1997 whose advocacy helped fuel special education legislation at the state and national level.
Betsy Anderson is a founding mother of family engagement and empowerment at the Federation. Her efforts laid the cornerstone of our Family Engagement mission, equipping families to advocate for their children in education, special education, health care, and community inclusion.
Executive Director from 1997-2018, Rich Robison built the Federation into a strong and powerful organization that encompasses special education, healthcare, transition services, language access, and family engagement initiatives supporting all families.
Harvey Liebergott and Jack Tringo were our earliest federal partners at what is today known as the Department of Education Office of Special Education. Starting with a pilot program under Harvey Liebergott, the Federation became the one and only special education parent information and training center in the nation. Later, Jack Tringo championed our work as the concept took hold. Today, we are one of 65 federally-funded information centers – with one or more located in every state.
Family Support and Training
Patricia Blake, Noreen Curran, Beverly Graham, Phyllis Sneirson and Rogera Robinson were among our founding staff, providing critical family support and training. Their work planted the seeds for the work we continue today, including our special education basic rights trainings, IEP clinics, and parent leadership trainings. Our Help Lines answer calls from more than 3,400 families each year.
Office manager and learning disabilities advocate Pat Theroux, executive secretary Charlotte Rose, and dedicated staff member Eileen Sousa also made a tremendous impact on the Federation’s early growth and impact.
Nora Wells and Barbara Popper founded Family Voices, now a national organization and grassroots network of families and youth with special healthcare needs. Continuing to this day, Family Voices promotes family-centered healthcare and partnership between providers and families. Our Massachusetts Family Voices program has recently expanded to include a special focus on Vietnamese and other immigrant families with children with healthcare concerns—widening the circle of our impact.
Nancy Chapman and Janet Vohs, two other founding visionaries, launched the early versions of Newsline, establishing a public presence for the Federation and reputation as a resource for families with children with disabilities. Today, Newsline boasts thousands of subscribers and the Federation reaches families throughout the state through an active, multi-lingual social media program. The Federation remains a trusted advisor to state and federal agencies, influencing policy and practice by amplifying the voices of families and youth self-advocates.
In his 24 years at the Federation, John Sullivan developed the Federation’s online presence and built our Visions of Community conference into the state’s largest gathering for the disability community. The Visions of Community conference is the largest gathering of the special education and disability community in Massachusetts with about 1,000 family members, youth and professionals attending.
· Larry Kotin and Bob Crabtree wrote the first draft of Massachusetts special education law, Chapter 766, which was the first law in the nation to protect the right of children with disabilities to attend school and to get an education appropriate to their needs. This law became the model for the law known today as the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA). Both believed that families should have a central role in special education-decision-making and developed the legal content of trainings the Federation continues to update and deliver, today.
Dan Heffernan has volunteered for decades teaching parents of children with special needs how to navigate the legal system to help their children get their educational needs met. He also led the Federation for over half of our existence with 25 years on the board, most of those years as chairman.
Expanding Our Reach
Sandy Blanes, Portuguese Outreach, and Diana Rocha, Latina Outreach, were the first staff hired specifically to connect with, support, and empower language-diverse families. Their efforts demonstrated that when we say all families are central to their children’s education and wellbeing, we at the Federation truly mean all families.
Today, our multicultural and multilingual staff engage the Spanish-speaking, Portuguese-speaking, Chinese, Haitian, and Vietnamese communities; and staff members are additionally available to respond to questions and concerns in Russian, Amharic, and Tigrinya. We offer interpretation and translated materials throughout our programming including offering the Parent Consultant Training Institute in Portuguese, Spanish, and Vietnamese. We have also launched a language access program for families of students with and without disabilities: the School Finder Help Line.
Terri McLaughlin developed the first Federation program supporting youth transitioning from special education to adult life. This process is legally defined as starting at age 14 – a time when families and young people may be curious or even anxious about their future.
Today we partner with state agencies, school districts, families, and young people themselves to offer a range of educational, supportive, and advocacy opportunities. Our latest initiative with the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, NextGen Careers, is a pilot program aimed at reaching diverse families and young adults to offer comprehensive career planning and life skills services through a network of local agencies.