Overcoming challenges

The Arc of Shelby County honored the Brown family as a 2010 Family of the Year. (Front row, L-R) Gwen, Jakkob and Eric. (Back row, L-R) Hannah & E.J.

The Helena family of Eric and Gwen Brown and children E.J. (Erech), Hannah and Jakkob were one of two families honored as Family of the Year 2010 by Arc of Shelby County, Inc. at its Annual Meeting and Community Awards Dinner.

Susan Ellis of Arc of Shelby County calls the Brown family, “the busiest family you will ever know — and the most spirited.”

“The family has become advocates for disability in community playgroups, like the Cherubs Club, civic organizations like the Helena Civitans, Boy Scouts of America and Cub Scouts and the new Community Special Education Parent-Teacher Association,” she said.

Gwen Brown, who helped get the new Parent-Teacher Association off the ground said, “This is an unexpected honor and we are blessed to receive it.”

E.J. Brown, 11, is a student in Mrs. Ingram’s class at HIS and has high-functioning autism.

“You can say that I have high expectations for our son. Regardless of the world’s limitations, I know as his mother, that those in Helena and nearby will come to know E.J. due to his character and not due to his challenges,” Gwen said.

The Browns attended retreats held by The Full Life Foundation and learned about developing H.O.P.E. teams for children and adults who have disabilities. They chose to implement this approach with E.J., which sets up a team of supportive people beyond the parents and immediate family to offer hope and encouragement.

Gwen said, “The retreats are so worth checking out and attending even if it is only for one day. You will hear inspiring stories and see what those who have challenges learn to do … it is amazing.”

“We want to thank our son’s advocate, Susan Ellis and Judy and Henry Barclay and their team at The Full Life Ahead Foundation of H.O.P.E. and our church family at Cornerstone Church and various members of the community who have chosen to embrace our son and his special way of doing things,” Gwen said. “What I would like to say to others is to embrace the people you meet who have challenges — seen, unseen or noticed in various ways. They are human beings with souls that care and desire to be included.

“I don’t like to use the word, ‘disabilities’ but I know that is what the world knows and understands. It is time for the world to embrace all the abilities of individuals with challenges,” she said.

Laura Brookhart can be reached by e-mail at labro16@yahoo.com.