Having a child with special needs entering school leads to many questions and concerns for parents.
It's an experience with which Melissa Owens is intimately familiar.
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"You have to know where to look," said Owens, who has a son with special needs in fourth grade at Nature Ridge Elementary School in Bartlett. "There's certainly help out there ... it's just where do you go for it."
That was the impetus for Owens and other parents to band together to start a Special Needs Parent Resource Fair through Elgin Area School District U-46.
The Citizens' Advisory Council and U-46's special education department are jointly hosting the free fair from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 1 at Elgin High School, 1200 Maroon Drive. The event is open to the public.
It's an opportunity for families to learn about programs and services offered by local, regional and state agencies for the special-needs community, said Owens, a co-chair of the Citizens' Advisory Council's Special Needs Committee.
"This is the fourth year that we've been doing this. With (U-46) we cover three different counties. We are trying to pull agencies from Cook, Kane and DuPage counties. We can bring all of those resources together at one point, which makes it a lot easier for parents."
U-46 Director of Special Education Pamela Harris said the district has roughly 5,200 students with special needs ranging all disabilities identified by the state.
The fair has gotten so popular -- participation has gone from roughly 50 parents attending in the first year to nearly 200 attendees last year -- that the district might soon need to look for larger facilities to host it, Harris said.
"We are excited that it has ballooned," she said. "We anticipate that more parents will sign up. This year we have almost 47 different vendors coming to deliver information to our parents. More and more vendors want to be involved, as well."
The vendors' exhibits are in Elgin High School's library area, and presentations and panel discussions spill out into rooms throughout the school's first floor.
Owens said attendees will find a wide range of resources.
"We try at the resource fair to bring in service agencies from as many different categories that we can, such as dealing with autism, orthopedic and developmental issues," she said. "We also deal with a lot of families that are in some form of transition ... from elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school, or high school to adulthood. Each of those transitions brings different challenges."
Translators will be available to help Spanish-speaking parents at the fair. Roughly 10 percent of the attendees speak only Spanish, which is low considering the diversity within the district, Owens said.
"There is a need to reach out to those Spanish-speaking families," she said. "It's certainly something that we're aware of and trying to outreach to."
For details and a schedule of events, visit cac-resourcefair.eventbrite.com or call the U-46 Special Education Department at (847) 888-5000, ext. 5065.