How it All Started
This historical account is retold by Jennie Gibson, a crusader and retired Associate Director for the Utah Parent Center for nearly 30 years. Here is her story:
In 1981 or 1982 when a group of parents met with federal representatives in a focus group about our experiences with special education, we didn’t dream it would be the beginning of the Utah Parent Center and that we would serve thousands of parents over the years. I feel privileged to have played a small part in the founding of the Utah Parent Center and to have worked there for so many years. Here is what happened as best I remember it:
When federal representatives of the U.S. Department of Education set up an opportunity for parents to meet with them sometime in late 1981 or early 1982, Marilyn Call and I decided to attend as representatives of the organization then named the Utah Society for Autistic Children. At the meeting were several other parents who also had concerns or questions about special education. Jean Nash, for one, was there to talk about her son’s experiences and needs. Hearing our concerns, the federal representatives informed us that there was new funding that we could apply for to start a parent information and training center. The grant applications were due in just one week! Our group of parents discussed it that night and decided we needed to apply, but most of us had no idea how to write a grant. Jean Nash took on spearheading it. With lots of the work being done by Mike Hardman and other generous professionals from the University of Utah Special Education Department and several other organizations, the grant was written and submitted on time—quite a feat! I have always felt awe and gratitude for all those who made great efforts to have it come together so quickly.
In late 1982 or early 1983, Jean was notified that the proposal had been approved. Quickly a board of directors was formed, and Jean Nash was hired by the board as the first director of the Utah Parent Center. The board did not yet have a formal nonprofit status, so United Cerebral Palsy became the official host of the Parent Training and Information (PTI) project for about a year until the Utah Parent Center officially became a 501c3 nonprofit organization in 1984.
The Center hired two support staff to work with Jean. They then recruited 6 parent consultants to work 10 hours per week each. Marilyn Call and I both applied and were hired along with 4 other women. Our first task was to work in pairs to develop three workshops: IEP, Communication Skills, and Behavior Management. Three members of the faculty of the University of Utah, each wrote a high-quality basic script and then worked with us to help us make it our own. They went with us and supported us during our first several times presenting the workshops. My partner and I worked on the Behavior Management workshop with support and coaching from Dr. Bill Jensen whom I already knew because my daughter had received services from him at the Children’s Behavior Therapy Unit (CBTU). What a great experience to have the support of those professors! It was fun and their support went a long way toward making sure we succeeded during that first one-year grant period.
The first workshops we taught were in Salt Lake at the University of Utah, and we were excited to actually have parents come and say that they appreciated the information. We learned about doing evaluations and worked to improve our material. We then took the workshops on the road to the Cedar City area, and again parents showed up and liked what they learned! Those same three workshops became our mainstays for many years. We also were always busy continually adding new topics and updating each workshop as the laws and regulations changed.
The Utah Parent Center was housed for about 4 years at the old Bonnieview School building in Murray in space Donated by the Utah Learning Resource Center (ULRC) which was funded by the Utah State Office of Education to support special educators in the school districts. Their generous support continued for many years. We moved and were co-located with them over the years. I look back and marvel at all the support the UPC received for so many years from our friends in the ULRC, the Utah State Office of Education, and so many other state agencies that funded projects at the Utah Parent Center. I really believe from my experience rubbing shoulders with the Parent Training and Information project staff members from other states, that our center in Utah had exceptional success not only because of high-quality leadership from our directors and most notably Helen Post who was director for most of the time I was there but also because of the exceptional support of our partners in state agencies and the many parent organizations that we partnered with.
From that small beginning, we have been able to hire and work with so many wonderful staff members who were also parents and to meet thousands of parents from all over Utah who came together with us in order to help their children succeed. Thank you to all of you, and Happy Birthday Utah Parent Center!