ASPIES Volunteer Representative, Brittney Ecenbarger
In this blog I am spotlighting ASPIES volunteer representative for Stark and Tuscarawas county Brittney Ecenbarger. I first met this amazing woman this past summer when Brittneys son attended one of the sensory and movement summer camps at Lacey PAC. Then I was fortunate enough to partner with Brittney at the ASPIES Craft-er-noon. After meeting and working with Brittney I could tell how passionate she is for this organization. I knew I needed to Spotlight her as she has so much knowledge and experience with Autism to share with other families. I recommend everyone to take a few minutes to read all about Brittney and find out what ASPIES is. Please help get this information out by sharing this blog.
1.) Tell me your name and a little bit about yourself professionally and personally?
My name is Brittney Ecenbarger and I run the Stark & Tuscarawas County Branch of ASPIES. My husband and I have been married for 12 years and together we have a son and 3 cats (with very different personalities). I enjoy helping others and have been able to use my organizational and planning skills in both ASPIES and within our church. I love to learn new things, and have a wealth of knowledge in many things.
2.) Tell the readers about the organization that you volunteer for?
ASPIES Greater Akron is an ALL volunteer organization dedicated to assisting those on the Autism Spectrum. Our volunteers serve people in Summit, Stark, Tuscarawas, Portage, Wayne, Medina, and Cuyahoga counties. Information, education, and support is available to ANYONE interested in Autism spectrum disorders.
ASPIES Mission Statement
To enhance the lives of children and adults with Asperger Syndrome, High Functioning Autism, PDD/NOS and other spectrum disorders
Ways we accomplish this mission:
Phone support - providing a listening ear when individuals/parents feel lost in a world of their own and letting them know we are here to help
Online support - providing resources such as trainings, social events, service providers, and newsworthy articles
Monthly support groups - providing education to families effected as well as the professionals dealing with them (Many of our programs cross disability lines)
Meet & Greets - providing an opportunity for families to come together for mutual support and fun
Collaboration with other agencies - to coordinate the resources available within our community for the benefit of our individuals/families.
3.) What is your role?
I am the Volunteer Representative for the Stark and Tuscarawas County Branch of ASPIES. Due to my child having multiple higher level needs, I have been a stay at home parent for many years. For me, I was really struggling with periods of isolation and depression due to the intensity of his needs combined with both a lack of understanding and lack of supports within our community. Due to the lack of support that I faced for MANY years and how much I had to figure out for myself, I decided to bring the branch of ASPIES to Tuscarawas County and further expand services in Stark County. As parents of kids with extra needs, I want people to know that we deserve to feel seen, heard and supported in the struggles that we face for their betterment. I am simply a mom who wants to build something we can all invest in and from which we can gather strength.
4.) How long have you been in this role?
I just celebrated my 1 year anniversary of having the Stark & Tuscarawas County Branch of ASPIES! I’d originally planned to have my branch kickoff in April of 2020, but Covid hit and placed a long hold on starting up. I still couldn’t wait to both have and create more support, so in September of 2021, I had my official kick off!
*Fun Fact that both the head of ASPIES and myself LOVE to share- Back in 2018 I went to an ‘Autism Street Fair’ in Canton, OH to learn more for my sons needs. I stopped at a booth with the ASPIES sign and got some great information to use for my son and our family. As I went to leave, it clicked that the man I’d been talking to was my 5th grade teacher. HE is married to Joy, ASPIES founder and continued provider of the Greater Akron based services that ASPIES provides. Our ‘small world’ moment helped forge quite the friendship and things began to go into motion when I told Joy that I was interested in bringing services and events for kiddos down to my local counties. (It took me at least 2 of the 4 years I’d known this past teacher, as an adult, before I was willing to call him by his first name- It still feels strange 😉)
5.) What are some of the challenges of your role?
Honestly, I think the biggest challenge I’ve faced have been the Parent Support Meetings I’ve hosted that no one has come to. I put a lot of time, planning and effort into making both the Parent Support Meetings and the Kid Events the informational, understanding, and inviting events that they are, so it is sad when no one shows up. As a special needs mom (or ANY mom, really) I understand how easy it is to not put our needs for socialization, community and support anywhere near the top of our long list of ‘things to do’. This has been such a learning experience for me on taking that time for myself as not only a mom, but as a woman and a person who deserves to be more than just a role that I fill.
6.) What are the rewards?
Do you have HOURS to hear them all? I say that in jest, but the rewards are abounding. First and foremost, at my kid events, I get to meet so many AMAZING girls and boys with so many differing talents and AMAZING qualities. I have one kiddo who is the most fantastic Lego builder you will ever meet, another who makes great scratch art with scratch pads, another who takes time to make sure we know how important veterans are, and so many more amazing things. I get to be a part of these kiddos JOY, smiles and feeling that they matter. One of my kiddos had no one show up to his birthday party for 2 years, so through the help of my group, we were able to have his friends that he’d met through ASPIES, and around 60 bikers that also showed up in a long drive through for him to show him that he was cared about! Another kiddo got so excited when I was a speaker at his school and talked about ‘my ASPIES kiddos’ and interrupted with an excited “Am I one of your ASPIES kids? I can’t WAIT til your next event!” I could speak for hours about the pure light I’ve received from these kiddos in our interactions over this past year. The rewards from hosting Parent Support Groups bring me joy in a different way, but are just as satisfying. My child has a long list of diagnosis’ and struggles and I had to learn a LOT of things the hard way, be it how to help his needs and how to teach him, key professionals to see for his needs, and community supports. It is so fulfilling to be able to take that burden off parents who are both new to this role or are struggling to ‘figure it out’. I have been able to gain support from others that have faced similar journeys as myself and show them that they are not alone.
7.) What makes your organization unique from other programs?
I appreciate that there are so many resources becoming available for both individuals on the Autism Spectrum AND their parents. ASPIES is all volunteer run, so our entire hearts go into the services and events we provide. We are moms who have gone through the same thing that these other parents are going through. We know both the daily struggles and the incredible triumphs that come with being a mom to someone on the Autism Spectrum.
8.) What can parents expect when they bring their children to the your programs?
Support, Belonging, Love, Compassion for both the children AND their parents.
9.) Please highlight some of the events coming up with ASPIES.
Tues., December 6th from 6-8p we will have our Parent Support Meeting – A Parent’s Guide to ABA Therapy. We are offering this meeting in person AND through ZOOM.
Tues., December 13th from 6-8p. will be our Christmas Jump Event at Skyzone.
10.) How can people reach you with questions or find out more about all the great programs you offer?
They can reach out to me either via email at email@example.com or by text message at 330-323-0609. As a mom of a child with high needs, I want to be up front that I can not spend a lot of time on phone calls without scheduling them first. I am MUCH easier to contact through text and email.
11.) How can people donate or directly get involved with this great organization?
There are multiple ways that you can support ASPIES!
AmazonSmile donates a portion of eligible purchases to the charity of your choice at no extra cost to you, when purchasing items on Amazon. Use the link: smile.amazon.com/ch/27-4633793
Save your ACME receipts from August 4th 2022- December 24th 2022 and turn in at any ASPIES event by January 17th 2023.
We are currently working on an Amazon wish list that will cover some of our storage needs for all of the supplies that go into our events and items we use a lot in our crafts.
We always accept gently used and clean crafting supplies, as my Craft-er-noon events are one of the kids’ favorite events.
Also, I’m always looking for volunteers to help out with being in charge of a table at my events. This is a great way to earn community service time for local high school students, and a heartwarming way to spend your time as an adult.
12.) Please feel free to share anything else you would like to share with readers.
You can find out more about ASPIES history and meeting information at https://aspies.org/ or check out photos from previous events and keep up-to-date with upcoming ones at https://www.facebook.com/ASPIES-Greater-Akron-130850296973737/?ref=page_internal
Every couple of months, I open up the kids events to the entire community. This is a great way for neurotypical children to see that those with neurological differences are still kids and want to enjoy activities, too. It also gives our kids on the spectrum a chance to interact with neurotypical kids in a lower key environment, one more tailored to meet their needs.