Rekindled program provides support for special needs families

  • Published
  • By Heidi Hunt
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Three years after her son was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder, Master Sgt. Mona Wendzillo, 509th Force Support Squadron NCO in charge of readiness, can still recall her confusion and frustration.

After the initial diagnosis, Sergeant Wendzillo spent a great deal of time researching resources and tools available to her and her family. To follow up, Sergeant Wendzillo felt it was necessary to help others understand similar situations and decided to revitalize a former special needs support group at Whiteman.

"The group's intent is to help families with a variety of special needs and provide peer support as well as pool resources from helping agencies," Sergeant Wendzillo said. "The more information is shared about the different special needs out there, the more agencies, providers, and general populace will get to know about special needs families."

Crystal Gatiss, group member, stated she liked the group because when she got to Whiteman, she had no support and no resources to help her with a similar circumstance.

Other goals for the group are to schedule briefers to talk to families, address concerns and share information. The group discusses updates on programs, resources, coping skills and new tools available to families.

Sergeant Wendzillo said that knowledge is power and we can learn from both shared experience and professional guidance.

"At our last meeting, the Whiteman's School Liaison Officer, Chi Anne McGrew, 509th FSS, briefed members alongside personnel from the Exceptional Family Member Program," Sergeant Wendzillo said. "Through the EFMP and correct coding of personnel, we can accurately reflect our EFMP/Special Needs Family and work to get more funding, resources and providers for Whiteman.

If enough families are identified as EFMP, then Whiteman can begin to look into getting a full-time EFMP coordinator to be the singular point of contact," she said.

"To have that singular POC would be ideal," said Mrs. McGrew. "Then there would be one centralized location for families dealing with this issue."

Sergeant Wendzillo encourages families to get as involved as possible and said it is the responsibility of service members to advocate for the well-being of their dependents.

"By sharing ideas, resources and tools, we hope to help other families save a lot of time and energy and prevent discouragement," she said.

Long term goals include steady participation and possibly having separate support groups for some of the more prevalent special needs according to Sergeant Wendzillo.

"That's not to say we will only focus on these needs, but to keep the support group(s) for everyone that needs them, no matter how small the audience," she said. "We also want to initiate family gatherings with each other and have fun with other families."

Overall, the idea is to bring people with a common bond together and share resources to help educate others according to Sergeant Wendzillo.

"We are excited about this group and what it can bring to the families here at Whiteman," she said.

All families that have a special need member or want to help (through briefings or support) are invited. Meetings are scheduled the second and fourth Thursday of each month at the Whiteman Chapel Annex from 6-8 p.m. For more information, or to offer assistance, contact Master Sgt. Wendzillo at (660) 687-1221 or e-mail