Wilson honored for decades of service

PARKERSBURG – Helen Wilson has seen literally thousands of youngsters with developmental disabilities realize their full potential over her 31 years at the helm of the Region 2 Birth to Three Program.

WV Birth to Three provides services to infants, toddlers under the age of 3 who have a delay in one or more areas of their cognitive, physical, social/emotional, adaptive or communication development or may be at-risk for delays.

The Arc of the Mid-Ohio Valley serves as the regional administrative unit for an eight-county area. Wilson was the regional coordinator for that area.

The mother of a child with Down syndrome, Wilson said she understood the importance of the program and what it could mean to the children and their families.

Wilson has been with the program since 1982.

“A friend actually got me involved back in 1978 working on a women’s club committee to educate people about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and the experience with my own daughter who is now 41,” Wilson said. “I had support from family and friends but you feel so alone; having the resources and support provided through a program like this one would have really helped us.”

Through the program, which is offered at no cost to the families, the children are provided with early intervention services like speech, occupation, physical therapies, psychological services, developmental assessments, and the families have access to specialized adaptive equipment.

Clients are referred by their families, social service agencies and physicians.

“I’m now seeing some second generations of families we served when I first started out,” she said.

Wilson still helps out, on a volunteer basis, offering her knowledge and experience when needed.

Michelle Curtis is the interim coordinator for the program.

“Helen’s personal experience and knowledge is very helpful. She has walked the same walk so she’s been very insightful,” Curtis said.

“Helen is a virtual treasure trove of information and knowledge,” said Doug Hess, communications and outreach coordinator with The Arc of the Mid Ohio Valley.

Why has she stayed with the program for so long?

“I believe in this program so strongly, to help and provide support to these children and their families and provide intervention for the kids so they can develop to their best potential and get off to a good start,” she said. “It’s a great program for families.”

Over the years, Wilson said, the program has survived budget contentions and changes.

It went from being more child-focused, where the therapists went into the homes and worked with the children, but now the parents are much more involved; it’s more family-focused, Wilson said.

In addition to handling the paperwork for the eight counties, Wilson was involved with coordinating educational activities in the community to get the word out, traveling to the other counties in the region, attending collaborative meetings, and going to the homes of the families.

Wilson said it has been a satisfying feeling for her to have played a part in helping thousands of children get off to a better start and helping families over the years.

Wilson worked under two directors, Joan Arnold and the current executive director Christina Smith.

“At one point there were funding concerns; the federal funding that was being provided needed to be increased and the state Legislature stepped in and started funding the program,” she said.

“We serve at-risk populations as well; probably 60 percent of the children need the speech services,” she said.

Wilson has served on state committees related to the early intervention programs and projects.

“Helen’s career has been dedicated to serving infants and toddlers with developmental delays. She’s a pioneer in bringing early intervention to the forefront. She has been involved with bringing services to thousands of children who are now young adults. We are very proud of her,” Smith said.

“As the mother of a child with a developmental disability myself, I understand personally the importance of the Birth to Three Program and the services it provides,” Smith said. “The resource network that it provides is invaluable for those of us who live with it every day.”

Smith said more than 5,000 have been served annually through the programs and the services rank among the top in the nation for children ages 3 and under.

“We rank at the top in the country and we are very pleased that our program has been used as a model for others,” Smith said.