In May, we wrote about Zac Stephenson, the South Kitsap woman who started a PTA for parents of children with special needs.
Called SODA PTSA for “Support of Different Abilities,” the
stand-alone, parent-teacher-student association, not affiliated
with a single school, is chartered by the state PTA and is open to
parents from all districts in Kitsap County. Stephenson wants to
fills a niche for families like hers, whose special needs and
interests aren’t always high on the radar of regular PTAs.
Stephenson and her spouse Harmony have three children, Auri, 11, Toby, 4, and Sam 8, who has autism. Stephenson, a volunteer at Sam’s school Hidden Creek Elementary, wants to build a playground that children like Sam can enjoy. He prefers playing by himself, spinning and the feel of different textures.
In the midst of trying to get SODA off the ground, Zac and Harmony have had a rocky time that just got rockier.
Harmony since January has been receiving diagnosis and treatment of what turned out to be a chronic illness that affected her digestive tract. Harmony, the lone breadwinner of the family is not able to work at this time.
Zac, a stay-at-home-mom, has not been able to work for some time due to multiple health problems, including a work-related back and neck injury. Both women have had surgeries since January. There’s medication and therapy appointments for Sam. Toby, too, appears to have some form of disability, which his parents are sorting out.
On top of mounting medical bills, there was a fire last spring, started by the family’s Springer spaniel who knocked over a heat lamp trying to get at some baby chicks. And most recently, the couple has had car problems.
“It seems like we just keep circling the drain,” Harmony
On Aug. 20, Zac was trying to siphon gas out of one vehicle, which is not working, into another, which is. She used an electric pump that she didn’t know had a bare wire, and there was an explosion that set her on fire. Zac’s face was badly burned, and although she’s feeling better now, for some time she was crazed with pain.
In that state, she left the house of a friend on foot, and when the friend couldn’t immediately find her the alarm went out on Facebook that Zac was missing. “Apparently, I owe people in Port Orchard an apology,” Zac said. “It just kind of escalated. I wasn’t running away. It wasn’t anything that was planned. I was just in so much pain. Things had been really, really rough.”
Earlier this week, Zac said she is feeling better. Her face is healing, and the pain is manageable. The family is doing OK for food, between the food bank and public assistance. Harmony is applying for disability assistance, which will help right the ship. The family lives frugally — no cable for example — so they don’t need much to live on. But transportation remains a problem. The van is OK, but their truck needs work and the car is dead.
With everything going on SODA PTSA has been pushed to the back burner, but it’s not dead by a long shot, Zac said.
“The PTA is still in place,” she said. “I had talked to Harmony about stepping down because we have so much to deal with.”
On second thought, however, she will continue to head up the organization and still hopes to see its efforts toward fully accessible playgrounds spread to other schools and other districts.
If anyone wants to help with fundraising and seeking sponsorships, Zac would welcome it, but the best thing anyone could do is join SODA PTSA for $15 a year, she said.
For information on SODA PTSA or to join, contact Stephenson at 509-378-6263 or go to https://www.facebook.com/sodaptsa.
To learn about forming your own special needs PTSA, contact your Washington State PTA regional director at www.wastatepta.org. Region 1 covers Clallam, Jefferson and Kitsap counties and includes North Mason School District.