LEWISTOWN - A lack of local resources for Special Needs children in the Juniata Valley has led a group of parents to create a support group in the hopes they can help each other.
The HEART parenting group stands for Help, Education, Resources and Together. The group wants to build a strong community link to education, health care, resources and support.
Tracy Reesman said the most important thing to know about this group is that it is "peer to peer mentoring," nobody is out to get anybody and everyone can speak about their own personal experiences.
The new HEART support group is open to anyone who wants to learn about mental health issues and strengthening families.
"It's not like another agency dictating to you ... it's people who have walked in your shoes," Trinity Kelly said.
"Sometimes you just need to have that other parent on the other end to talk to, it's an important connection," Lisa Stalnaker said.
"It's nice to have someone who is not biased and has had similar experiences," Reesman said of those who come to the meetings.
Reesman said once people start coming to the meeting they can exchange phone numbers with people to stay in contact and bounce ideas off of them.
Reesman said the group has already had one meeting, which went very well and she herself learned a lot from the guest speaker.
The group has had an overwhelming response from people who wish to be guest speakers, Reesman said.
"Professionals in the community have been happy to come and talk ... it's wonderful to see who has stepped forward," she added.
In the future, there will be guest speakers covering topics on understanding children's challenging behavior and providing coping skills and strategies for parents, child personal safety and what parents should be teaching their children, commonly prescribed medication for behavioral health issues and Reesman hopes to get a speaker to cover the topic of de-escalation.
Reesman said there is a real mental health stigma and she hopes this group can help break down some of those walls.
"The three hardest things to say are, I love you, I'm sorry and I need help," she added.
Reesman said it's important for people to understand that mental health really does effect all of us.
"According to statistics from Penn State one in five children are abused or assaulted before they are 18 years old ... one in three adults have dealt with anxiety or depression," Reesman said.
Stalnaker said that with education comes "empowerment" and that's what the goal is here, to empower parents.
"We want teachers and professionals to participate," Reesman said.
Among some of the issues the group hopes to help with include respite care, to offer parents a break from time to time.
For those parents who wish to bring their children to the meeting, the group offers free childcare for now, through the Criminal Justice Course at South Hills Business School.
Reesman said all the childcare volunteers have had background checks.
She hopes that this will also allow children an opportunity to connect with someone and perhaps make a new friend in the process.
"It's just nice to know you are not alone," she added.
If someone cannot make the meeting, Kelly will be posting notes on the group's Facebook page, HEART Support Group.
"This is open to anyone who wants to learn more about mental health and build stronger family ties. Our goal is to strengthen family ties, strengthen the community," Reesman said.
"We are looking for people to speak or help, please get a hold of us," she added.
Participation certificates will be available to those who are interested.