Next steps after evaluation results

As you navigate the world of special needs, especially results of a professional evaluation, it can be confusing to know what comes next. Each new piece of information leads to more questions. Evaluation results definitely contain information that should guide your actions. 

As a reminder, a professional evaluation is recommended when a child exhibits unusual behavior that might indicate the presence of a disability which could trigger the need for special education resources when they start school.

Evaluation results often contain statistical language such as norms, standard scores and standard deviations. These technical terms describe how closely the child’s score matches the average of scores in the child’s peer group. This way of expressing results gives parents, educators and clinicians an objective way to measure behavior. It allows for something closer to an apples-to-apples comparison between the child and their peers—which supports an unbiased assessment.

When it’s time to make key decisions about the child’s education, the evaluation is Exhibit A: Based on the results, you’ll want to focus on two important questions to determine your next steps: Does the child need special education resources from the school? And if so, which available resources should be considered? The more objective data you have about the child’s status, the more effectively you and school administrators can meet the child’s educational needs.

Just because a child has a disability, it doesn’t necessarily mean they need extra help to succeed in a publicly funded school. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a child must satisfy two conditions to qualify for mandated special education resources: they must (1) be diagnosed with one of 13 specific conditions, and (2) their success in school must depend on availability of special ed resources.

If the child meets both preconditions for special ed services, the evaluation serves as a foundation for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), which the school must propose. You’ll have opportunities to scrutinize the draft IEP and request changes to ensure the plan addresses the child’s needs to your satisfaction.  

During this process, the child may have fears and questions of their own. You can use the evaluation results to explain the findings and what actions you’re planning as a result. It can be comforting to have unbiased information to rely on. 

Even if the child is not a candidate for special ed services from the school district, you may want to share the evaluation results with the child’s teachers. If there’s a previously undetected mild hearing loss, for example, the teachers would need to know about it—even if it doesn’t trigger an IEP and official special ed resources.

What if you think the evaluation is simply wrong? You have recourse. One option is to request an independent evaluation—not unlike a second opinion from a doctor. Another option: if the child doesn’t qualify for special ed resources under IDEA rules, a 504 plan could be a good alternative. It’s similar to an IEP in some respects: proposed by the school and authorized under federal legislation. But unlike an IEP, a 504 plan helps remove barriers to learning, so kids with less severe disabilities can get the support they need to succeed in school alongside their peers. 

Arranging for special ed resources for a child can be a daunting process. We can perform a variety of evaluations and assessments to establish whether a child has special needs. And our Center for Educational Advocacy can also help you secure public school resources to support educational success. To learn more, and arrange a tour, call us at 904-346-5100.

Understanding the big IDEA

As you work with school officials and seek to meet your child’s educational needs, it helps to familiarize yourself with a powerful piece of federal legislation called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA spells out rights, obligations and protections for all stakeholders involved in educating people with disabilities—including parents, educational professionals and students.

Signed into law in 1975, IDEA seeks to ensure that affected students receive a free, appropriate public education and that parents have a say in determining how educational and related services are provided. 

When a child is determined to be eligible under IDEA, it’s the school’s obligation to deliver education services that address the student’s unique needs. These might include accommodations such as extra time on exams; related services such as counseling, speech therapy; and assistive technology such as audiobooks and recording devices to help with note-taking. 

Disability categories covered under IDEA

  • Autism

  • Deaf-blindness

  • Deafness

  • Emotional disturbance

  • Hearing impairment

  • Intellectual disability

  • Multiple disabilities

  • Orthopedic impairment

  • Other health impairment (includes ADHD)

  • Specific learning disability (such as dyslexia and other specific diagnoses)

  • Speech or language impairment

  • Traumatic brain injury

  • Visual impairment, including blindness

Who (and what) IDEA covers

IDEA protections apply to students with an eligible disability from birth until age 21 or graduation from high school—whichever occurs first. The 13 “eligible disabilities” are specified in the law and listed below. They include autism, deafness, dyslexia, ADHD and others.

In addition, IDEA requires more than a diagnosis identifying any of the 13 categories. To be eligible for special ed services under IDEA, the child must require those services in order to progress academically. If a child can make progress in school without special ed services, they’d be ineligible under the statute. 

The law mandates access to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) for every student with covered disabilities. The school must provide an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that outlines specific steps the school will take to address the child’s specific needs. 

Other provisions of IDEA include:

  • Schools must make early intervention services available for covered individuals up to age 3.

  • Students in public as well as charter schools are covered; private school students are not. 

  • Parents have the right to participate in developing the IEP. If there’s a dispute, it must be subject to a formal dispute resolution process.

How to seek IDEA protection

If you think your child may have a disability of any kind (eligible or not under IDEA rules), the critical first step is to get a professional evaluation. Hope Haven offers a wide range of evaluation services, which can provide clarity and direction as you and your child start your journey. 

If the child is deemed eligible for services under IDEA, the school will need to propose an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that’s custom-designed to address your child’s specific needs. 

A thorough working knowledge of IDEA can strengthen your negotiating position and clarifies what accommodations you’re entitled to. Our Center for Educational Advocacy can help you navigate the process.

To learn more about Hope Haven and our Discovery School, or to arrange a personalized tour, call us at (904) 346-5100. And be prepared to ask lots of questions. We’re always happy to answer them all.

We can help you negotiate the best IEP terms for your child

If you’re new to the process of securing special education resources for your child, it can seem overwhelming. Available resources are typically spelled out by the local school in a proposal known as an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

The first draft of an IEP is often presented to parents at a meeting with school officials; inexperienced parents sometimes get flummoxed at these meetings. Our Center for Educational Advocacy can help you make sense of the process and stay focused on your goals. 

To minimize feeling intimidated, it helps to remember you have choices; IEPs are subject to negotiation, so there’s some degree of wiggle room built into the school district’s initial draft. And it’s not forever: IEPs are reviewed and revised every year as your child develops and their needs change.

So when your school system calls you in to present a proposed IEP, how can you work effectively to shape it? Consider these strategies:

  • If you’ve received a copy of the proposed IEP in advance, use that time to study it thoroughly before the meeting, so you can be a subject matter expert.

  • Whether you’ve seen the IEP before or not, take time to review the whole document together as a group. Ask for clarifications on any terms that are unfamiliar to you. Correct any misstated facts; mark any items that need follow-up.

  • Take as much time as you need. Ask when the school system requires your response. Schedule a follow-up meeting. Get it on everyone’s calendar before you leave the first meeting.

  • After the meeting, discuss the draft with family members and others in an advisory capacity—especially any items you flagged at the first IEP meeting. As you review the details, make a list of all discussion items and what changes you’d like made.

  • Reconvene. Be prepared to come with proposed edits, along with any support documents (like reports from medical or behavioral professionals) that back up any requests. If you’re still left with unresolved issues, agree to disagree. You can still sign the parts of the IEP you all agree on.

Ideally, you and your school’s representatives will ultimately finalize a document that supports your child’s education fairly and equitably. You don’t have to face the IEP process alone. Hope Haven’s Center for Educational Advocacy can help you stay focused and provide knowledgeable support. To learn more, call us at (904) 346-5100.

Choosing the right school for your child

Which school is best for your child? That’s a decision that weighs on all parents, especially when special needs are a factor. Your choice will affect your child’s life in the short and long terms.

Maybe your child is just approaching school age. Maybe your family just moved to a new area. Maybe you and/or your child aren’t happy in their current academic environment. Maybe you just want to explore alternatives. Whatever the case, the time to look at schools is now—before the summer break starts.

Begin the process by narrowing down your list of possibilities. Make a list of your priorities, bearing in mind any achievable yet challenging goals you have for your child. What physical and academic accommodations do you need? What staff-to-student ratios are acceptable for you? What’s your budget? What kind of vibe encourages your child to thrive? A little research will help you sort through the options, ultimately yielding a short list of finalists within your geographical area that warrant a closer look.

That closer look starts with a site visit. Some things to look for:

About the physical school: Note the general neighborhood and general cleanliness of the campus. Some items to observe:

  • Security: Do you feel protected? Does the security presence feel oppressive? Does the staff seem alert and focused? How well do they interact with students?

  • Facilities: What’s the condition of the gym, library, auditorium, cafeteria, special-purpose classrooms, outdoor facilities, bathrooms, hallways and common areas? Is it well maintained? Is everything ADA-compliant?

  • Displays: What’s on the walls? How much is student-created and/or student-focused?

  • Cafeteria: Don’t just observe. Taste the food if you can. Do the students seem comfortable there?

  • Classrooms: Do you get a sense of student engagement? Managed play? Utter chaos?

About the program: Keeping in mind that every child’s program will be individualized, see if you can observe students whose needs are similar to your child’s. Notice if students and staff seem engaged while in group and individual settings.

  • Behavior: How do staff members deal with challenging behavior? Is there an official disciplinary policy manual? How consistently do staff members teach by example and through positive reinforcement?

  • Meals: Does the school allow for food restrictions? Does the staff make an effort to make the food appetizing? Healthcare: Is there a full-time nurse? How clean, organized and well-equipped is the medical office? How to they manage the process of giving kids their maintenance meds?

  • Activities: What’s the range of daily activities? What are the schedule and sequencing during a typical day? How consistently are they followed? Are there sufficient periods for rest and play?

  • Therapy: Are there certified Physical, Speech and Language, and other therapists available? How do they interact with students?

  • Technology: Do you see adaptive technologies in use by the students to help them see, hear, communicate or move around? Do the devices seem current (i.e. not worn out)? Do the students seem comfortable using them?

About the staff: Spend some time observing teachers, therapists and support staff as they interact with students.

  • Problem behavior: How gently and empathetically do staff members redirect kids who need it?

  • Reinforcement: Do staff members make an effort to praise students individually and for specific behaviors? Or is it more generalized?

  • Engagement: Do classes feel like lectures or are they more participatory? How do staff members draw out students who are shy or having a difficult day?

  • Assistants: Do teachers and assistants work as a team? Do they support each other in the classroom?

  • Accessibility: How much access will you have with school officials when you need it? Do they make it easy to schedule meetings? Do you get a sense you have their undivided attention?

By showing up to experience the school, with your child, you’ll gain a perspective you can’t get from websites and brochures. And springtime is the perfect time to remove any question marks hanging over your child’s educational prospects for the fall. That way, you and your family can be free to enjoy summer with a more focused sense of anticipation.

To arrange a personalized tour of Hope Haven and our Discovery School, call us at (904) 346-5100. And be prepared to ask lots of questions. We’re always happy to answer them.

Employment skills training helps your young adult succeed

Even under the best circumstances, landing a job is stressful. For teens, it’s harder. And when you add special abilities to the mix, it might seem like the trifecta of complex endeavors.

But the challenge is not insurmountable. In fact, for a lot of teens and young adults with disabilities, a job can offer life-altering benefits. Hope Haven offers customized employment and transition services that can help your young adult focus on the skills they’ll need.

What it takes

For anyone who works, getting and keeping a job requires a combination of skills. These include:

  • Drive: Desire to work successfully, learn and integrate new skills and information.

  • Endurance: Ability and desire to work full shifts consistently, demonstrating reliability, persistence in response to initial setbacks.

  • Soft skills: Ability to interact with people, adhere to rules and policies consistently, demonstrate appropriate dressing and grooming habits and other behaviors needed in any job setting.

  • Self-advocacy: Speaking up for yourself, interacting with supervisors, making reasonable requests—all in a manner that’s productive, respectful and conducive to the workplace.

  • Productivity: Getting work done at the speed and quality level required for the job.

What your young adult gets

Employment confers a whole range of benefits on anyone who works. Those benefits are multiplied for special-needs young adults. Among them: A sense of independence, self-sufficiency, pride in accomplishment, ongoing positive reinforcement and socialization. Not to mention the money earned. It’s a triple-win for the family, the employee and the company that hires them.

Employment can also be challenging. It places the employee in a complex and unfamiliar environment—socially and physically. It challenges the employee to learn and master new skills and coping strategies.

But in the end, for many special-needs adolescents and young adults, overcoming those challenges can increase self-awareness, confidence and joy.

Programs available at Hope Haven

We offer fully customized programs to help special-needs clients find appropriate employment and perform at the highest possible standards—as well as parent training classes to help family members provide support. These programs include:

  • Project SEARCH: Developed and implemented jointly through business partnerships, this program connects candidates with internships that can lead to paid ongoing employment. Interview and application required; multiple scholarship resources are available.

  • Employment Services: Personalized job coaching and skill development from certified employment professionals. Participants focus on learning skills that can help advance their careers.

  • Paid on-the-job training: Helps participants age 16 and older develop and strengthen skills needed for career success.

For more information about our employment skills training programs, or to arrange a tour of Hope Haven, contact us at 904-346-5100.

Choosing a Summer Camp

Choosing a summer camp can be daunting for any parent, of any child, especially if you’re exploring your options for the first time. Doubly so if your child has special needs.

Just as when you may have navigated the IEP process, you’ll need to advocate for your child to ensure his or her needs will be addressed while at camp. It’s an integral part of the selection process. Before you get to that point, though, you should define your own criteria. After all, you’ll be entrusting your child to people for a significant amount of time.

As a starting point, look inward and ask yourself some basic questions: What are your preferences and needs in terms of budget? Geography? Camp size? Religious affiliation? Do you want your child in a more mainstream environment? Or one that’s mostly geared toward special-needs? How would you and your child define a successful summer camp experience?

By narrowing the list of realistic possibilities, you can research the finalists in greater depth.

You’ll probably want to interview camp officials, ideally in person, during a tour of the facility itself. Don’t feel shy about asking direct questions. Your interview might include these broad areas:

  • Basic statistics: Ask about the ratio of campers to staff members. What training is required? How many have relevant certifications? What’s the maximum camper population? How often do campers end up going home early—and why?

  • About the staff: Ask how staff deals with problem behavior—including when a child feels bullied or picked on. Is there a formal discipline system? Ask about the medical staff, their level of relevant experience and training, and their availability. Is there a particular and trusted staff member your child can turn to if needed?

  • About daily life and routines: Ask about the way activities are structured on a typical day. How do they adjust when weather turns nasty?  How much time do kids have to do their own thing? What kinds of off-campus excursions are available? Do they offer academics to bridge the gap between school years? Ask about typical meals. Ask about safety and accident prevention protocols.

  • About accommodations for special-needs: Ask if the camp has experience with other kids who have similar issues. What specific accommodations and assistive technology are available? What efforts will the camp make to help your child fit in socially and feel welcome? If relevant, ask where the nearest acute-care hospital is located.

  • About parental involvement: Ask how they handle visits from parents and siblings. Can you take the child off-campus? Can you volunteer and observe?

To round out your research, don’t hesitate to ask detailed follow-up questions if you feel the need. You and your child may also want to speak with parents and kids who have direct experience with the camp(s) you’re considering.

Once you’ve made your decision, stay in close touch with officials at the camp before, during and after the summer session. Take maximum advantage of visiting opportunities. You may need to navigate some perfectly normal separation anxiety—on your part as well as your child’s. Above all: create space for your child to develop independence, growth, pride, social skills and the joy of play.

To learn more about Hope Haven and our summer camp programs designed for special-needs kids, or to schedule a tour, call us at 904.346.5100.


Help for parents of children with special needs: Coping with stress

Transitional life stressors like birth, death and moving are pretty normal. In addition, parents are subject to the inherent chronic stressors of parenting. Parental psychological stressors are related to the worries that parents have about the physical safety and the growth and development of their children.

When a child has special needs, all of the attention is focused on helping the child. But parents also need assistance in coping with stress, their own feelings and frustrations.

Dealing with outside stresses

Your family, friends and co-workers may not fully understand what’s going on—so they may not match your understanding of the situation. Dealing with that mismatch can be stressful. Dealing with school administrators and teachers can also be stressful, along with financial, social, logistical pressures of caring for a special-needs child. Try these coping strategies:

  • Think it through rationally, one step at a time. Describe the problem, including best- and worst-case scenarios. Separate the outside stressors you can control from those you can’t. Write down solutions and the steps needed to implement them. This process will help you feel empowered and focused.

  • Manage your time. List your priorities in order of importance and compare them with how much time you’ve been allocating. You’ll see what issues are receiving too much or too little attention, so you can consciously make adjustments.

  • Implement changes kindly and firmly. Assert and advocate for yourself and your child in a loving, respectful way. Learn to place limits or say no if too much is being asked of you. Be open to compromise if you feel it’s warranted, but avoid getting stuck in an indecision loop that feeds your stress.

Managing inside stresses
We sometimes get ourselves too worked up with worry. And with a little self-care we can avoid stress before it starts. Examine the expectations you place on yourself and the assumptions they’re based on. Are you the only person on the planet qualified to deal with a problem? Can you delegate the tasks that others can handle? Deflect the unreasonable requests that come your way? Dial down the negative self-criticism? Consider these ways to reduce inside stress and lift some weight from your shoulders:

  • Be positive with yourself. Repeat affirmations as often as needed. Remind yourself of your own good qualities and your value in all your roles—as a person, family member, caregiver, coach.

  • Be realistic. No one can possibly take responsibility for all the tasks you probably assign exclusively to yourself. Learn to live with imperfection and uncertainty. Cut yourself some slack without criticizing yourself for not meeting unachievable standards.

  • Expect constant change from yourself and those around you. Because stuff just happens sometimes.

Changing physical stresses

It’s no secret that your mind and body work together. So the self-care needed for managing stress is more than a mind game. There’s a physical component to it, too. To keep yourself and your family functioning properly, pay some attention to this dimension that sometimes gets overlooked. Coping with physical stress factors might include these tactics:

  • Chill. Downtime is essential. Are you getting enough rest? Most adults need six to eight hours of sleep. Take power naps when needed if possible. Try a few yoga postures or even some meditation if those work for you.

  • Get some exercise. Go for walks together or separately. Hit the gym. Or swim some laps. The endorphins will help keep you feeling calm and empowered, and you’ll burn calories as intended. Limit screen time for yourself and your kids.

  • Play. It’s distracting, and it helps you not focus on all the negativity that can lead to stress. Join a league. Kick a soccer ball. Hang out with the pets. Take the dog to a dog park.

  • Eat right. Do more cooking and less eating out. Especially if your choices have included too much unhealthy fast food. Eat dinner together as a family as often as possible. Meal prep is often a bonding experience.

Though stress is a normal and natural response to perceived threats, it doesn’t have to rule your life. Especially in challenging times. By taking the initiative to recognize triggers and deploy coping strategies, you can improve the quality of life for yourself and your child.

For more information, contact us at 904-346-5100. To learn more about our services for special-needs children and their families, schedule a tour of Hope Haven.

The Chaos and the Clutter
Family friendly fun

Understanding an IEP

If your child qualifies for special education services through your public schools, the district is required to provide an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This important document serves as a roadmap that will spell out the specific special education services you and your child can expect for as long as the child remains in the public school system.

IEPs are not required in private schools or at the college level, though most of these have their own formal systems for accommodating special-needs students. But for students in K-12 public schools, including charter schools, the IEP works almost like a contract, outlining the rights and responsibilities of all parties involved in the child’s education. The overall goal: to ensure that special-needs students receive as much individualized attention as they need to succeed in school.

Although an IEP follows a standardized format, its contents are customized for your child’s needs based on an evaluation that documents the need for specialized educational services. The IEP contains several sections, including:

  • Information about the child: name, birthdate, grade level, and other relevant details, along with a review of the child’s current academic performance level.

  • Information about the team who will work to help the child get the most benefit in school: names and contact info for the child’s parents, along with teachers, administrators and other resources.

  • Annual goals: specific achievable performance measures for the child, taking challenges and abilities into account.

  • Progress reporting: spells out exactly how the child’s progress toward milestones will be measured.

  • Services: details  the specific services the child qualifies for, and where and how long the child will receive the services.

  • Supplementary services: lists how the school will accommodate the child’s challenges, including which assistive technologies will be available. Also details how expectations for the child will compare with those that apply to the general student population.

  • Participation: explains how the child will be included in general education and what accommodations the school will deploy to help level the playing field for the child.

The IEP is an important document that you, your child and the education team will refer to and update periodically throughout the child’s education journey. It’s a collaborative effort. Parents are encouraged to play an active ongoing role—not only in creating the initial IEP but also in updating the plan over time.

IEPs are provided free of charge to families of children who qualify for special education services. For more information on getting your child evaluated for conditions that trigger special education services, contact us at 904.346.5100. Or better yet, schedule a tour of Hope Haven.

Getting your child evaluated: It’s better to know.

Most kids face behavioral issues at some point before adulthood. Some issues resolve on their own, and others point to a need for help. It’s a terrain that’s difficult to navigate.

As a parent, you’ll naturally have questions about whether and how to deal with sustained problem behavior that concerns you. Will they outgrow it? Are you overreacting? What’s the worst-case scenario? How does the situation affect other family members? The child’s future? What are the treatment options?

The fastest, surest way to get answers and move toward solutions is a professional, evidence-based evaluation. Hope Haven offers a variety of evaluation services that help you assess your child’s strengths and weaknesses, rule out unlikely causes, and pinpoint any probable underlying conditions. So you can decide on next steps based on information, not hunches.

How an evaluation can help

Problem behavior could indicate an underlying issue related to learning, attention, social and emotional adjustment, impulse control or other factors. If something about your child’s behavior doesn’t feel right, an evaluation can help in numerous ways:

  • Relieve uncertainty. An evaluation can dispel many of the what-ifs that surround your child’s behavior issues, so your family can focus on solutions.

  • Jump-start the healing process. A professional evaluation is the first step in deciding if your child needs help. And if so, what kinds of therapies can work best.

  • Offers clarity. An evaluation can help your child, and everyone in their orbit, understand the challenges. So you, your child, their siblings, teachers and school administrators can all be on the same page.

  • Provides guidance. School officials can use the evaluation results to steer your child toward approved programs appropriate for the issue. And it gives your family insights into productive ways of making the situation better at home.

Evaluation and assessment services at Hope Haven include:

  • Comprehensive psycho-educational evaluation

  • Gifted assessments

  • Learning needs

  • Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

  • Autism

  • Down syndrome

Testing lasts between two and six hours, depending on the child’s age and what we’re testing for.

Learn more

For more information about our evaluation and assessment services, please click the button below or call 904.346.5100.

Deanna Zastrow

Meet Deanna, Hope Haven’s Licensed Certified School Psychologist!

Deanna graduated from FSU with an M.S. and Ed.S. in School Psychology. Since graduating, she has worked in multiple Florida school districts and has experience with psychological assessment and consultation, Section 504, Autism evaluation, ADHD, and “Twice Exceptional” students.

As Hope Haven’s Psychologist, Deanna will be conducting comprehensive psychoeducational evaluations, meaning she’ll be assessing children to help determine what factors may be affecting their ability to develop, learn and socialize. These evaluations include assessments of a child’s cognitive functioning, academic achievement, information processing abilities, and social/emotional and behavioral factors which may impact a child’s learning and social functioning.

We are excited to have such a qualified and incredible individual join our team and look forward to the amazing impact she has on our students!



With the help of corporate donations, volunteers and staff, we’re making progressive changes that ultimately will have a positive effect on our students, families and working environment. As part of RED Day, an annual event dedicated to improving local communities, more than 50 employees from Keller Williams Atlantic Properties donated their time and efforts to give Hope Haven a renewed and energized lobby in the Skinner Building. Featuring bright colors, artwork and refreshed fabrics, it received an uplifting renovation. The team also transformed one of our larger offices into a comfortable and functional “welcome room” for clients, donors and employees. And, at the same time, our grounds and facilities received a much-needed cleanup— from playground equipment to squeaky clean windows and fixture updates. Keller Williams also supports our monthly birthday and holiday parties for our students and orchestrate a back-to-school drive August.


  • The University of Phoenix donated new furniture for our multi-purpose spaces and tutoring areas.
  • New laptops and interactive smart boards have been installed to enhance our student’s learning opportunities.
  • A more streamlined website update is in progress to allow for future online scheduling, online payment capabilities and statementing.
  • An on-site employment services lab is under development to help eligible students prepare for internships in the workplace.
  • Procurement of a 15-seat passenger van will help provide transportation for our summer camp

Hope Haven Helping to Draw Attention to Families Facing an Autism Diagnosis

April is National Autism Awareness Month and what a great opportunity to not only promote autism awareness but autism acceptance and to draw attention to the tens of thousands facing an autism diagnosis each year.

In Jacksonville, FL, Hope Haven, one of the community’s leading nonprofit providers of specialized services for children and their families, serves more than 5,000 families each year.

Many families come to Hope Haven exclusively for education and or therapy-related services to help gain a sense of comfort, confidence, and enrichment. Options include the Hope Haven’s Discovery School for preschool, kindergarten and lower elementary students, and  Speech-Language, Occupational and Physical Therapy.

At the Discovery School, a team of highly qualified teachers and professionals provide children with an engaging, inclusive environment to learn, discover and thrive among a diverse group of students.

Renee and her son Liam are just one of the thousands of families who have have been a recipient of some of these services. Liam, age five, is in the kindergarten class at the Discovery School. Liam was diagnosed at an early age with moderate to severe autism. Renee discovered Hope Haven during the 2016-2017 school year after months of searching for summer camps focused on serving children with special needs.

Before Hope Haven, Liam was enrolled in the ESE program at a Duval County Public School. Having attended the summer camp at Hope Haven and learning about the Discovery School, Renee saw an opportunity to make the switch to private school. So far, the experience has been life-changing.

“The staff have been extremely flexible to meet the needs of our family. After completing a background check, they gave us and our outside ABA therapy to come onsite 4-5 days out to help him with behavioral issues. His therapists can pull him out of class, or point out things going on in class which allows the teachers to continue with the curriculum. While Liam is onsite, he can do his speech and occupational therapy with Hope Haven therapists as well. This has given both myself and Liam comfort and consistency staying at Hope Haven giving him in-house resources,” stated Renee.

“Since Liam has been at Hope Haven, we have seen major improvements. He’s potty trained, his speech is improving, behavioral issues are being fixed, and overall, Liam is flourishing. At five years of age, he can label every state on the map, including many other countries. He is thriving with addition and subtraction (100% thanks to his teachers) and has fallen in love with science where he can label all the planets in our solar system and even tell you the different clouds depending on the weather.”

Renee and her family couldn’t have had this opportunity without the financial assistance they received thanks to the Gardner Scholarship offered through Hope Haven. The scholarship covers Liam’s tuition, therapies, and other costs associated with their needs. Financial contributions are essential to helping more families like Renee and Liam find hope and transformation. All tax-deductible donations allow Hope Haven to serve under-resourced families on a sliding fee scale basis, by creating a fund that will offset their costs in accordance with their ability to pay.  

If you’re a family looking for hope, there are many great resources available if you have children or adults with special needs. Parents with preschool or kindergarten age students can also consider enrolling them in the Discovery School. For further information, parents can contact Hope Haven at or call (904) 346-5100 to talk about starting their child’s educational journey.


JACKSONVILLE, Fl. – Jacksonville University is hosting the World’s Largest Water Balloon Fight in hopes to win the Guinness World Record for the community. On March 3, 2018, over 150,000 water balloons will be loaded and ready for battle.

There is a one dollar entry to participate in the event, and all proceeds will be benefiting Hope Haven, a Children’s Clinic and Family Center.

Check-in will begin at 9:00 AM and the event will start at 11:30 AM. This family-friendly event will also have food trucks, live music, and additional entertainment.

Be a part of winning a World Record for your community and supporting a local non-profit that helps provide many services to families with special needs. To register in advance, visit

The University of Kentucky currently holds this record with 8,957 participants, achieved on August 27, 2011.

Employee Spotlight | Meet Marie

Meet Marie, An Administrative Assistant who has been with hope Haven for more than 10 years! Chances are, you and your family have had several encounters with Marie, but take a look at some fun facts you may not have known about her!

Tell us about what you do here!

“I schedule the families who come to Hope Haven for the Down Syndrome Center assessments. Families come from all over for the 4 part (education, OT, PT, and speech) assessment that we do.

We see families from all over Florida and families come from out of state and out of the country. We have seen families from Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky, Russia, the Bahamas, and Germany.

I also help with some aspects of the Discovery School at Hope Haven.”

Tell us a “fun fact” about you!

“I am from New Kensington, PA which is close to Pittsburgh. But, I moved here with my family at the start of my senior year in high school. I guess that I now qualify as a southern but with some northern overtones (can’t wear shoes without socks so no sandals. I still say gum bands instead of rubber bands to name a few).”

Tell us what you love the most about Hope Haven and what you most want people to know about Hope Haven!

“I have enjoyed being a part of the Hope Haven family. The Down Syndrome Center (DSC) at Hope Haven does strength-based assessments for OT, PT, speech, and education/cognitive. It is always wonderful to hear parents comment that they get so much information from our team and that they are grateful to for all of the positive feedback. Some families only get negative feedback, but our team looks for and sees the positives. They then give parents ideas and suggestions to help the families achieve higher goals for their child. And, it is fun working around the Hope Haven Discovery School. I love seeing the children grow and progress.”

Employee Spotlight | Amber


Meet, Amber Churchsapp, our BASICS After School Program Lead!

Q: Tell us about what you do here at Hope Haven!

I provide instruction, support and supervision for the BASICS program for youth and young adults with special needs and disabilities. I plan daily schedules for staff and students that offer a wide range of activities, but not limited to, arts and crafts, physical fitness, independent living skills,  and social skills. I provide communication between our program, participating schools, families, and the BASICS team in order to ensure success of our program.

Q: What do you like to do for fun?

I’m very adventurous and love to travel. I will try almost anything once!

Q: What do you love the most about Hope Haven?

I love Hope Haven because of the kids!  I get to be a part of so many amazing students’ lives and their families. It is a great feeling knowing I get to offer even a small fraction of security and a peace of mind to many families. Our BASICS team is great and makes work fun and exciting for not just the students but the staff as well. I truly enjoy my job!

Learn more about BASICS After-School Program, an after-school setting for youth aged 5 to 22 with physical and/or developmental disabilities where they can learn, grow and have fun!

Employee Spotlight | Tim


I was Department Head for Speech, Language and Hearing services, during which time I worked as a Speech/Language Pathologist both on-site and throughout the community providing speech and language services for children and families who manifested a wide spectrum of conditions and disabilities.

This, many times, involved working within an interdisciplinary team such as performing communication assessments for the Down Syndrome Center and the Autism Diagnostic team, conducting social skills groups, and becoming an Instructor for the Children First in Divorce program.

As a Speech/Language Pathologist, I was responsible for conducting evaluations and therapy for children with articulation disorders, voice and fluency issues, or language delay.

As an Instructor for the CFID Program, it is my task to enumerate the potential impacts of parental conflict and divorce on children and to encourage parents to continue to partner in a civil, non-emotional manner when dealing with the many issues typically associated with child rearing.

Fun Fact: I am, and have been, an amateur writer for many years. Some of my short stories have been published locally, and most recently, I have completed an anthology of 500 poems – each one representing a different motion picture. Here’s a sample:

Saving Mr. Banks

Movies sometimes move us in ways we can’t explain.
They bring to mind a memory. They sing an old refrain.
We may not know the reason why,
Or when we first began to cry,
We’re just so glad a movie made us feel that way again.

I’ve been asked to describe what I love most about Hope Haven and what I most want people to know about us. Curiously, I can answer both queries with a single word: comfort.

Aside from those clients who come to Hope Haven for enrichment such as the summer camp programs, the majority of children and families who avail themselves of our services are uncomfortable in some way. The child is uncomfortable due to a physical condition beyond his control such as Down Syndrome or ADHD. He may be uncomfortable with rules, with school, with his peers or with his parents. Parents are uncomfortable with their child’s school performance, behavior, and the sometimes overwhelming demands placed on parents of a special needs child.

To me, what makes Hope Haven work so well is that children and families are made to feel comfortable. Gaining a personal rapport

with the child and family from first contact, namely Intake, and proceeding straight through Accounting, Scheduling, and Service delivery is paramount to our style of intervention. And when nurtured, rapport grows into trust. And when trust is present in a therapeutic environment, mountains can be moved.

Hope Haven and I have been connected for the majority of my adult life. I cannot help but feel bonded to the place and what it stands for. I wish nothing but success for the clinic, its personnel, and the clients who no doubt will continue to benefit from this valuable community resource.

Hope Haven Names New Chief Executive Officer

Hope Haven, one of Northeast Florida’s leading nonprofit providers of specialized services for children and their families, announced today that its Board of Directors has selected Stella E. Johnson as the organization’s new Chief Executive Officer.

Ms. Johnson currently serves as the Executive Director of the Family Nurturing Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the needs of children and families in crisis in North Florida. She will assume her new role with Hope Haven on September 18, 2017.

Hope Haven Board Chair, Dr. Nichelle D. Stone, MBA, EdD, commented, “We are thrilled to welcome Stella to Hope Haven. Through the course of her successful career, Stella has proven to be a visionary leader with expertise in strengthening and growing nonprofit associations. Stella has significant experience in fundraising and donor development, collaborating with community partners, working with board directors, managing budgets, optimizing programs, and leading change management and business systems improvement. Hope Haven will benefit from Stella’s thoughtful, inclusive, and collaborative approach in working with all stakeholders for the betterment of the organization and its clients.”

“I am very honored and excited by this opportunity to lead Hope Haven in its next stage of growth as a premier provider of services in our community,” said Ms. Johnson. “I’ve been dedicated to youth and family services for my entire career and am passionate about delivering high quality programs that make a positive difference for local children and families. I have lived in the Jacksonville area for more than 30 years, have established deep local connections, and am committed to the success of this community.”

“My initial priority will be getting to know client families, staff, community partners, funders, and volunteers. Over the coming year, I look forward to working with the dedicated Hope Haven staff to evaluate and enhance our services, expand the fund development program, engage with other organizations in collaborative efforts, and increase our recognition, regionally and nationally, as experts in our field. Most importantly, I’d like to help advance an organizational culture that supports staff in capitalizing on their strengths and interests as we improve the lives of those we serve.”

Ms. Johnson joins Hope Haven with an extensive background working with children and families in Florida. She was with the Family Nurturing Center for 10 years, including serving as the Executive Director for the last eight years. She has provided consultation services and program development for foster care, delinquency, and similar programs serving at-risk youth and families. Previously, she served as Program Services Director for the Capital City Youth Services in Tallahassee and Program Coordinator for the Youth Crisis Center in Jacksonville. Ms. Johnson has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from the University of North Florida.


Following the departure of Hope Haven’s previous CEO in March 2017, Hope Haven’s Board of Directors appointed a search committee to conduct a thorough process to identify a successor. The search committee received input on the process, role, and potential candidates from a broad cross-section of staff, client families, donors, partners, and community members. Working with Peoplr, a top recruiting and executive search firm based in Jacksonville, more than 250 candidates were identified and screened during the process, culminating in the Board’s unanimous selection of Ms. Johnson as the next CEO.

A Hope Haven Father’s Day Story


In honor of Father’s Day this week, we thought we would share the inspirational story of a Hope Haven Father and his family. Meet Dawaun.

Dawaun and his wife discovered Hope Haven seven years ago after learning that their newborn son, Liam, had been diagnosed with Down syndrome.

“For the last seven years, Hope Haven has been another part of our family. From therapy to the Discovery School, they have shown that we are not alone in this,” stated Dawaun.

Hope Haven’s objective is to provide a comprehensive overview of Liam’s progress in all areas of his growth and development so he can grow and thrive in his own unique, special way. In order to accomplish this, Liam has undergone Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, and Speech Therapy. At home, Dawaun prides himself on maintaining Liam’s’ growth by working with him using the specialized plan that Hope Haven built for them.

“When we do not understand how to proceed – Hope Haven has been there. They let us know how we can work with him at home so that we are consistent.”

In December 2014, Dawaun and his wife received, even more, news that no parent wants to hear. Their son, Liam was diagnosed with leukemia.

After two grueling years of fighting leukemia, Dawaun and his wife recently discovered that Liam was cancer free as of March 2017!

“It’s been great to be Liam’s Father. He’s my boy! My firstborn, my everything. It’s great to see him smile, laugh, and play. I wouldn’t trade anything for the world.”

Father’s Day is usually a time to honor and recognize our heroic fathers, however, Dawaun said that Liam is HIS hero.

“Watching Liam go through the challenges he has faced at such a young age has made me appreciate my son and life more. I could not imagine life without him. As for Hope Haven, Hope Haven has been a Godsend.”

Closing Remarks – What does Father’s Day mean to you this year:

“As a father of three (Dawaun and his wife also have twins) this Father’s Day is a special one. It’s awesome – all three of my kids are here. All three are healthy. This is my first REAL Father’s Day. Just knowing I have the opportunity to hang with them is special. Every day is like Father’s day to me.

I don’t take for granted the fact that it can all be over in the blink of an eye. I saw how many kids did not make it during Liam’s chemo treatments. I am looking forward to the best Father’s day in seven years!”