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 discoveryschool@hope-haven.org 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 jaxworldrecord.eventbrite.com.

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!”

Hope Haven Helping Families Take Control Of Their Mental Health

Millions of Americans are affected by Mental Health each year. It is estimated that 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year.1

A rising problem occurring in the US is now being seen in mental health for children and teens. It is estimated 20% of youth ages 13-18 live a with mental health condition.1

Hope Haven’s mission is to ensure that children and families realize their full potential by providing specialized services and individualized educational opportunities.

Keeping to their promise, Hope Haven provides a variety of Mental Health Services to help children and families be more independent, educated and engaged in community life.

Licensed Mental Health Counselors provide an initial intake session in order to understand the presenting problem, identify the child’s strengths, and develop a plan for treatment and support.   Counselors seek to eliminate risk factors that may be present and to build and enhance protective factors.  Providing supports to the children and families early can often prevent the development of larger behavioral health issues later in life.

On the rise at Hope Haven are infant mental health cases.  We have found that early intervention for children and caregivers is key.

“Infant Mental Health considers emotional, social, and relational development during the ages of birth to age 5,” according to Emily Foltz-Holland, Director of Clinical Services at Hope Haven.

The focus is on building capacity for a secure relationship with a primary caretaker and growing/enhancing a baby’s ability for emotional regulation. Work is done jointly with the caretaker and the baby to ensure positive development for the baby, as brain development can be affected by stress, environmental factors, and relationships. It has been estimated that more than a million neural connections are formed in the brain each second during early development. Thus, infancy is a critical time to ensure loving, caring, stable relationships are present and to provide experiences that build emotional regulation to prevent mental health issues later in life.

Hope Haven is proud to have trained, qualified Licensed Mental Health Counselors who have clinical competency in the area of infant mental health.

Hope Haven also provides community outreach support to students and teachers in the greater Jacksonville area. Hope Haven finds value in providing services on site in a school setting, which eliminates the barriers of transportation and insurance.    Examples of partnerships with schools include The Guardian Schools, the Tiger Academy, and the Jewish Community Alliance.  Counselors are able to build social-emotional skills in the classroom setting and in small groups, ultimately building emotional wellness.

Hope Haven’s goal is to help break the stigma of Mental Health and bring awareness to the city of Jacksonville about their programs and services.

Hope Haven’s Tutoring Services Showing Signs of Renewal for Children and Families

Learning can be challenging for any student, let alone students with specific learning disabilities.

Since 1970, Hope Haven has been assisting families with educational programs designed as inclusive learning opportunities for all ages – from children to young adults. “We have been tutoring since the 70’s. Dr. Skinner started the tutoring labs in the old hospital realizing some children learned differently. This is when specific disabilities began being recognized and diagnosed,” according to Hope Haven’s Historian, Barbara Brutschy.

Hope Haven offers a wide range of affordable tutoring services for every type of learner, from elementary to high school students. Whether your student needs specific help in a core subject or test prep, Hope Haven is here to help them achieve their very best.

Annie has been bringing her son Nick (age 13) to Hope Haven for the last seven consecutive years.

By the time Nick had entered Kindergarten, he had already been diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). By the second grade, Annie had noticed that her son was still having difficulties in school. Hearing about Hope Haven’s evaluations, Nick was brought in and diagnosed with Dyslexia. After her son’s new diagnosis, they began a specific tutoring program designed for his unique style of learning.

“As much as you don’t want to hear that your child has a certain struggle, Hope Haven made this process easier from the diagnosis, tutoring, and knowledgeable professionals. The staff and programs here have given Nick confidence to push through the challenges and have allowed him to have a more positive outlook,” stated Annie.

Nick and his tutor, Mary Ann, have been meeting ever since they walked in for the evaluation. Meeting just one – two times a week for an hour at a time, Nick has made incredible strides of growth in his ability to learn using the Barton Method.

Nick attends La Villa Middle School where, thanks to the committed staff of educational professionals, he excels in and out of class, playing percussionists in the school band, hanging out with friends, and performing for others.

“Hope Haven has given our family confidence. If anyone thinks something is off with their child, I would definitely recommend going to Hope Haven for an Evaluation,” Annie stated.

Again, Hope Haven’s educational programs are designed for any type of learner and age.

If your child is struggling in the areas of English, Language Arts, and Math, Hope Haven will be hosting their annual FSA Boot Camp March 20-24th (Duval County Spring Break).

“This five-day boot camp is designed to review skills in the areas of English, Language Arts, and Math,” according to Robin Pierce, Tutoring Program Manager at Hope Haven.

The FSA Boot Camp will run from 9:00-4:00 PM and is open to all 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th-grade students. The cost is only $250.00.
For more information regarding this upcoming boot camp, you can reach Robin Pierce directly by phone at 904-346-5100 ext. 259 or by email at RobinP@hope-haven.org.