05/29/07 — O'Berry Center Foundation helps families find support and money they need

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O'Berry Center Foundation helps families find support and money they need

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 29, 2007 1:45 PM

Rebecca Sorensen felt she was handling son Raimee's autism pretty well. For the first seven years of his life, while the family lived in Maryland, almost everything he needed was provided through assistance from the state, she said.

"He was doing phenomenally well, had all the support he needed and was moving forward," she said.

But that all changed three years ago when her husband was transferred to North Carolina.

"We lost all services, had all sorts of problems with the school system. We were desperate," Mrs. Sorensen said. Husband Kevin's insurance only covered 20 visits of occupational therapy a year, and Raimee's progress stalled.

"He was going backwards. He had a lot of anxiety from all the stresses and a lot of it wasn't very positive for him," she said. "His body was trying to help him regulate things happening in his life."

Episodes of unsafe behavior prompted her to home-school Raimee, now 10. At the same time, Mrs. Sorensen was aware that something had to be done to help him remain active.

"I was looking into every avenue I possibly could to help him," she said. One of those was Easter Seals, which put her in touch with O'Berry Center Foundation.

The foundation partners with agencies like Easter Seals to provide financial assistance and other services such as family support and providing equipment and devices where needed.

In the Sorensens' case, funding was available to purchase some of the equipment Raimee needed. Six months later, representatives visited the Sorensens' home in Cary and were impressed, Mrs. Sorensen said.

"They really liked what they saw -- classroom materials, therapy -- and wanted to help us purchase the rest of the equipment," she said.

They also wanted to help with a project that would make the home more safe and useful. A volunteer from the Foundation pitched in with two others to enclose the basement space.

"The whole room cost less than it would be for Raimee to go to an occupational therapist for a whole year, and he has access to it all the time," Mrs. Sorensen said. "It's just such a huge benefit."

Monnie Lunsford, director of the foundation, said they are fortunate to have a great partnership with O'Berry Center, especially since state programs have cut funding for equipment in recent years.

"There's a huge need," she said. "We're a last resort, (but) when a family cannot get funding from their insurance company or through the state, we're here to help."

Reliant on donations, endowments, grants and fundraisers such as the group's annual golf tournament, the foundation has had a lot of success with its family support program.

That is especially important since O'Berry's coverage area has expanded to include 60 counties in the state.

"We're trying to build a good sustained system so that we'll be around for many years to come," Ms. Lunsford said. "There's just such a huge need around the state for all these services, we can't meet all the needs and the calls that we get."

Even though efforts have been successful so far -- including a $100,000 grant over three years from the Kate B. Reynolds Foundation -- the need for services is ongoing.

"Our biggest program today is family support. We help O'Berry Center and that's one of our missions but our main one is to improve the quality of life of those living in the communities in the counties that we serve," she said.