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Family Community Partners


Family Community Partners left to right Robyn McGauley, Nila Benito (supervisor), Joe Dawson, Susan Magers, Phyllis Guthman, and Beth Senif

When parents first learn their child has autism or a related disability, life changes from that minute on. “To be told my child has autism was the most frightening day of my life,” said Susan Magers, Family Community Partner (FCP) serving Sarasota County.

The Family Community Partner Program is a collaborative project developed by CARD-USF to help train community partners, who, like Susan, are family members of an individual with autism, share and understand CARD’s values, and are connected to their local support community.

“Over the course of the last 3 years,” said Susan, “I have been blessed to meet and learn from many wonderful people who traveled the autism path before me. My mission is to be an advocate for children and their families and to do for others what was done for me.”

Nila Benito, the FCP supervisor, is proud of the amazing group of parents that serve in this capacity. The individuals who were selected to be the first group of FCPs were already providing support to families in their communities, so CARD staff decided to formalize a pilot project that provides training for coping skills, CARD values and information on a variety of supports.

“I would like to share our experiences,” said Joseph Dawson (Polk County), father of a ten year-old son with autism “to let families know that there is help and support, and to direct them to the paths that will help meet their individual needs.” Joseph is an administrator with the public school system and is able to offer both personal and professional insight.

The community partners work hand-in-hand with the CARD Family Support Specialists to ensure that families receive the resources and supports they need. This year partners have been chosen from five counties, including St. Lucie, Sarasota, Indian River, Polk and Hillsborough. CARD provided two-day coordination training in April, which provided the FCPs with access to materials and other supports that would enable them to meet regional and community needs at a more local and informal level. FCPs can provide emotional and local resource support to families through home visits and telephone support. This program has been a huge success and CARD looks forward to expanding the program to other counties.


First FCPs

Joseph Dawson, Polk County

Phyllis Guthman, Hillsborough County

Susan Magers, Sarasota County

Robyn McGauley, St. Lucie County

Elizabeth Senif, Indian River County