Monday, January 30, 2017

Day 2 - Dawn's Vlog

I know that this was a tough day!  We are so lucky to have Dawn as a voice for Oregon families!

Dawn... is a mother of two very active boys, her youngest son experiences autism. She and her husband own their own computer programming business in Talent.  Dawn has always believed in being involved in her community and feels it is important to give back when possible. She serves on several boards, including Phoenix-Talent Schools, and has a great interest in legislation policy, especially those policies that involve education and disabilities. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Day 1 - Dawn's Vlog

Great vlog from Dawn telling us about her first day!  Your story is so important!  I am looking forward to the next one.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Mrs. Watson Goes To Washington

Politics is a very touchy subject lately, but now is the time to get involved. There are so many changes happening that make it really hard to keep up. Currently, there is Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), budget cuts, new leaders voted in or appointed and new policies in the making, many will impact you or your family. I will start blogging about policies and issues that families should know about, and different ways to get involved and have your voice heard.

Since this is my first blog, let me tell you a little about me. Thirteen years ago I felt it was time for me to stop complaining and start doing. I was appointed to the Talent City council, and boy did I get a crash course in politics. I enjoyed it and learned more than I could in any college course.  After a few years, I had to make a tough decision and take a break from politics to spend more time with family. Our youngest was in the process of getting diagnosed with autism. I discovered that I needed to put my new found passion on hold and put my family first. In 2012, I had the opportunity to be a part of Partners in Policymaking. It’s a six month long course for family members or self-advocates to learn about advocating for disability rights in several different ways. If you ever have a chance to be part of this I highly recommend it. In 2013 I ran for a school board seat and won. This was another learning experience and I’m still learning each day. A year ago I was elected to the Oregon School Board Association Legislative Policy Committee to represent Southern Oregon in school board policies. As a result, I will be heading to Washington, D.C. soon to advocate for a better education for all students. I’m honored, excited and nervous all in one.

One of the first things that surprised me when i was elected was that I didn’t get nearly enough feedback from the people that I was representing. I wanted to make sure that I represented the people who voted for me but struggled to do that if they never told me what they think or want. Are your representatives hearing your story?  are they just hearing from the same one hundred people they hear from every time? Your story may be the story that helps a representative make a decision. If you say nothing or do nothing your voice will not be heard. Once things are voted in, or policies changed it’s even tougher to change them.

With my future blogs I hope to inform you, help you get involved, share your voice. Not every topic might be of interest, but I hope some are. I believe in practicing what you preach. If there is a topic you would like me to cover please ask. Chances are you are not the only one interested in it.

Note from Heather Olivier:
If you have ever heard me talk or share my story, you have heard about the amazing group of women that have been a part of my “tribe”.  They are the moms that were a few steps ahead of me that i met after my son’s diagnosis.  They provided support, understanding and most importantly authentic, enduring friendship.  Dawn is one of my amazing "tribe".  I am inspired by her commitment and determination daily.  When I heard that Dawn was going to Washington, D.C. as a representative from Oregon, I asked her to blog and vlog to keep us all in the loop.  Dawn started out this journey as a mom that wanted to advocate for her child.  Now she is a mom that is using her experience and expertise to advocate for ALL children.  I am so proud of her and can’t wait to receive updates from her adventures in Washington.  

Dawn will be vlogging (is that a word?) from our nation’s capital over the next couple of days.

Dawn... is a mother of two very active boys, her youngest son experiences autism. She and her husband own their own computer programming business in Talent.  Dawn has always believed in being involved in her community and feels it is important to give back when possible. She serves on several boards, including Phoenix-Talent Schools, and has a great interest in legislation policy, especially those policies that involve education and disabilities. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Dads' Night

When are you going to start a group for Dads?

Believe it or not, since the inception of Bridging Communities it has been the most asked question.  Guess what?  We love our Bridging Communities Dads and are happy to support that happening.  Dads that have a similar experience can provide support to each other in a very natural way.  I believe that the strongest support that we can provide to each other is by families supporting other families. 

Men and women can process things differently and may have different support needs.  For that reason I believe Dads supporting other Dads is invaluable.  

Obviously, that means that I am not the ideal person to start this group. 
Enter, Mr. Jim Norris!   He is a fantastic dad who has agreed to get this group started.  Jim is a father of a child who experiences disability and is excited to meet other guys with a similar experience. 

Dads’ Night will not be a typical support group.  Realizing that dads may not necessarily want to sit down over a cup of coffee and discuss their feelings with a bunch of new people ;), Dads’Night will be more of a social group for dads.

The first Dads’ Night event is this Wednesday, January 25 from 6pm-10pm at 4 Daughters (126 West Main Street, Medford) for the Trail Blazers vs. Lakers game.

Any questions?  Please contact Jim Norris at (541) 840-0595

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Welcome to Bridging Communities!

Let me introduce myself.  My name is Heather Olivier and I am the Director of Bridging Communities.  Bridging communities, a program of Living Opportunities, is a Family Network under the Oregon Consortium of Family Networks.  Bridging Communities believes that the natural supports families can provide to each other is invaluable. 

When my son was diagnosed with autism, I began to isolate myself from my friends and family.  Fortunately, I had an opportunity to meet with other moms that were a few steps ahead of me.  The connection with other parents that “got it” made all the difference in the world.  This quote has always resonated with me from C.S. Lewis.

“Friendship ... is born at the moment when one person says to another 'What! You too? I thought I was the only one .'”
 C.S. Lewis
Those moms that supported me in the early days continue to provide support through enduring friendships created when I needed connection the most.  Bridging communities strives to support families in creating those natural connections that are so important.

What We Do:

Connection:  Connecting families to each other.

Discovery:  Supporting families in navigating supports and services.  Providing information and trainings.

Welcome:  Assisting local communities in welcoming and supporting all families.

How do we do it?

·       social opportunities
·       parent mentoring
·       trainings and workshops
·       advocacy opportunities
·       Facebook page and website (Coming soon)
·      closed Facebook page (The Community)

So, why a blog?

I want to make sure that families have multiple opportunities to be connected within community.  Some families prefer to connect with other families through a coffee meeting or a social opportunity.  Other families will feel more comfortable participating through our closed Facebook page or a blog. 

I envision the blog as a place for families to come to hear from other parents.  That is why I have enlisted the help of multiple guest bloggers to share their stories.  Our community is diverse, and so this blog should be as well. You will hear from other parents, self-advocates and community partners. I understand that being a parent and navigating systems is hard.  This blog will serve as a place where people can come together to be a part of a community.

Stay Tuned – Exciting things are happening with Bridging Communities!
Want to stay informed on upcoming events?  “Like” us on Facebook!


Heather... is a mom of two kids and the Director of Bridging Communities. Heather began her advocacy work when her son was diagnosed with autism at the age of four.  Prior to her work with Bridging Communities, Heather drew on her teaching experience of 10 + years to support families in navigating special education services. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Transition Check-In: Something Between Us


There’s a ride at Disneyland that most of us have probably been on – The Haunted Mansion. I loved it from beginning to end, even though the first few times I went on it I was scared (but, you know, in a fun way). I always loved the end of the ride when the projector ghost would show up in your carriage. “Beware of hitch-hiking ghosts!” the narrator would say. My siblings and friends (and later, my sons) and I would sit as far apart as we could to make room for the ghost. We’d lean into him or pat his head.

So, metaphorically, I like to think that we should always leave room for something between us (besides ghosts). Like fun memories. Shared dreams. Phone calls and texts. A strong connection. And love.
I was 19 years old when I decided to move into my own apartment. I had a roommate, one of my coworkers at the restaurant where I waited tables, and we split the bills. I was also taking a full load of college classes. My parents did not exhibit much confidence in me when I moved out, and I’m sure they breathed a sigh of relief when a few months went by and I hadn’t asked them for any money, when it became apparent that I was swimming and not sinking.

Now, 24 years later, it has been six weeks since Nigel moved into a supported living apartment, and I am just beginning to exhale. Last year at this same time, he moved into a supported living home, a euphemism for group home, and within the first two weeks it was obvious that the move had been a huge mistake, that it was entirely the wrong placement for him for a multitude of reasons. He was back home within two months.

So when plans were being made for Nigel to move into the apartment, there was certainly some amount of concern on everyone’s part. His ever-expanding vocabulary belies him, as his emotional age has plateaued at around age 11 or 12, and he requires assistance.  He receives daily support from a local organization called Living Opportunities. They pick him up and take him grocery shopping with his food stamps, they take him to doctor appointments, help him do laundry, and remind him about hygiene and taking his meds. I pay all of his bills out of his Social Security money, for which I am the representative payee. He receives “walking around” money in cash every week, and in a couple of months, we may progress to a debit card. He rides his bike to and from his GED class at Goodwill a few times a week and is doing well with that. Once a week I go to his place to make dinner with him or take him to a restaurant, and on Saturdays he comes to the house to spend the night with his family.

Two weeks ago I discovered that he had used up a month’s worth of food stamps in two weeks. His support staff only take him to the grocery store and help him through the process, but they do not tell him what or how much to buy. It pained me to see the bottles of an 8-pack of red Gatorade strewn around the living room, along with the empty red Jell-O cups, Chips Ahoy! bags, popsicle wrappers, and yes, a box of Twinkies. God only knows what he bought and consumed that I didn’t see.
So after some by-no-means-gentle admonishments, I was relieved when I discovered that he still had some of the decent food that he had bought with me on his first grocery trip. He had plenty of bread and butter for toast. He had cereal and milk, eggs, carrots and apples. So I told him that he had to use his weekly cash amount to buy healthy food for dinner instead of craft supplies, Lego, parts of his Halloween costume that he has been planning for four months, and Slurpees.

He seemed to understand. The situation was not dire, and I was not going to bail him out. We are now six days away from his next food stamp payment, and he’s going to make it. Last week when I went to his place for our weekly visit, I asked him how he felt things were going being in his own place, and in his wonderful, inflection-less voice he said, “Well…I’m learning a lot.”
Nigel and I don’t talk every day (per his request), but we do text. And I find that when I go to see him, there is this unspoken understanding between us. He is calmer, content with his autonomy. I am calmer, reclaiming mine for the first time in almost twenty years. There is of course the parent-child connection that will always be there. But there is something else between us. There’s a sense of joint validation that we have come through something together. And while we have a great deal more on this road ahead of us, and at the same time are obviously taking steps in our own directions, that shared experience keeps us connected as we move forward.

I’m sure there will be more debacles similar to the food stamp crisis, more stumbles as he forges his own path. More learning to do. But he will be all right, Twinkies and all.


Tanya Savko is a writer, blogger, and mother of two sons, one with autism, epilepsy, and bipolar. She founded in 2008 as a way to connect with other autism parents. In 2010 she published her first novel, Slip, about a single parent raising a child with autism. Tanya is the Admin Assistant for Families for Community. She also blogs at and lives in southern Oregon, where she tries to find time to work on her next novel when she's not out hiking, rafting, or wine tasting. 

Connect with her:
Facebook |Twitter | Goodreads


Monday, May 26, 2014

Transition Check-In: The Keys to Supported Independence

If I had written this post just one week ago, it would have been titled “Transition Check-In: The Waiting Game,” because that’s where we were, where we have been, where we thought we would be for at least year two years, waiting for Nigel’s HUD to go into effect. I thought we would have to wait for that to happen before we could set him up in his own apartment with support from Living Opportunities, a local nonprofit organization that helps adults with developmental disabilities to live their lives as independently as possible, while offering assistance in any form that is needed. They have already begun to provide services for Nigel while he is still living in my home, taking him to appointments, helping him to organize his living space and his time. They are very professional and specially trained to handle various needs, personalities, and preferences. They focus on presuming competence and facilitating independence. In fact, they even provide services for a few people who do not communicate with speech, but with supports in place are able to be in their own apartments. Without this support they would undoubtedly be placed in group homes, sharing a small room with another adult. It’s amazing and wonderful what Living Opportunities does. We are so blessed to have this organization in our area.

Last summer, when I moved Nigel back from the group home, I was advised to apply and get him on the waiting list for HUD, which I did. I didn’t realize that in doing so, he would also be on the waiting list for several apartment complexes in our area that offer certain units for low-income tenants who are waiting for their HUD approval. A couple of weeks ago, I received a letter in the mail that one of these units was available.

I called the Housing Authority office to let them know that we were interested, and they said that they had sent that letter out to about 20 people. With Nigel, I drove by the place anyway, just to see what the complex looked like. It was new, quiet, and definitely not Crackville. Nigel agreed that it looked like a nice place to live. Unfortunately I had a very busy week and was only able to call about the apartment the day before the end date for applications, so I figured the apartment would go to someone else, and we would wait for another one of these apartments to become available.

But a week later, the Housing Authority office called me. They said that Nigel was next in line. I asked if that meant there was one person ahead of him and they said, No, he’s it. He’s the next one eligible to apply if he still wants to. And the very next day we went down to that office and filled out the application with me as the co-signer.

Four days later, they called and said the apartment was his! We are going in next Monday to sign the lease and get the keys, the keys to Nigel’s autonomy that he needs and so rightly deserves. The keys to the space for his massive Lego collection, the privacy to act out (in costume) scenes from his favorite movies, and the satisfaction of not having his mother telling him when to shower or take his meds (the support providers will do that when they check in on him every day). (!!!!) And these same keys are also the keys to my relief, to being able to focus on Aidan’s last year of high school next year, and to regaining my sense of self that has been shelved for so long I don’t even know what that self was. These are the keys to rediscovering her.

It’s another big step, probably the biggest, in Nigel’s journey to and through adulthood, a journey to which I have devoted much time and energy. He will have all the support he needs through Living Opportunities, he will spend time with family members at least twice a week, and I am always a text or call away.

Moving Day is in three weeks, when the rubber really does meet the road. It’s the start of something that I would have thought impossible just a few short years ago. But if I look at his trajectory, the journey we’ve been on to get here, every challenge he’s faced or taken on, I shouldn’t be surprised. This is the boy who, at the age of five, could not say his name when a doctor asked. This is the boy who could not go into stores, movie theaters, and restaurants because his sensory issues overwhelmed him. This is the teen who needed a modified diploma because, although he understood the material, he could not handle the volume of work.

But he made it through high school, and he walked across the stage to receive that diploma while his classmates cheered. He was voted “Most Likely to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse” by his senior class. He spent time getting to know a girl and he asked her to prom and she said yes.

When he said, two weeks ago, I don’t think I’m ready for this, I told him, “You can do this, Nigel.” And with the supports in place, I know he will.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Tanya Savko is a writer, blogger, and mother of two sons, one with autism, epilepsy, and bipolar. She founded in 2008 as a way to connect with other autism parents. In 2010 she published her first novel, Slip, about a single parent raising a child with autism. Tanya is the Admin Assistant for Families for Community. She also blogs at and lives in southern Oregon, where she tries to find time to work on her next novel when she's not out hiking, rafting, or wine tasting.
Connect with her:
Facebook |Twitter | Goodreads