Answering the challenge to help those with disabilities & their families

In April, my sister-in-law’s father Russ passed away. He was a loving husband, father, grandfather, brother and son — he will be missed. Thinking of Russ, I was so inspired by the love of his family — his wife Molly and his family spending every day with him, for months, supporting and caring for him. They were family caregivers and gave wholeheartedly. Many of us have served as family caregiver, or will in the future. Sometimes that role is short and sometimes it is a lifelong journey. In every instance it requires compassion, love and extreme strength. One of the missions of Catholic Social Services (CSS) is to strengthen individuals and families through our work.

Family Disability Services is a very special program of CSS that supports and serves individuals and families with special needs. You may have known it previously as our Respite Program. It provides services for children and adults with developmental disabilities and offers support for their families. The services for our clients with developmental disabilities are incredible and life changing. Everyone engaged in our skill-based services reports an increase in their mastery of daily living skills. In addition, we help families and caregivers of our clients by giving them greater means to take care of themselves and their loved ones. Recently we had a wonderful story of one client, a young man in high school, who was asked to a senior prom. The program staff mobilized with the family and local businesses to organize a tuxedo and tickets. That young man now has a wonderful memory of his senior prom to look back on, as does his family. This is just one instance where our program was able to offer support. Our Family Disability Services Program is working to improve the quality of all lives it touches in Anchorage.

Daily we all face challenges. Assisting those with developmental disabilities and the families who support them can be emotionally challenging and difficult tasks, but working together as a team, a community, we can support each other in these times. As a community, we face challenges, and we depend on family and friends in coping. We pray that they are there for us and that we can be there for them. As an agency, we strive to be there for those who need us.

Thinking of Russ’ death and the strength of his family inspires me and reminds me of the social network we have to support us through challenges and difficult times. Some moments are inspirational, like our client going to the prom, and some are difficult, but through every step we are here as a larger community to support each other. All of these inspirational families and friends are in my prayers this month, and the joyous work of the Family Disability Services Program is an inspiration to me always. We at CSS invite you to find out more about our program and provide your time and talent to support these amazing folks. For more information please go to

The writer is executive director of Catholic Social Services in Alaska. For more information about CSS, call 276-5590 or visit

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