Dawn Villarreal has two special needs children. When she learned of her children’s disabilities she found it difficult to find answers. “In many cases, physicians give parents the devastating news that their child has a lifelong disability and then send them on their way,” Villarreal said. “At a time when parents need the most support, they find they are on their own.”
Villarreal made it her mission to help families find the resources and services they need. “Parents don’t have a year to read up on a disability and leisurely figure out what will have the best impact on their child’s development,” Villarreal said. "They need practical resources to help their child now."
Villarreal became parent leader and moderator of the statewide disability group Autism Community Connection in 2002. She soon realized that the issues facing Illinois families were the same around the country and across the lifespan. “Everyone is looking for information and services,” Villarreal said. “The only available method parents have to find these resources is word of mouth from other parents. We need a working system that supports families of children, teens and adults with disabilities.”
Frustrated that there was not a better system in place, Villarreal created her own called One Place for Special Needs. It is an information network that allows the disability community to share resources and make connections in their own neighborhood. And a place where those who actively work with those who have disabilities can let families learn about their products, programs and services. "I wanted real people who work in the disability community to add their own information," Villarreal said. "There are too many sites that simply buy lists with no real information for the family."
In December, 2007, the City of Naperville (IL) Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Disabilities honored Dawn with their RAMP-Art Award, given to residents that improve the lives of community members with disabilities. Dawn strives for a day when communities can effectively reach out to support families of all special needs.