Andrea Bridges, Projector Coordinator at Branch Military Parent Technical Assistance Center, stopped by Ridgecrest to hold a workshop for military parents of special needs kids on Monday and Tuesday at the Historic USO Building.

Though Bridges works with Branch MPTAC, the workshop was put together by Specialized Training of Military Parents. It focused on explaining to parents what programs and assistance are available for families with special needs kids, as well as describing the nuanced details of these issues with which many parents struggle.

Bridges said the workshop provides, "Information about how to support their child's education, and their post-secondary transition to employment or continuing education. Also, how that information works specifically for military families."

She explained that this process can be different for military families because they often work with interstate organizations which help parents make sure their special needs kids aren't at a unique disadvantage due to the regular relocation many military families experience.

"We're a very mobile population!" Bridges said.

This is a topic that's near and dear to Bridges. Her husband is in the United States Navy, according to the Branch website, and she said that she's the mother of a child with both special medical and educational needs.

Bridges did more than simply name the assistance programs for attendees. Her extensive experience allowed her to go much deeper into the ins and outs of how to apply for the programs and how to avoid difficulties other families have found.

She offered one example where a mother found out that her son's benefits stopped because the agency decided that his condition had improved and he no longer needed the supplemental income. Her adult son had down syndrome and was partially blind.

The woman requested an in person interview with the agency. When they began asking her questions, she told them that they had decided that her son was ready to be independent of benefits, so they should ask him. The agency quickly decided they had made a mistake when they ended the benefits, and promptly reenrolled the lady's son in the supplemental income.

Bridges had the personal experience to introduce each of these complex and confusing government programs, then make them simple and clear for the average parent.

Aside from Bridges, workshop attendees also heard from Team of Advocates for Special Kids bilingual family supplement specialist Louisa Castillo, who walked the audience through benefit programs parents may not have known about, such as the Supplemental Security Income, which is a program funded by public taxes.

STOMP referred to the event as a workshop instead of a seminar because it had segments where groups worked through real life scenarios together. The speakers also encouraged questions at any point throughout the talk.

Some of the questions came from parents, seeking insight on specific issues to help raise their special needs child. Other questions came from local education and medical workers, such as April LaPierre ,who works as a service coordinator for Kern Regional Center.

LaPierre said that KRC focuses on disabilities, and she herself typically helps families that have young special needs children from ages 0 to 3. "It's been very helpful," she said, referring to the STOMP workshop. "It gave me lots of good information to take back and help the families we serve."

Bridges said she travels all over the midwest and the west coast to host this workshop in areas with military communities. She said Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake invited her to give the workshop in Ridgecrest.

Sarah Dastrup, school liaison officer at NAWS China Lake, said they intend to hold the workshop in Ridgecrest again, though the date is undetermined so far.

To learn more, find the Branch website at branchta.org or the STOMP website by going to its parent company website at wapave.org and finding STOMP under the Programs And Services tab.