Parents of Special Needs Children Find Support at Project Enlightenment


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When her son, Samuel, was a toddler, Kirsten Reberg-Horton says she realized he had some "pretty significant problems." For instance, he had a habit of deliberately banging himself into walls.

"What in the world in going on here," she remembers thinking. "We would call it 'pinging.' He would 'ping' from one side of the house to the other side of the house. He would run and just slam himself into one door, and run and slam himself into another door."

Worried, she took him to his pediatrician, who said Samuel could get tested at Project Enlightenment, an early childhood education and intervention program of the Wake County Public School System. After an evaluation at Project Enlightenment's office in downtown Raleigh, a psychiatrist and teacher there recommended Samuel receive occupational therapy and be evaluated by a psychologist, possibly for autism. She says those two staff members shone a light on where she and her husband, Chris, could find help for Samuel, who eventually was diagnosed with autism, sensory integration disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.

"They were the beginning of us getting more targeted help for our son," Kirsten says of that first visit to Project Enlightenment in 2008. "I knew something was wrong, but we didn't know what, and we really didn't know what to do about it. So, having people who were just there and ready to help us, it was actually pretty amazing."

Samuel went on to receive occupation therapy, and he was accepted to attend preschool for 4-year-olds at Project Enlightenment, where teachers are trained to help with his disorders.

Created in 1969, Project Enlightenment serves children from birth through kindergarten, with the goal of equipping them to be successful once they enter school. The program is unique in the U.S. because of the array of developmental services it offers children and because its main focus is to educate adults-particularly teachers and parents-who touch the lives of young children, says Cynthia Chamblee, director of  Project Enlightenment. "We call it a ripple effect," she says.

The program has two preschool classrooms for 4-year-olds that are designed as observation areas, where teachers from across Wake County learn best practices they then carry back to their own classrooms. If a parent and a teacher request help, Project Enlightenment's consultants can also head into Wake County classrooms to develop strategies for specific children. Staffers also pay home visits to show parents activities they can do to promote a child's development. And parents can go to Project Enlightenment's office for short-term counseling to help with a specific issue their child is experiencing. Project Enlightenment also has a lending library filled with resources for teachers and parents of children with special needs.

For Kirsten, having Samuel in Project Enlightenment's preschool with other children who had identified developmental issues was a life-changing experience for her family on many levels, she says. Previously, Samuel had attended several preschools, a difficult experience that always led to the preschool staff getting so frustrated by his unusual behavior that she and Chris would eventually pull him out of school. At Project Enlightenment, Samuel was able to stay until kindergarten.

Samuel and his mother, Kirsten Reberg-Horton, have fun sledding in 2011.When Samuel reached kindergarten age, Kim Hughes, Project Enlightenment teacher, went with Kirsten and Chris to their first meeting at the school he planned to attend and advocated for him to be mainstreamed into a classroom while bringing the staff up to speed on Samuel's background. (Photo, at right, of Kirsten and Samuel sledding, was taken in 2011)

"Basically, she did lots of upfront education to help them understand who he was and what he was going to need," Kirsten said, recalling that the school allowed Samuel to gradually increase his hours of attendance so he could adjust to a new environment and schedule. "The school took him really seriously and right away came up with a plan."

While Samuel was attending Project Enlightenment's preschool, his parents were also learning. They met with a counselor there who recommended books to read. They attended group sessions with other parents. They learned positive parenting, how to react to specific behaviors that Samuel might exhibit and why he was behaving that way. They discovered that Samuel was banging into walls because he was seeking sensory stimulation and that hugging him or giving him heavy tasks, like carrying a heavy laundry basket, would calm him down by making contact with his muscles.

But understanding came from many sources, Kirsten says. "Being able to meet and talk with other parents [at Project Enlightenment] who were struggling with different things with their children, who weren't pretending that everything was OK and were willing to talk about it finally made us feel that we were not just out here by ourselves doing this crazy thing. There are other people doing this. It was very supportive."

That support lifted her out of isolation and a feeling of guilt, she says. "The biggest thing for me was going to a place where people weren't judging me as a parent, were willing to help me and who could help me find answers for my son," she says. "It was like a light turning on, a door opening, when we got to Project Enlightenment. I don't know what we would have done as a family without them."

She offers this advice to parents whose children are struggling with special needs and who wonder if having them diagnosed and "labeled" with a disorder has merit. "If you don't get them labeled with what is really going on, they are just going to be labeled a 'discipline problem,'" she says. "And if they are labeled a 'discipline problem,' those teachers are not going to fight for them in the same way.

"I didn't want my kid labeled a discipline problem. I knew his spirit, I knew his soul. I knew he didn't want to be a problem, that there was something else going on. They [parents] have to believe in their kid and find out what it is."

Now 7 years old, Samuel still attends the same school he entered as a kindergartner. At his side in the classroom is an aide assigned to work with him and help him pay attention in class and conform to behavior requirements. Like every child, he has his ups and downs at school, and his parents are along for the ride, rough or gentle.  "The thing about Samuel is that, even though he has all of these struggles, he has an extremely high IQ. So, he is completely capable of learning standard material," Kirsten says.

Project Enlightenment to Host Family Fun Festival April 28

Project Enlightenment, an early childhood program of the Wake County Public School System, will host a family fun spring festival from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, April 28, at its headquarters, at 501 S. Boylan Ave., in Raleigh.

The festival, dubbed Project Palooza, will feature a children's parade, the local folk-rock band Milagro Saints, balloon art, face painting, kids' yoga, craft making, family games, story time with the Bookmobile and a special appearance by the Wake County Fire Department. A fund-raiser for Project Enlightenment, the festival will also offer food provided by Pullen Park Café for purchase, with profits benefiting the Project Enlightenment Foundation.

In recent years, Project Enlightenment has been hit by funding cuts and has had to reduce the size of its staff and, subsequently, the number of children and families it serves. In the 2008-09 school year, Project Enlightenment received $1,070,456 in grant funding, but that figure dropped to $563,627 for the 2011-12 school year. In the 2008-09 school year, the nonprofit served 2,100 children and 1,900 families, but in 2010-11, it served 1,900 children and 1,700 families.

Even as funding has dropped, the need to help children has grown, says Cynthia Chamblee, director of Project Enlightenment. She says the nonprofit is seeing young children with more "substantial" needs, particularly in social/emotional developmental areas, than in previous years. In order for these children to be successful, they need access to appropriate interventions, she says.

"Our goal is to support children and families and teachers so when children enter the public school system, they have the development needed to be successful," she says.  "Being successful in school means they will be successful in life. This is a lifelong journey."

-- Written by Odile Fredericks, Carolina Parent Web Editor

Carolina Parent's Special Kids publication, is a family's guide to special needs resources in the Triangle, available in print and online. Visit our digital Special Kids guide here.

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More information

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Sponsor: Beyond Personal Finance
Contact Name: Charla McKinley
Website »

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I am a mom and retired CPA who is passionate about teaching teens about the high cost of their choices. I teach a fun, interactive "Game of Life meets Dave Ramsey" class that has teens experience...

Cost: $225

Where:
Hope Community Church- Apex
2080 E Williams Street
Apex, NC  27539
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Sponsor: Beyond Personal Finance
Contact Name: Charla McKinley
Website »

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Short class advertising for local class   I am a mom and retired CPA who is passionate about teaching teens about the high cost of their choices. I teach a fun, interactive "Game of Life meets...

Cost: $225

Where:
Hope Community Church- Apex
2080 E Williams Street
Apex, NC  27539
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Sponsor: Beyond Personal Finance
Contact Name: Charla McKinley
Website »

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Azevedo Family Psychology and Kym Azevedo will host an Art for Life group each Thursday from 5:30-6:30PM beginning January 16 and running through March 26. This group is completely free, kid...

Cost: FREE

Where:
1903 N. Harrison Ave
Suite 201
Cary, NC  27513
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Sponsor: Azevedo Family Psychology
Telephone: 919-624-9568
Contact Name: Kym Azevedo
Website »

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Explore astronomy, biology, architectural and engineering principles, technology and so much more through our hands-on, play-based activities. Spend an evening with your preschooler, experiencing...

Cost: free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Sponsor: Saint Rapahel Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Katie Mistele
Website »

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The goal of the How To Talk So Kids Will Listen Group workshop is to help you communicate more effectively with children.   In each session of the workshop you'll be introduced to an...

Cost: $12.95 materials fee

Where:
Wildflower School at Belle Vie Farm
3100 Damascus Church Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27516
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Sponsor: Wildflower School at Belle Vie Farm
Telephone: 919-260-6859
Contact Name: Shelley Welch
Website »

More information

Hounded by Death, the character of Everybody desperately seeks out everyone and everything they know in hope of finding something meaningful to take to the grave. These 90 minutes of theatrical...

Cost: Ticket prices start at $15

Where:
PlayMakers' Repertory Company
120 Country Club Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
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Telephone: 919-962-7529

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Forget tourist-filled museums, make your own memories with a photo scavenger hunt tour in Raleigh! On a Let’s Roam scavenger hunt, you and your team will work together to wander throughout...

Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Let's Roam
Website »

More information

Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

Summer Garden Camps at the JCRA invite your child to investigate nature during half or full day camps.  Campers tend to the garden, harvest vegetables, catch insects, and create crafts from the...

Cost: Varies depending on camp week

Where:
JC Raulston Arboretum
4415 Beryl Rd
Raleigh, NC  27606
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Sponsor: JC Raulston Arboretum
Telephone: (919) 513-7011
Contact Name: Elizabeth Overcash
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
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Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

Skate on an ice trail or free skate on 17,000 sq. ft of ice. Located in the Upper Pond of the Whitewater Center, the skating environment features three distinct programming areas and an on-ice...

Cost: 20

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Lights is a half-mile walking trail that leads viewers through a series of immersive light installations featuring  honeycombs, vines, crystals, and other natural features integrated into the...

Cost: Free

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Join us for Family Trivia Night!  Test your knowledge of pop culture, books, music and more. Pizza and drinks provided.  Call or stop by to register: 919-245-2532. Best for kids ages 8 and up...

Cost: Free

Where:
Orange County Main Library
137 W Margaret Ln
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 919-245-2539
Contact Name: Libbie Hough
Website »

More information

Art Walk featuring local galleries and artist studios in historic downtown Hillsborough on the Last Friday of every month (no Art Walk in December).

Cost: FREE

Where:
Downtown Hillsborough (multiple locations)
102 N. Churton St.
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Sponsor: Hillsborough Arts Council
Telephone: 919-643-2500
Contact Name: Torey Mishoe
Website »

More information

Kids! Are you sick of the Winter? Enjoy a Summer's night at Peach Road Center. Enjoy a Summer-like evening with us. Get into the luau spirit and play summer games!  

Cost: Free

Where:
Peach Road Community Center
911 Ileagnes Rd
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Sponsor: City or Raleigh Parks, Recreation & Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-807-8545
Contact Name: Christy Famolare

More information

Hounded by Death, the character of Everybody desperately seeks out everyone and everything they know in hope of finding something meaningful to take to the grave. These 90 minutes of theatrical...

Cost: Ticket prices start at $15

Where:
PlayMakers' Repertory Company
120 Country Club Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Telephone: 919-962-7529

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Forget tourist-filled museums, make your own memories with a photo scavenger hunt tour in Raleigh! On a Let’s Roam scavenger hunt, you and your team will work together to wander throughout...

Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Website »

More information

Join our bird enthusiast, Vernon, for an easy walk while looking and listening for our feathered friends. Discover different types of birds and their habitats.​ No preregistration required. Meet...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
Website »

More information

How did people predict the weather before The Weather Channel, and can animals really help? Come to the Finley Center to put our colonial weather proverbs to the test and make a pop-up woodchuck...

Cost: For all ages; FREE. Registration is not required

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

Summer Garden Camps at the JCRA invite your child to investigate nature during half or full day camps.  Campers tend to the garden, harvest vegetables, catch insects, and create crafts from the...

Cost: Varies depending on camp week

Where:
JC Raulston Arboretum
4415 Beryl Rd
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Sponsor: JC Raulston Arboretum
Telephone: (919) 513-7011
Contact Name: Elizabeth Overcash
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

Join us to meet the educators, see the farm and learn more about our Preschool for 3-5 year olds and Camps for 4-10 year olds. We'll have a campfire for some warmth but please come dressed for the...

Cost: 0

Where:
Longleaf Forest School
4826 Mt. Moriah Road
Durhan, NC  27707
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Sponsor: Longleaf Forest School
Contact Name: Tara Lawson
Website »

More information

Chinese New Year Festival, also Lunar New Year Festival. Largest public event in the Triangle. MAIN STAGE has vocal and orchestral music, folk dance, Lion and Dragon dances, martial arts, and comic...

Cost: $10 entry at door, military and senior discounts, kids<6 free

Where:
Dorton Arena, NC State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Enter Gate 1,2,4,5,11
Raleigh, NC  27607
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Sponsor: NC Triangle Area Chinese American Society
Contact Name: Michael, Shin
Website »

More information

Chinese New Year Festival or Lunar New Year Festival, largest public event in the Triangle. MAIN STAGE with musical and dance performances, Lion Dance Dragon Dance, martial arts, comic skits emceed...

Cost: $10 entry at door, military and senior discounts, kids<6 free

Where:
Dorton Arena, NC State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Enter Gate 1,2,4,5,11
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Sponsor: NC Triangle Area Chinese American Society
Contact Name: Michael, Shin
Website »

More information

Skate on an ice trail or free skate on 17,000 sq. ft of ice. Located in the Upper Pond of the Whitewater Center, the skating environment features three distinct programming areas and an on-ice...

Cost: 20

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Lights is a half-mile walking trail that leads viewers through a series of immersive light installations featuring  honeycombs, vines, crystals, and other natural features integrated into the...

Cost: Free

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Spanish Alive is providing Family Spanish classes starting in January! Join us to learn Spanish as an entire family in an immersive, fun environment. Our teachers are trained Spanish educators and...

Cost: $75-$216

Where:
Spanish Alive
156 E. Chatham St
Cary, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Did you know that Disney, Netflix, Google and NASA, just to name a few, are all using Python? Python can be used for creating web applications, automation, programming robots and artificial...

Cost: Free: registration required

Where:
, NC


Website »

More information

FEB. 1, 2020 | 1 – 4 P.M. | BLUE JAY POINT COUNTY PARK Spend a winter afternoon getting to know Blue Jay Point County Park at our Winter Open House. Whether you’re a regular visitor or have...

Cost: Free

Where:
Blue Jay Point County Park
3200 Pleasant Union Church Road
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Telephone: 919-870-4330
Website »

More information

Hounded by Death, the character of Everybody desperately seeks out everyone and everything they know in hope of finding something meaningful to take to the grave. These 90 minutes of theatrical...

Cost: Ticket prices start at $15

Where:
PlayMakers' Repertory Company
120 Country Club Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Telephone: 919-962-7529

More information

Come on out to support the NC State Gymnastics team as they take on North Carolina in a RED out on February 1st! The first 300 fans in attendance will receive an exclusive red NC State Gymnastics...

Cost: $3-$7

Where:
Reynolds Collisuem
2411 Dunn Ave.
Raleigh , NC  27607
View map »

More information

Come on out to support the NC State Gymnastics team as they take on North Carolina in a RED out on February 1st! The first 300 fans in attendance will receive an exclusive red NC State Gymnastics...

Cost: $3-$7

Where:
Reynolds Collisuem
2411 Dunn Ave.
Raleigh , NC  27607
View map »

More information

Hounded by Death, the character of Everybody desperately seeks out everyone and everything they know in hope of finding something meaningful to take to the grave. These 90 minutes of theatrical...

Cost: Ticket prices start at $15

Where:
PlayMakers' Repertory Company
120 Country Club Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Telephone: 919-962-7529

More information

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Annual Guides

Education Guide

The 2019-20 Education Guide offers 718 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools and academic resources.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. In our 2019-20 issue, explore 1,028 resources for family fun.