December 15, 2006

VKC project connects Hispanic families with disabilities services

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On hand at the conference were, from left, the Kennedy Center’s Claudia Avila-Lopez and Carolina Meyerson, Luisa Hough, of the Mental Health Association of Middle Tennessee, and Luz Belleza, of Metro Social Services.
Photo by Ashley Coulter

VKC project connects Hispanic families with disabilities services

Navigating service systems tends to be complicated, especially so for Spanish-speaking families who have a child or adult family member with a disability.

Connecting Hispanic families with disability services — as well as with health, education and social services — is a priority of Tennessee Disability Pathfinder, a project of the Vanderbilt Kennedy University Center for Excellence on Developmental Disabilities supported by the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities.

Leadership for identifying Hispanic disability services statewide is provided by Pathfinder's Claudia Avila-Lopez, Hispanic outreach coordinator.

“Pathfinder's Hispanic outreach is distinct from other information and referral services like the 211 line because we specialize in disability resources and work directly with families to understand the variety of services needed,” explained Avila-Lopez. “Then we support the family throughout the process and follow up to see that services are obtained.”

A Web-linked directory — in Spanish — of national, state, and community resources is found on Pathfinder's Web site,, which also includes a database of more than 1,200 Tennessee agencies searchable by county and service category. Also, information and referrals — in Spanish — are available by calling 400-4422 (Nashville) and 322-7830 (rest of Tennessee).

Carolina Meyerson, Pathfinder Hispanic outreach specialist, works with Hispanic families at the Woodbine Community Center. She leads Pathfinder's newest Hispanic service, a monthly evening support group for parents of children with disabilities, held at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Family Outreach Center.

“We're especially pleased that we have dads taking part, as well,” Meyerson said.

“Collaboration is essential for helping families get the services they need,” emphasized Carole Moore-Slater, Pathfinder director.

Collaboration was the hallmark of Pathfinder's second annual Hispanic Disability Conference held Dec. 6 at the Knowles Senior Center.

The first panel “Disability Services in the Hispanic Community,” highlighted programs of Metro Social Services, the Mental Health Association of Middle Tennessee, and Pathfinder.

In a unique collaboration, these agencies have developed a web-based directory of Nashville community organizations. Criteria for inclusion include the agency having a staff member fluent in Spanish, and disability or social service programs that specifically serve Spanish-speaking families. See The database will be expanded to become statewide.

“We're stronger if we collaborate,” stressed Luz Belleza of Metro Social Services. She also emphasized the importance of educating families. “We can coordinate but in the end they need to take the necessary steps.”

The Mental Health Association's Luisa Hough coordinates Encuentro Latino, a monthly meeting of agency staff who share information about services and problem-solve together. Interested service providers are welcome.

The second panel addressed Health Care Services for Individuals with Disabilities, with presentations by coordinators of Hispanic services at Bridges to Care, TennCare, and Children's Special Services.

The final panel was an overview of services across the life-span, highlighting prenatal services provided by the Vanderbilt Center for Health Services' Maternal Infant Health Outreach Worker program at the Woodbine Community Center, Outlook Nashville's preschool home visiting and center-based programs, and Metro Public School's early childhood and school-age services.

For information, e-mail or call 322-7830.