Raising Special Kids marks 40th anniversary

Christopher Tiffany and his wife, Paulina, have a 12-year-old son, Jeremy, who was diagnosed as autistic a decade ago. That sparked Christopher’s passion for helping children with special needs and their parents, and he eventually became executive director of the nonprofit Raising Special Kids. (Special to AFN)


Christopher Tiffany, who moved to Ahwatukee in 2006, is having a momentous year.

Not only is he marking his first full year as executive director of the nonprofit Raising Special Kids, but he is at the helm as the organization marks its 40th Anniversary with a special celebration on Thursday, April 11.

With the motto “Families Helping Families,” Raising Special Kids is Arizona’s family-to-family parent-training and information center and a founding member of Parent-to-Parent USA.

Tiffany said Raising Special Kids, founded in 1979 as a grassroots effort, offers information about health care, resources available to parents and their families. It also provides support services to help them make informed decisions about their children’s care.

“This began as a small group of parents gathering around a kitchen table. In 1979, Raising Special Kids served under 100 families; In 2018 we touched the lives of more than 9,000 families,” said Tiffany.

“We’re a ‘teach-to-fish model,’” he explained. “We build parents’ capacity to get what they need for their kids.”

And that is personally impactful to him and his wife, Paulina, whose son, Jeremy, 12, was diagnosed with autism a decade ago. At the time, Tiffany was a special education teacher, having returned from Morelia, Michoacan Mexico, where he’d met his wife.

“I always thought I’d be a teacher, and when we moved to Arizona in 2006, the area of special education was one of the greatest needs,” he said.

Then Jeremy was diagnosed and Tiffany’s choice of profession seemed fortuitous. It also helped him understand what families of special needs children go through to find what they need to help their child progress.

“When my son was diagnosed, my perspective shifted quickly. I was able to understand why parents advocated so strenuously for their children,” he said. “It became my passion.”

His wife also works for a nonprofit that offers direct services to children with autism.

Raising Special Kids provides their services in English and Spanish at no cost. The nonprofit is funded through federal and state grants and private donations.

“We’re non-disability-specific,” said Tiffany. “We serve parents and families who have children with the full range of disabilities.”

Raising Special Kids is Arizona’s Parent Training and Information Center. Established under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and with a grant from the United States Department of Education, each state has at least one PTI.

As an award-winning PTI Center, Raising Special Kids works with and for kids ages birth to 26 years throughout the state, including Arizona’s many tribal communities.

Disabilities of all types are served, whether physical, developmental, intellectual, behavioral, emotional or those with learning disabilities.

Parents throughout the state are offered workshops to help them help their children.

Gilbert resident Karin Smith, a Raising Special Kids board member for the past six years, has actually been involved with the nonprofit for more than three decades.

“My family first became involved with the organization when my younger sister Courtney was born with severe mental and physical disabilities,” she said.

“I was 10 years old when Courtney and her twin were born, and didn’t always understand all the circumstances of Courtney’s unique needs,” said Smith, who is a partner at HeinfeldMeech, an accounting, auditing and consulting firm.

“Raising Special Kids provided my parents with the resources to help navigate the exceptional needs of Courtney so that their time was not limited with me and all my siblings, and there were eight of us,” Smith said, adding:

“My father has always said he isn’t the father of a child with special needs, he is the father of eight children with special needs.”

But Smith said it wasn’t only her younger sister affected by services provided by Raising Special Kids.

“As I entered into my young adult life, I was diagnosed with a learning disability in college and Raising Special Kids was able to help me better understand my own needs and how to best access education resources at University of Arizona,” said Smith, who holds three master’s degrees.

They include an MBA from the University of Arizona, public administration from Arizona State and educational leadership from Northern Arizona University.

“I’m proud to serve as a board member for this amazing organization,” she added. “Raising Special Kids has had a very profound and personal impact on my family and so many families across the state of Arizona.”

Of the 15 Raising Special Kids board members, three are from the East Valley, including Chandler residents Maya Rao and Mallory Lee.

Information: RaisingSpecialKids.org

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