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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Remembrance for A Dedicated Volunteer

Amy set down her phone and raised her hand.

“May I have a moment? Teri’s gone.”

What followed was a deafening silence that probably didn’t last long, but felt like an eternity.

Jim was standing in front of the room, facilitating a portion of an all day board retreat for Flagstaff Community Partnership, a group of parents who provide peer to peer support for families with special needs children. He looked to me, and we both grasped for what to say to our grieving participants.

Teresa “Teri” Sanders was a strong advocate for the rights of special needs children. The board members described a passionate woman who was a force to be reckoned with. One person said, “You did not want to see her stand up in a meeting. One time she stood up and pointed her finger at someone, and I thought, ‘Good thing she’s on my side!’” Another board member elaborated, “Teri knew the law inside and out. She always knew what to say or do. What will we do without her?”

The people in the room continued their remembrances. Soon, it started to feel familiar. In my mind, I was transported back to the Quaker memorial service we attended for long-time Flagstaff philanthropist, Frances McAllister. I shared with our group what someone had shared then:

“If you continue to tell someone’s stories, they’re never truly gone.”

Interestingly, we had just worked on an exercise that the group had a difficult time completing. The group was trying to figure out the key stories for Flagstaff Community Partnership—what is your elevator speech? Whose stories do you tell to the outside world? What makes Flagstaff Community Partnership unique?

After hearing about Teri, we had our answer. As a parent of two special needs children, Teri had taken it upon herself to smooth the path for families, educating herself about resources, regulations and assistive services so that she could share the best of the best with others. She understood the difficulties parents of children with special needs were going through. She did all this as a volunteer, with no vested interest other than to make sure families didn’t have to unnecessarily struggle and had information that she didn’t have before. She embodied what Flagstaff Community Partnership is all about.

I like to think that Flagstaff Community Partnership will be telling Teri’s stories for many years to come. Jamie, the board president, said, “Teri’s definitely watching over us now.”

Although we never met Teri, we thank her for her dedication and service, and for being an inspiration for special needs advocates in Flagstaff for years to come.

Flagstaff Community Partnership:
http://www.flagstaffcommunitypartnership.org/

Teri Sanders’ obituary:
http://azdailysun.com/articles/2009/01/20/news/obituaries/20090120_obitu_189310.txt

*****
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