DI resident's vision of connecting families with needed resources to become a reality
Wouldn’t it be great if an instruction manual came with every new little bundle of joy? Somehow, with the help of parenting books and the advice of friends, most first-time moms and dads manage to raise healthy, happy kids. But it’s a different story altogether when parents realize that their little one is not quite “in step” with other small children of the same age. These parents need far more guidance and support than could fit on a printed card.
Consider the young mother who wonders why her baby isn’t reaching curiously for toys like other infants at “Mommy and Me” classes. She may blame herself for not reading or playing with her child due to long work hours. Feeling too ashamed to tell her husband - or talk to her pediatrician - this anguished mom is desperate to find someone knowledgeable she can talk to in confidence. Where does she go for help? Whom does she turn to? The situation is not one she can easily “Google.”
A ONE-STOP SHOP
Enter Resource Connector. An online portal of resources for easy navigation of the vast array of healthcare and human services in Charleston and beyond. The Resource Connector is the brain-child of Daniel Island resident Mindy Allen. To turn the Resource Connector from a dream into reality, Allen collaborated with Lisa and Noah Leask, philanthropists and co-founders of ISHPI, a Mt. Pleasant-based cyber technologies government contracting firm. Both Allen and Leask, as mothers of young children diagnosed with developmental delays, know full well the frustration that comes from not knowing where to turn. Explains Allen, “Resource Connector is essentially a GPS navigating its users through the complicated maze of available information and resources.”
In November of 2018, Resource Connector will launch its first phase of development which will include a New Parent Toolkit, a veritable answer to the prayers of parents with little time in search of vital answers from credible resources for any given stage of early childhood development. The product will include master lists of specific data to support new parents with maternal care resources during pregnancy, as well as after-birth information for their baby’s hygiene, health, and sleep. Additionally, the New Parent Toolkit will offer information on a wide range of issues, addressing those who may be struggling with financial costs of housing or utilities, the need for safe havens and protection from crisis, free health care services and mental health support for veterans suffering with PTSD.
The Resource Connector will also offer an Early Childhood Development Toolkit, which will enable caregivers, child healthcare professionals, early childhood educators, and those providing human services to promote early intervention when needed, as well as links to resources to identify children at risk for developmental concerns. The Resource Connector will serve as a one-stop-shop and virtual social worker.
While other human needs websites may include resources and information, none is as comprehensive as Resource Connector. Continually updated with new data compiled by Allen, Resource Connector’s chief product officer, the product stands apart from other static “lists” by, in effect, being more engaged with its users.
All the information provided in the Resource Connector comes from existing, credible sources like March of Dimes, South Carolina Department of Health (DHEC), and the Help Me Grow National Affiliate in South Carolina. There is also a wealth of data supplied through the Lowcountry Mental Health Conference Exhibit Hall, thanks to its chairman Dr. Kelly Holes-Lewis, professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the Medical University of South Carolina, who clearly sees the merit of Resource Connector.
“It is truly an invaluable tool to the community,” she points out, “filling in the gap where medical services may leave off. Now more than ever we find ourselves at a time in history when we need to come together to help each other, as suicide rates are climbing and people are feeling more disconnected from others, despite social media.”*
Dr. Amy Dietrich of Sweetgrass Pediatrics, a Daniel Island mother of three and an early champion of Resource Connector, sees the benefits of the product from a developmental point of view.
“As a pediatrician one of my main goals and concerns is to ensure the safety, health, and normal development of infants, toddlers, and children,” she explains. “Ages one through five are a crucial time for intervention if a psychological or emotional developmental delay is suspected. The earlier the intervention, the greater the potential for the developmental outcome for the child.”
Dietrich also notes the benefits for the medical community and other providers.
“The Resource Connector will also facilitate greater collaboration among partners, medical experts, educators, and service providers committed to improving life in our community.”
AN IDEA IS BORN
Allen knows firsthand the importance of the Resource Connector after a debilitating experience trying to find help for her young son’s developmental concerns. In 2004, while the family was living in North Carolina, he received a diagnosis on the Autism Spectrum at 23 months. Through luck and perseverance, Allen eventually found her way to a physician who specialized in environmental medicine. The doctor diagnosed the boy with lead poisoning, a condition that had been causing autistic-like symptoms. He then began a comprehensive detoxification process to remove the toxins. Fortunately, the diagnosis came when Allen’s son was only two years old and in the critical window of time for early intervention to make the most impact on a child. Several years later, Allen was thrilled to learn that her son was finally in a normal range for lead levels and had no remaining symptoms.
Allen wanted to help other parents avoid the long and circuitous path to diagnosis and support she and her son endured. Compelled to fill a seemingly obvious void of information about developmental delays in children, she would create a comprehensive resource guide, realizing a vision for a brand new online tool that would ultimately be known as the Resource Connector.
But without the right sponsor for her vision in sight, Allen, a former elementary school teacher, decided to return to work as an educator, this time focusing on early childhood education at the Daniel Island Academy (DIA). At DIA, she observed the successful impact of “Reference Point” ®, a proprietary program co-designed by Daniel Island resident Olivia Daniel, an early childhood development curriculum expert. The program works by assessing each student’s progress benchmarked against established developmental milestones. Allen was inspired by the progress she observed. At that point, she knew she had to continue working on the resource project that she had put aside.
“There are just too many children and parents in need of this time-sensitive information,” points out Allen. “They often lack the support and knowledge necessary to obtain it and miss a critical window of time to maximize early intervention services.”
BUILDING THE PROGRAM
With renewed determination, she decided to go back to the drawing board. She reached out to Daniel Island resident Sean Adorno, owner of digital design firm Digico, to design a prototype website. Allen then turned to the expertise of Bernadette Brogan, a highly knowledgeable IT teacher at Palmetto Scholars Academy. From October 2016 through May 2017, Brogan worked with volunteer students from the school to build the website. The digital construction of the site was then expertly fine-tuned by College of Charleston computer science graduate Joey Baldwin.
By Labor Day 2017, Allen had what investors call a “minimum viable product” needed to persuade potential financial investors. Subsequently - and auspiciously - Allen’s friend and Daniel Island resident, Elizabeth Anderson, introduced her to Lisa and Noah Leask, who were perfectly positioned to support her vision, from a perspective of philanthropic support of community focused initiatives (eg. Oceanside Academy’s beautiful new gym, which was also designed by Noah Leask). Moreover, as veterans with a high, military-trained level of technical logistical and administrative expertise, they have the expertise to make Resource Connector a solid working reality.
“I immediately saw the power in Mindy’s vision of this product,” recalls Resource Connector co-founder Lisa Leask.
“What’s more,” she adds, “as parents of a (now adult) child diagnosed on the autism spectrum at three years old, both Noah and I knew right away that this product would be invaluable in facing any kind of crisis where you don’t know where to turn - but you know there are resources out there.”
“Having travelled a similar but much lengthier road than Mindy with regard to my oldest daughter, Brianna,” continues Leask, “I know the special challenges and the frustration that families can face. We did everything we could to find the right doctors and therapists for Brianna. We didn’t want to leave any stone unturned.”
Leask points out that she would never have considered the benefits of equine therapy had she not put in all the work, researching and talking to other parents who were in the same boat.
“I just wish I could have invested all that time wasted searching for help into actually healing Brianna.”
While small, non-profit organizations try their best to get the word out about available resources, they can only do so much, says Leask.
“We have dedicated technology, like the Artificial Intelligence platform that Noah developed, to precisely categorize and map out copious amounts of data (all compiled by Mindy), aligning the right resources to the right needs.”
Allen and the Leasks anticipate that Resource Connector will be received as a popular, user-friendly product, eventually becoming a household name among doctors, educators, therapists ….and, of course, grateful parents and other caregivers who need it most.
For further information, visit http://www.Resource-Connector.com.
* Dr. Kelly Holes-Lewis’ endorsement is a personal view and does not reflect endorsement by the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences or the Medical University of South Carolina.