NewsKern's Kindness


Exceptional Family Center founders reflect on personal connections to the nonprofit's purpose

The center is located at 3121 N, Sillect Ave
Posted at 7:50 AM, Jun 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-02 10:50:22-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — “There was a feeling of fear and grief. Parenting wasn’t going to be like I thought it was going to be," said Grace Huerta.

When both of Grace's children were diagnosed with autism, she was overwhelmed. But today, she’s a founder of the nonprofit the Exceptional Family Center, a place dedicated to helping families just like hers.

“I want to be able to, parent to parent, inspire them to say, 'Don’t give up on your child,'" she said.

It all started in 1993. Co-founder Virginia Gantong was working at the Kern Regional Center and took parents to a conference in Los Angeles.

"It’s really difficult for parents that have a child with special needs to stay out of town," said Virginia.

Virginia’s oldest grandson was born with disabilities so she understood what the parents were going through.

“Not only was I there as an employee of the Kern Regional Center [but] I also felt the impact that it has when it comes to your own family," she said.

So they decided to hold their own conference in Bakersfield. 300 parents came.

“How can we fill that void of parents wanting to be together [and] having that wonderful energy and desire to meet each other," said Grace.

From there, the women focused on providing resources and support in Kern County. They began helping families apply for social security services, creating support groups for parents and advocating for those with disabilities.

“We want it to succeed because at the end of that, it’s the families, it’s the children, who are going to benefit," said Grace.

The center holds annual conferences, monthly meetings and workshops. Grace said she loves helping families just like hers and Virginia’s.

“The fun part for me is sharing my experience, whether it’s the grieving part, you know, 'Did you feel that, Grace?' I go, ‘I sure did.’ 'Did you cry?' I go ‘Yeah,'" she said.

And Virginia shared this quote, saying her experience with the center is a gift: “Children with special needs aren’t sent to special parents. They make parents special.”

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