It was a happy gathering of Maricopa families enjoying food, games and painting together under a “Friends” TV sitcom theme.
But the underlying reason for the get-together filled with smiling faces at Maricopa Community Center last week was more serious.
The families that Be Awesome supports, in part, include those with special-needs children in the educational support system, which educators commonly call ESS.
ESS is a child study team. Students’ needs may include the academic, related to reading, written language, math or other subjects. Some students’ needs are related to their emotional well-being or behavior.
While the original focus of Be Awesome was youth drug prevention, today the organization has branched out to include families with autism and other specials needs.
The organization now focuses on getting parents more involved with their children’s lives.
The Be Awesome organization’s co-founders chose to take this route, seeing other needs in Maricopa.
Priscilla Behnke, co-founder and director of Be Awesome, which put on the open house Thursday night, described the Be Awesome program.
“We want to build confident, connected and successful youths, and one of the ways you do that is by providing pro-social (experiences,)” Behnke said, adding that that is done by offering personal opportunities and family connections, or parental involvement.
The night’s event was intended as a casual social gathering to let ESS families know they are welcomed, and inform them about Be Awesome’s programs, Behnke said.
Be Awesome co-founder Brandi Homan has a personal stake in the program and inspired the organization to broaden its focus to include special needs.
Homan has an autistic son.
“My son does have sensory issues and he just didn’t feel comfortable (around others),” she said.
Programs include Teen Team and Be Awesome Youth Coalition.