Meet the ECAC Staff – Aimee Combs
What brought you to ECAC and tell us about your current role?
In 1999, my son Joey was evaluated by the NC Infant Toddler Program at the Developmental Evaluation Center in Concord, NC. (now known as the Children's Developmental Services Agency or CDSA.) When I received his evaluation, there were numerous recommendations of services to seek, including reaching out to ECAC. I contacted ECAC and got a ton of information regarding autism, early intervention, special education and community resources. I utilized the free lending library often and borrowed books and VHS tapes (remember those?) related to autism. In 2001 I came across an ad in the newspaper for a Parent Educator position at ECAC and threw my hat in the ring. I got an interview but did not get hired. I ended up getting a job as the Parent Liaison at the pediatric therapy clinic where my son was receiving OT and speech, where I worked for 12 years. I continued to use ECAC's resources in my own advocacy for my son. In 2014, I reapplied for a position as a Parent Educator with ECAC and got the job! I eventually took on additional roles such as the Social Media Lead, PTI Manager and am now the Assistant Director of Programs.
Why do you love being a part of ECAC?
SO.MANY.THINGS. The work is challenging but the rewards are vast! I love being able to support families as they navigate systems, and to be able to do so at no charge is a huge plus. I love my savvy, talented and diverse colleagues and have learned so much from them. I have a strong connection and commitment to families with children with disabilities and/or special healthcare needs and find great fulfillment in my work, whether I am connecting them with resources or providing them with information to help them make informed decisions for their child.
What is the most memorable event you have attended with ECAC?
Oooh this is a tough one! One time I went to do an in-person workshop that we thought was supposed to be an hour long but the host was expecting a 4 hour presentation. Somehow I pulled it off! All of the events that involve our Youth Advisory Team (YAT) members are highlights for me as they always have such an impact on the audience. Last year they presented at the NC 6th Annual Inclusion Summit and I was describing the room and audience to Billy, our Youth Outreach Coordinator who is completely blind. One of the YAT members chimed in "Billy, not to intimidate you but there are a lot of good looking ladies in the room." :)
What keeps you motivated and inspired?
Years ago I attended a training session for Parent Center staff, and the instructor Kori Hamilton from Justice is a Team Sport told us to "KNOW YOUR WHY". She said "Never forget WHY you came into this work and who you truly are charged to serve and support." I typed this up and kept it in the top drawer of my office desk. My son is my "why" and the families we serve at ECAC are what keep me motivated and inspired. Although my son is 25 years old now, I still remember all of the unknowns and have many more to consider. To know that my lived and professional experience can make a difference for others is very rewarding and keeps me going.
What is one piece of advice you would like to give to the parents you work with?
YOU ARE YOUR CHILD'S BEST ADVOCATE! Never doubt this truth. Effective communication is key, and communicating in writing is ideal. It's okay to be assertive but avoid being adversarial. CADRE's "Steps to Success: Communicating with Your Child's School" offers specific communication skills that may be helpful to parents as they develop and maintain partnerships with their child's school. It's a great tool for your tool box and is available in 13 languages: https://www.cadreworks.org/resources/cadre-materials/steps-success-communicating-your-childs-school
Tell us more about your life outside of ECAC.
Wait...I have a life outside of ECAC?
Just kidding. My husband and I started dating in our senior year of high school back in 1989! We have been married for 30 years. We have three adult children. (Katie is a special education teacher, Joey works at a local home improvement chain and Autumn is a marketing coordinator for a commercial roofing company.)
We also have 3 granddaughters. We built our forever home - a ranch with a walkout basement - with our son in mind so he can have his own space and a sense of independence. Most of my time outside of work is spent with my family, especially the grands! I love yard sales, thrift stores and FB marketplace. I don't require much to be content: family, faith, fulfilling work and Diet Coke from McDonald's is all it takes.
One thing people may not know about me…
My plans in high school were to go on to become a graphic artist and/or creative writer. I especially wanted to create greeting cards and wrapping paper! I never imagined that I would be where I am at today. Years ago my son asked me "Are you sure you're okay with who I am and how I am?" It made me tear up. I said "Joey, if it weren't for you, I would not have met so many wonderful people (therapists, teachers, other exceptional parents and disability serving professionals), nor would I have had my previous job or current one, so yes, BIG FAT YES, I am more than okay with who you are and how you are."