UnitedHealthcare-Supported ‘Coffee Connections’ Providing Outlet for Parents of Adult Children with Special Needs

As a geriatric nurse, Rose Wiberg caters her care to a wide variety of patients, each with their own specific, and at times, challenging needs. However, even having that range of expertise, she felt a little lost when it came to caring for her son with developmental disabilities.  

“I didn’t know what to do,” she said.

As her son, Christopher, now 50 years old, grew older, he needed access to care and resources that would allow him to experience a quality lifestyle into adulthood.

Fortunately for Rose and many parents like her, Life Navigators, a 70-year-old nonprofit formed by parents of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities, serves as a resource to answer questions and help parents find resources available to help their kids.

Particularly as parents age and become less able to provide needed care and oversight of their adult-aged son or daughter, an organization like Life Navigators can be critical to help properly address long-term issues such as dementia, housing and finances.

“Trying to navigate the system while you’re the one doing the caregiving is a lot to take on,” said Rose, who has utilized Life Navigators for the past 30 years.

UnitedHealthcare recognized the need for families to have access to such services, which is why it has provided a $25,000 grant to support programming at Life Navigators.

The funds helped launch a monthly networking and support group called Coffee Connections. The informal gathering allows parents to share their experiences, concerns and ideas as they relate to caring for their kids, many who are now adults.

“It’s good that you can sit here and realize that you’re not alone,” one parent said at the meeting.

Each year, Life Navigators serves more than 4,800 individuals through information, education, advocacy and life-planning services.

“It’s critical that parents and other family members have resources like Life Navigators to help them identify resources that can provide some peace of mind that their son or daughter will be cared for when they can no longer provide that care,” said Ellen Sexton, CEO, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Wisconsin.

While all of the organization’s services and programming carry a special significance, a program like Coffee Connections can have important ripple effects to better support families.

“It’s a needed program in that we’re offering a chance for parents of kids with disabilities to come together and network,” said Vicki Wachniak, executive director of Life Navigators. “These families are very unique in the challenges and joys they experience. Being able to identify and connect with people in similar circumstances is invaluable.”