For many of us, raising kids is a process that is demanding, exhausting and exhilarating - often times all three in the same hour.
For those who have children with special needs, however, parenting can be especially challenging.
The PTA-Too - Together Overcoming Obstacles - is a committee at Davidson Elementary that is helping families and the community understand that although raising exceptional children can be trying, it's also incredibly rewarding.
About a year and a half ago, Jeni Cooper was walking down the halls of Davidson Elementary and noticed other parents of special needs kids.
"I thought, 'we're all in this same situation that can be terribly difficult and isolating,'" she said.
She articulated a vision to the school staff: Form a group where parents can rely on each other for support, along with enriching both the lives of their children and their children's peers.
In addition, provide resources for teachers and increase understanding and awareness.
The PTA-Too kicked off at the beginning of the 2008-09 school year.
Parents from the Lake Norman area met to trade ideas. They planned social events, including a recent trip to Lazy 5 Ranch. They've also initiated their own version of Walking Wednesdays, where kids and families walk to school together in a group to emphasize exercise and camaraderie.
"These events give us a chance to share our joys and challenges with people who really understand," said Cooper.
The committee is also working to bring awareness at a community level. They've partnered with both the Autism Foundation of the Carolinas and the Davidson Parks and Recreation Department to increase camp offerings.
"By offering more camps in a more central location gives our kids opportunities with typical peers and kids like them," said Cooper. "It really provides them with an ideal balance."
Perhaps the committee's crowning moment happened just last month, with a benefit concert they held at Davidson College.
The idea came from Billy Powers, a Davidson College senior.
"Billy has a special heart for our kids, and he told me he had two visions," she said. "The first was to form a buddy group, partnering college students with exceptional kids. The second was to hold a charity concert and banquet for families, as a means to raise funding and awareness."
Powers took action on both ideas. He was instrumental in starting the Buddy Benefit program at Davidson College and in the planning and organizing of the concert and banquet, calling on many of his college peers to ensure the evening was a success.
The night included three singing groups, a mother who spoke about the joys and challenges of raising special needs children and a poem read by Melody Rain, a senior at Queens University who has autism.
"On a recent and beautiful autumn evening some remarkable Davidson College students did an amazing thing," said Cooper. "Using talents of both voice and heart, they brought a community together and a celebration ensued...."
Cooper looks forward to increasing awareness even more in the future.
"We hope that parents view us as a soft place to land," she said. "We've seen what a difference these programs have made in children's lives, and we are excited to continue."