Breaking Ground 107 - Stories from Family Support

In early 2021, the Council on Developmental Disabilities contributed $300,000 in new funding to expand the Tennessee Family Support program to help more families during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Council has been active in promoting and supporting the Family Support program since it was created in 1992.

We’re excited to share a few stories of how Tennessee families benefited from these extra funds during a very hard year.

“We know the pandemic has had a heavy impact on people with disabilities and their families,” Council Executive Director Wanda Willis said. “We are so grateful to our close partners at DIDD and the local agencies for helping us get these funds into the hands of the families who needed them most.”

What is the Family Support Program? How does it work?

  • It is run by the TN Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD), through 16 local disability agencies that give out the funding in their local communities. These 16 agencies serve all 95 counties of the state.
  • It is funded with state dollars.
  • It provides money (no more than $4,000) to help Tennesseans with disabilities and their families who do not get any long-term services and supports (like Medicaid waiver services through the 1915c DIDD programs or the Employment and Community First CHOICES program). People who get these services are not eligible for Family Support funding.
  • A local Family Support Council in each area decides which families who apply get the funding and the amount they will get, based on need and how many families apply. A majority of each local council is made of up people with disabilities or family members who live in the area.
  • Family Support dollars can be used for many different kinds of disability costs and services. Examples include respite care, equipment/supplies, nursing, counseling, housing costs, personal assistance, health-related needs, summer camps, and more.
  • Learn more about the TN Family Support program at

Jeffery (by Anita F. Lambdin of Claiborne County, TN)

“My son Jeffery is 39 years old and was born with Trisomy 14 chromosome abnormality. He also has a compromised immune system and many allergies that can be life-threatening. We have been so blessed to get approved for the Family Support program to purchase supplies that help us keep his environment safe and healthy. We have used Family Support funds to buy medical items, air purifiers with UV light, vacuums, sheets, and other things that keep our home clean to make sure my son stays well.”

Jeffery Lambdin is a close-up photo of a white man with red hair with a visible disability and big smile; he has a cute little brown and white dog sitting on his shoulder as he leans back against a couch
Jeffery Lambdin

Reed (Yekaterina of Chattanooga, TN)

[Thanks to Family Support funding …] “Our son Reed just finished a week of camp at DownsideUp. Theresa Nix (owner and operator of DownsideUp) has created the most inclusive, welcoming, safe, fun, and versatile place for the campers. During the camp week, Reed was surrounded not only by his peers but also by loving and compassionate adults. He was exposed to many fun activities every day and was eager to return for more the following day.

This camp has enriched Reed’s summer break in more ways than one. We wouldn’t trade this experience for anything and are already looking forward to the next time we can return to DownsideUp.”

a young boy concentrating on holding some gooey slime over a play table.
Reed experiences making slime during a week of camp at DownsideUp.

Kelsey (Kimberly Payne of Toone, TN)

“I have a beautiful daughter, Kelsey, who is 30 years old. She has Down syndrome and a heart defect. She lives with me and depends on her dad and me for all of her needs. Kelsey loves spending time outdoors and is always ready to explore!   She isn’t afraid of anything and loves meeting new friends. 

Kelsey currently attends a program in Memphis called Thrive, which provides social, recreational, and continued educational activities. It’s a daily program and costs about $400 per month.  The Family Support funds can pay for about four months out of the year, which is a great help! Funding has also helped in the past years with personal assistance, transportation, and summer camps.”

A young woman with Down syndrome with a big smile holds up a tote bag she just painted with all sorts of colorful designs, with art supplies behind her.
Kelsey at Thrive Memphis

Marielle (Tiffani Dixon of Maryville, TN)

“I work as an Early Interventionist for Emory Valley Center. I get to see firsthand the amazing things the Family Support Program provides families in our community. I have countless stories I can tell about the funding provided to help families on my caseload meet their child’s needs. Throughout my career of helping families with applying for this program, I never realized that the Family Support Program would also help my own child and family one day. 

Marielle started showing delays in her motor skills when she was a baby. When she was 22 months old and still was not walking, we realized it was time for an early intervention referral. She was later diagnosed with Congenital Hypotonia and Sensory Processing Disorder. We attended physical and occupational therapy at Blount Memorial Hospital. Marielle gained strength and new skills from attending regular therapies.  

Then, the pandemic hit, and we had to pause therapy. THEN, Marielle turned 3, and she aged out of TEIS services that helped provide these therapy visits. Marielle needed to continue therapy, but our co-pay was too high for our budget.

We applied for the Family Support Program, and she was approved to receive funding! This program was a HUGE blessing for Marielle and our family!

She was able to continue therapy, and also enroll in aquatic therapy and gymnastics so she could have more opportunities for strengthening her muscles and socialize with peers. It helped provide equipment that we use at home, such as a balance board, the Nugget cushions for climbing, exercise ball, and supportive shoes to fit over her orthotics.

Words cannot express the relief we feel to return to therapies and provide the support our daughter needs. She is thriving and making great progress!”

a young girl with curly brown hair wearing a leotard stands in a gym on a block wearing a medal like she has won a prize for gymnastics; she has a big smile on her face and there are red, white and blue balloons behind her
Marielle Dixon at gymnastics