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Midvale Journal

Utah Parent Center raises funds to support special needs families

Oct 01, 2018 01:57PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Fundraiser attendees review items for a silent auction. (Ruth Hendricks/City Journals)

By Ruth Hendricks | [email protected]

An energetic buzz filled Topgolf in Midvale on the evening of Sept. 12. Participants examined about 80 gift baskets and other swag to bid on during a silent auction, ate good food and enjoyed a golf game in one of the climate-controlled hitting bays.

The crowd gathered for the annual fundraiser of the Utah Parent Center, a private nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting special needs families in Utah. Over 200 people registered for the event.

The mission of the Utah Parent Center (UPC) is to help parents help their children, youth and young adults with all types of disabilities to live productive lives as members of the community.

Jennie Dopp, organizer of the event, said, “All of our resources are free, so that’s why it’s so important that we have great partners in the community. Because we are a 501c3, and we offer free resources, we are always looking for corporate partners and private donors.”

According to the UPC website,, the organization provides accurate information, empathetic peer support, valuable training and effective advocacy based on the concept of parents helping parents. The group defines the term “parent” broadly, to include anyone serving in that role.

A wide variety of topics are covered on the website about various disabilities, challenges, and resources. Information is available in Spanish as well.

Dopp first learned about UPC when she was waiting at Primary Children’s hospital for her 3- year-old son to finish therapy, and she saw a notice on a bulletin board. She called UPC for some information and got a summer resource list. 

When he was in elementary school, UPC helped Dopp with her son’s special education plan. Then in junior high, when he was having some significant mental health challenges, they helped her navigate inpatient treatment programs, insurance, and the mental health treatment options. 

Dopp said that UPC “serves any disability and across the lifespan of the child. They’re just a great resource for parents.”

While the organization has an office in downtown Salt Lake, it serves the entire state. 

“We have great relationships with a lot of school districts, where we have a parent consultant right in the school district,” said Dopp. “Parents from that district can work with our parent consultant and get the information they need right close to their home. We also have office parent consultants that serve the entire state, even if they are in St. George, Tremonton, wherever they are.”

Dopp worked as a volunteer for about seven years, served as a UPC board member doing their marketing and fundraising, and is now the development coordinator.

All parents who work at the UPC are parents of special needs children. “That is one of the requirements for the parent consultant position,” said Dopp. “We feel that it’s important for parents to be able to walk the walk and talk the talk, so they can totally understand where another parent is coming from.”

Alison White, another board member, discovered the UPC about 15 years ago. She had worked as a special education teacher. “I’ve worked on both sides, I worked with the UPC as an educator, and then I’ve been able to participate on the board as well. It’s been a fabulous opportunity.” 

A main concern of UPC is the service gap. “We provide wonderful services, we serve over 25,000 individuals per year,” said Dopp. “But there’s about 151,000 who could use services. We simply do not have the funding to serve all of the families that need our help.”

Dopp said that the UPC is inundated, especially with autism calls. “We serve about two to one autism calls. So we really need the help of family foundations, private donors and corporate partners in order to extend our reach beyond what our grants and our current funding sources allow.”

“We cannot change the diagnosis for families, but we can bring them hope,” continued Dopp. “As a special needs parent, you’re in the trenches every day, and you’re helping families. That’s our job, to give them the tools they need to help their children be successful.”