Alumni Updates

Supporting Special-Needs Families


people

Cheryl (left), Daniel (right), and Eric (bottom right) Dinnell visit with Nevada’s U.S. senator Harry Reid (center) at the U.S. Capitol.

By Jeffrey G. Mulcock, ‘03

Daniel E. and Cheryl Mathews Dinnell, both ’84, always believed they would have an active part in the lives of their children. But when their third son, Eric, was born with DeBarsy Syndrome, they discovered new ways in which to serve.

The Dinnells, of Sparks, Nev., were presented with the Polly Arango Family Leadership Award earlier this year in Washington, D.C. The award honors families that show leadership in the care of special-needs children.

Responding to her son’s disabilities, Cheryl became involved with the Nevada Parent Network, helping increase its numbers from 40 to more than 500 families. She also created Family Ties of Nevada, a nonprofit organization where families can find statewide resources and parent-to-parent emotional support.

“When you have a child with special needs, you immediately recognize your course through life will be very different,” Cheryl says. “You look for other people who will accompany you on that course.”

Dan contributes through his occupation. He left his work for US Air to accept a position at the state level as coordinator of family support for children with disabilities.

“I’ve been offered higher-paying jobs but am sticking with it because this is something I really want to do,” Dan says.

In addition to their community service and volunteer work, the Dinnells work together as a family to help Eric. The two older sons, Sean and Marc, spend time reading to their brother, accompanying him to church activities, and helping him with household chores.

The Dinnells are grateful to have received the Polly Arango award. “We got that sometimes-needed pat on the back that helps us keep plugging away at our goals,” says Cheryl.