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Donna Marie Cooper

Donna Cooper has been fighting “like a mama warrior” for her son Jonathan to receive the healthcare, therapy, inclusion support, and resources that he has needed all his life. It began when he started showing symptoms of autism at 10 months old.  Donna fought for him to receive an evaluation so intervention could begin as early as possible to manage his condition. Though she worried that he would not develop speech, he started recognizing printed words at two-and-a-half years old, as she watched him match 50 words to pictures. Though there was not a single word Jonathan understood auditorily, he had taught himself to read.   Jonathan’s love for reading was used to help him communicate, and eventually, he learned to speak.

Donna has said that she often felt very alone as the parent of a child with disabilities, so she has channeled this into helping other parents in the same boat navigate the experience. When she first applied for SSI benefits for Jonathan, she felt so overwhelmed by the process that she cried the night before her interview. But then she figured out a system to organize all the medical and educational documentation that she needed for the interview, and she was approved for SSI without the help of an attorney. Since then she has shared her system with parents who have reached out for help in applying for SSI, and several of those parents have been approved without needing an attorney’s help as well.

At 12 years old, Jonathan developed type I diabetes, Hashimoto’s disease, and alopecia. When he needed treatment in a residential facility to help manage his emotions, Donna struggled to find a facility that would take him because of his diabetes. She found a center in Atlanta that would only accept him for six weeks which she knew was not enough time to treat him effectively. Donna called the Tennessee Justice Center, who worked with her insurance provider and the care facility to secure eight months of treatment for Jonathan.

Later, when Jonathan applied for the ECF CHOICES program he was initially denied and told that he did not have a disability.  Donna contacted TJC, who helped her draft a letter in response to Jonathan’s denial. He was approved for the program ten days later.  The in-person assessment determined that he was in the highest category of need. Jonathan now lives in Clarksville in a Community Living Supported home through the ECF Choices program.

Jonathan is an avid Pokémon player and has competed in multiple Pokémon tournaments, which his mother says have helped him develop sportsmanship and social skills. He also loves exotic cars. For his 14th birthday, Donna took Jonathan to an exotic car show where he got to ride in his favorite car for half an hour! Donna recently joined the advisory board for ECF CHOICES and is excited to bring her experience with the program as a parent to this role.

TJC is proud to honor Donna Cooper as a 2020 Mother of the Year because of her commitment to fighting for the care that her son needs and her ability to use her experiences to help other parents do the same for their children.

Photo Credit: Sara Blair McNally

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