AEA resources provide support for independence

Molly Giddings

For 35 years, Iowa’s Area Education Agencies have been providing a multitude of resources and support to all of Iowa’s children, families, and schools. Molly (Rezac) Giddings, a young woman born with Spina Bifida, belongs to a generation who doesn’t know what it’s like to NOT have the resources available within Iowa’s Area Education Agencies.

Molly’s parents, Dave and Nola Rezac of Armstrong, noticed she wasn’t developing at the same rate as her older brother and sister. She was diagnosed with Spina Bifida, a birth defect that involves the incomplete development of the spinal cord or its coverings, and had her first surgery at 18 months of age. Living in a small town meant that everyone knew Molly’s story and looked out for her, especially school nurse Kathy Preston.  When it came time to enter school at Armstrong-Ringsted (A-R), Molly received occupational and physical therapy services through the AEA. Together, the team worked to find accommodations for Molly. It was essential to ensure that she had supports needed to get to and from class safely as well as being able to participate in school activities, such as prom and graduation. Kathy Preston, the A-R school nurse, was wonderful and always there for me, Molly said.

“I’ve always been pretty independent and my parents were willing to let me try anything,” Molly said. “We approached everything with the attitude that we would adapt and figure out how to do whatever I wanted to do.”

That independent spirit led Preston to research opportunities for Molly to tap into her competitive nature. Thanks to local fund-raisers Molly was able to attend a wheelchair camp which she describes as “an eye-opener because it put me with others who were like me.”  The camp equipped this determined young lady with the skills to race in a wheelchair.  In high school, Molly competed at the state track meet. In 1999, she earned first place in three events (100 meter dash, 400 meter dash, and shot put) and repeated as state champion in those same events the next year. In 2001, Molly took first place in both the 100 meter dash and shot put, while placing second in the 400 meter dash. She went onto throw the shot put, discus, and javelin and competed in racing events at the national competitions in California and New Jersey.

As high school graduation drew near, Molly began researching colleges to determine the best fit. She selected Iowa Lakes Community College in Emmetsburg.

“I was nervous about being far away from home where everyone knew me,” Molly said. “I wanted to be in a small setting and have the experience of living in the dorms. No one from my school was going there.”

After graduating from Iowa Lakes, Molly transferred to the University of Northern Iowa where she earned a master’s degree in social work. Her first job out of college was at the Larrabee Vocational Center in Waverly where she assisted people with both mental and physical disabilities.

Her life has now come full circle and she has returned to Iowa Lakes sharing her experiences and helping others. Employed by the State of Iowa Voc Rehab, Molly spends her time helping people with a documented disability find and stay employed.

Part of her job involves going to high schools and talking to kids with a disability, where she occasionally runs into her former AEA transition coordinator, Diane Nelson.

“It’s nice to know that she’s there when I have questions,” Molly said. “It’s great to be in a place that has watched me grow.”

Iowa Lakes also connected Molly with her future husband, Dan, and they were married in August 2007. They enjoy riding their motorcycle and Dan built a trailer specially designed to carry her wheelchair. Dan has his own construction business and made their home wheelchair accessible.

“He’s so understanding,” Molly said. “He’s also 6’4’’ so we make quite an interesting pair when we’re out together!”

Education continues to play an important role in Molly’s life. She co-teaches online classes at Iowa Lakes and is taking continuing education classes online through San Diego State University.

Molly’s story is another example that Iowa’s Area Education Areas have been impacting lives for 35 years.

“In rural Iowa, people may not know all of the resources available or how to access those resources,” Molly said. “Without the AEA, people wouldn’t have the same opportunities that they do now.”

During 2010, Iowa Area Education Agencies are celebrating 35 years of service to children, families, educators, and communities. For information, contact your AEA.

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