By Heather Giorgianni


     It is a common joke around the office that I am the “Oprah” of Wildwood.  Although I don’t go around shouting things like “You get a car!” I do, however, get to give out money to families.  I coordinate the Family Reimbursement Grant Program which is funded by OPWDD.  The grant reimburses families for purchases they make that cannot be funded by any other programs.  Wildwood receives $110,000 a year to award to families.  It may sound like a small amount of money, but in 2018 we awarded funds to over 300 individuals!  I frequently get asked how it all works.  So here are the basics: Parents or caregivers of an individual who lives with them, that is eligible for OPWDD services, are able to apply for reimbursement.  Wildwood accepts applications from families in the following nine counties:  Albany, Fulton, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Warren, and Washington.

    Completed applications are reviewed by a committee comprised of five Wildwood parents.  These dedicated parents volunteer their time and spend over two hours, three to four times a year reviewing applications.  During the first committee meeting this year in March, 109 applications were reviewed, and 100 of them were approved for either all or part of their request!  Most families requested reimbursement for Respite that they pay for out of pocket.  We know that Respite is a huge need, and that caregivers often need a break.  The committee definitely has a soft spot for Respite, as all of them have used it in the past!  But what are the other requests we get?  This year alone we have awarded funds to families for; Proloquo2Go software, iPad’s, Mattresses, glasses, Occupational Therapy, swings, activity fees during Community Habilitation services, Social Skills groups, Acupuncture, summer camps, weighted blankets, YMCA/gym memberships, athletic activities, music lessons/therapy, a Medacube (a device that dispenses medication), dressers, clothing, an Autism Cruise, swim lessons, pull-ups, ski lessons, and ABA therapy.  The committee approved $37,903.93 in reimbursement towards requested items in a two-hour period!!!

    One of the most original requests we have had to date, was to reimburse a family for a Dolphin Assisted Therapy Swim. The individual, Emily, has a diagnosis that can make water activities problematic.  The program that her parents found in Key Largo provided a therapist in the water so she was able to safely swim with one of her favorite animals! The family was so appreciative I received a letter in the mail that they asked for me to share.  Their letter stated “We are so grateful to your agency for awarding us this grant to cover the expense of the assisted swim.  Not only did it benefit Emily in her physical abilities, but it lifted her self-esteem and gave her a sense of proud accomplishment.”

    You may be thinking about the nine applications in March that were not approved and wonder what happens to those families?  I write each family a letter and encourage them to put in a new application with a new request.  The committee wants to help as many families as possible, so please spread the word.  If you would like more information or the application for this program, please visit our website at

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