One Good Turn (Deserves Another): Inclusive Ashland

Diane Smith

    When life throws out difficult situations, we make choices. “How do I react to this? Do I let it shape me negatively or do I become a catalyst for change?” Carly Carver, a reporter for the Ashland Daily Independent and mother of a child who has been diagnosed with autism, clearly chose the second option.
    As someone who understands the challenges faced by families with children who have physical, intellectual and developmental disabilities, Carver became an advocate for children and their families. “There is a big breakdown in what insurance covers and actual needs,” she explains.
    In order to help fill some of the gaps and help children during their most intense time of need, Carver formed the Ashland Foundation for Children with Disabilities (AFCD) in 2017. The foundation has a dedicated board comprised primarily of parents of special needs children and special needs advocates. Carver serves as the director, and neither she nor any of the board members receive salaries – they all volunteer “so that all children may be a part of Ashland's Bright Future.”
    Board member Mandy Mazzawi, AFCD community and media relations chair, has a son diagnosed with cerebral palsy and ADHD. “Having a child with special needs changes your world view and makes you want to change the world for your child, for the better. Many may think that, it being 2019, discrimination and lack of inclusion of people with disabilities is unlikely. It doesn’t have to be active discrimination to be discriminatory. However, I can’t even count how many parents and grandparents I’ve talked to that express dismay over the lack of support for them and their kids.”
    The AFCD offers financial assistance to children living in moderate- to low-income families for education, therapies and needed equipment. It also provides accessible equipment to area schools. The foundation primarily focuses on Boyd, Greenup, Lewis, Carter, Lawrence, Rowan, Morgan and Elliott counties.
    As part of the foundation’s school and community outreach, it provides Individual Education Plan (IEP) advocates for parents of special needs students. “These parents may not be versed in the program details and may be intimidated,” Carver explains.
    AFCD is supported by various organizations as well as through individual donations and community fundraisers. On September 28, Brisket, Bourbon and Bids 2019 at the newly renovated Delta Marriott in Ashland offers a chance for great food, an open bar, a silent auction, discounted stay at the hotel, and a chance to win a trip to Disney World.  
    Events such as the Halloween Inclusion Palooza slated for October 26 allow for fun interaction for children with disabilities and typical peers. Trick or treat and inflatables allow these children to just be children and help to tear down the stigmas that sometimes prevail in society.
    Children on the autism spectrum, those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or others who may have sensory processing disorders, often require special accommodations for their comfort and well-being. AFCD provides sensory aids for Calm Down Stations at community events, making available such items as noise-reduction headphones and weighted blankets so that families may participate in events while reducing discomfort to their child with sensory issues.
    Parent Erick Fugate discovered AFCD while looking for an autism support group in Ashland. “I found the group on Facebook. I contacted Carly via Facebook and through her email. She was so kind and quick to respond. She provided me with an application to fill out to receive the weighted blanket. Within just a few weeks, she contacted me and let me know my daughter was approved.” Fugate said the blanket has enabled his daughter to sleep better and to calm down more easily.
    On a larger scale, the Ashland Foundation for Children with Disabilities (also known by the moniker Inclusive Ashland) has undertaken an endeavor called the Sensory Garden in Ashland’s Central Park. The Sensory Garden is the only one of its kind in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and has both hardscape and softscape elements to stimulate one or multiple senses. (
For information on how to apply for assistance, make donations, volunteer, or simply to learn more about the Ashland Foundation for Children with Disabilities, visit