Northest Woman: Scranton Advocate Helps Parents Of Kids With Special Needs
Before she took an official job as an advocate for others’ children with special needs, Roseann Polishan made waves as a well-informed mom working hard on her own son’s behalf.
The South Scranton resident became known in parenting circles as a wealth of knowledge about state laws, local procedures and regional resources as she championed her eldest son, Hunter, now 15, who was diagnosed at a young age with autism and intellectual disabilities and, later, epilepsy.
The West Scranton High School and St. Joseph’s University graduate was working for corporate giant Kraft Nabisco when she and her husband, Stephen, learned of their then-toddler’s circumstances, and so Polishan shifted to part-time work to spend as much time and energy on Hunter as possible.
“I had no experience in the social-services field, but I did all the research I could, from occupational therapy to speech and music therapy, and realized there was not a lot of funding and resources for kids,” Polishan said.
“I started writing letters to the legislature and family work groups,” she added. “I met all these people and built relationships to help (Hunter), but people came to me for information.”
Fueled by a passion for making education available to children like her son, Polishan learned all she could about individualized education programs that ensured special-needs kids received what they deserved and that they weren’t discriminated against.
Early on, at the same time she joined up with the state’s Right to Education Task Force (for which she now serves as the parent chair), she also found a kinship among the professionals at the Arc of Northeastern Pennsylvania, which was founded in 1955 by parents seeking access to public education for their children with developmental disabilities.
“The Arc has had such a vested interest for such a long time,” Polishan noted. “They’re the biggest advocacy group in the United States for this, and I believe in their mission. That’s the kind of organization I wanted to be involved with.”
About a year and a half ago, Polishan joined the Arc’s staff part-time as an advocate, which involves doing all manner of tasks, from fielding calls from parents and schools to sitting in on meetings to develop IEPs, finding compromises and connecting families and educators with helpful resources and programs.
“My main goal for the Arc, and myself, is to self-help. (I want) to help parents advocate for their child,” Polishan said. “It wasn’t how I thought my life would go. But it’s good to share (information) for the betterment of everyone. You have to pass it on and share with the next person. It’s ingrained in me to help others.”
One of six children in an extended family of a former grocer/butcher, Kamille “Bob” Fogley, and a registered nurse, Polishan draws inspiration from memories of her mother, the late Barbara Fogley, a working mom who overcame numerous obstacles in raising her kids. Even as she juggles two jobs and caring for Hunter in addition to her other children, 11-year-old Hope and 8-year-old Holden, Polishan continues to step up to join other groups that serve the community.
She serves as the special-education advocate on a committee with the financial recovery officer for Scranton School District, and she also is a member of the Governor’s Advisory Committee for People with Disabilities, which meets four times a year to discuss issues such as employment, education and housing.
“I was appointed a year ago and give recommendations to the governor’s office,” Polishan explained of the latter. “We do a lot of next-stage-of-life services and plans. Every day, I learn something new about the system.”
Additionally, she is the family consumer representative for the Northeast Behavioral Health Care Consortium, which presents workshops on how to improve services for children with behavioral and mental health problems, and she also serves as president of the PTA at Whittier Elementary School in Scranton.
Her kids and husband stay busy too, thanks to dance, softball and baseball, plus involvement with the Challenger League and Special Olympics.
Yet even as Polishan’s workdays are filled with tackling obstacles for the hundreds of families she works with in Lackawanna, Carbon, Monroe, Pike, Susquehanna and Wayne counties through the Arc, she avoids burnout by celebrating victories and positive outcomes.
“I get a lot of calls when there’s just a problem, focusing on the negative, but I believe you have to temper that with what’s going well; the good,” she said. “If we continue to expose and share information, there’ll be more acceptance and appreciation for the gifts people with disabilities can give. It’s a community effort.
“There are a lot of difficult moments, and they do eat you up,” Polishan said. “But there are good things, too. It’s very important to showcase those stories.”
Contact the writer:
firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5369;
@pwildingTT on Twitter
Meet Roseann Polishan
At home: Lives in South Scranton with her husband Stephen and their children Hunter, 15; Hope, 11; and Holden, 8
At work: Advocate for the Arc of Northeasten Pennsylvania
Inspirations: Other people who work in the special-needs field and her mother, the late Barbara Fogley
Aspirations: To develop in her role as an advocate, continue to learn more and get involved further with legislative and educational pieces
Diversions: Attending Broadway Theatre League shows, shopping yard and estate sales, and reading on the beach
Aversion: Pretenders who put up facades
Quote: “I rely on my four ‘Ps’: Persistence, patience, prayer and a positive attitude,” she said.