Special Education teacher Kate Branson was often asked by parents for names of specialists, camps, tutors, businesses and schools that catered to children with learning differences. She would do her best to advise them, but she couldn’t possibly know everything available to parents and children, nor did she feel she had enough information to make a recommendation or referral. An experienced teacher of seven years, she had taught at the Lab School of Washington DC, the Diener School in Potomac and the Katherine Thomas School in Rockville — all schools dedicated to educating students with learning disabilities. Her mom, a psychologist in Montgomery County was also constantly asked for names that parents could turn to for services for their child — and she too had never been able to locate a comprehensive list. Branson began to wonder, “Why is there no website which lists resources for people who have kids with special needs?”
The query became a decision to research resources and to build a company to honor the memory of a close family friend’s daughter who had Down’s syndrome and died at 3 months of age. Branson joined forces with her friend, entrepreneur Andrew Dunnavant, and over the past 9 months, they have built www.mamiegrace.com — a website that features not only a detailed inventory of resources from across the US, but provides reviews and information about many of the items on the list.
“We started by surveying parents to see what information they need and are having a difficult time locating,” Branson said. “Next we assessed specialists, businesses, camps and schools to see what they wanted on their profile, and then we developed a survey and profile to gather data about the needs of both the providers and the users. Besides a detailed description of the provider’s services, we also wanted to include important information about insurance, parking, public transportation, types of disabilities they specialize in, school philosophy, number of students and teachers — and much more. In the near future, we plan to add a job bank, resources that are disability specific, colleges with designated programs, and even feature the capability to make an appointment.
“Our website is free for parents who can register and go onto the website as often as needed. Businesses, specialists, schools and camps pay $17 a month to be listed on our website. We added a free review piece too — to give parents an outlet to write honestly (and anonymously if preferred) about their experiences. Part of giving a review is to give a rating, but instead of stars, our site uses ‘high fives’ — and the reviewer can rate the provider with one to five ‘high fives.’ We monitor all the reviews because we want www.mamiegrace.com to be a truly honest place that provides a tool to really help parents.”
Branson said her company will donate 10 percent of their profits to charity.
The website also provides a comprehensive and non-biased tool for school counselors, teachers, psychologists and psychiatrists, therapists, and for people who are new to an area. It gives new businesses a website and forum for advertising and letting others know about their services. It will also be a resource which can be referenced during Individualized Educational Planning (IEP) meetings as well as for parents who are seeking programs, camps, schools and more.
Branson, who grew up in the River Falls and Potomac Falls neighborhoods, has returned to reside in Potomac. She attended Georgetown Visitation, Columbia University and received her Master’s Degree in special education from American University.
“The review piece makes our website unique and keeps it current,” Branson said. “We are aiming to get more reviews on our website and are hoping that those who have come into contact with service providers on the list will go on the website to discuss their experiences.” The website is advertising through Facebook, Twitter and word of mouth. “We already have a list of 800 providers across the country,” Branson said. “Our website will save parents huge amounts of time and money in their searches for quality professionals — and will also connect them to the best possible options to meet their needs.”
To find out more about the company, or to list services, contact Branson at email@example.com or go to www.mamiegrace.com.