Langley for Families Foundation Grant to Benefit VersAbility’s EPIC Program

Thanks to the Langley for Families Foundation, VersAbility Resources can now serve more children with disabilities.

Earlier this month the Langley for Families Foundation awarded VersAbility a grant to support families in need of emergency supplies for the care of a disabled child. These supplies range from diapers and formula to emergency clothing in times of need.

The $5,000 grant will support the Critical Needs Fund for VersAbility’s Early Prevention and Intervention for Children Program (EPIC), which assists children with developmental delays and their families to reach each developmental milestone.

Infancy and early childhood are critical times in human development. Children under the age of 3 with disabilities need specialized therapies to prepare them for success in school, work and life. Failure to provide these supports comes at a cost to each child, their family and the community. Through the EPIC program, nearly 700 children with disabilities receive tailored therapies annually, maximizing their abilities and future potential.

Langley for Families focuses its charitable giving on healthcare, housing and human services, and access to education for children and families in the Hampton Roads area.

VersAbility’s EPIC program provides free developmental screenings for any child under the age of 3 living in Hampton and Newport News. VersAbility serves each referral, regardless of budget constraints or the family’s ability to pay.

VersAbility Resources supports more than 1,500 people with disabilities and their families from Hampton, Newport News, Poquoson, York County and the 10 counties on the Middle Peninsula and the Northern Neck.

Making an EPIC Difference in Your Child’s Life

As parents, we don’t always recognize developmental disabilities in our children.

Sometimes disabilities are associated with conditions diagnosed at birth, such as Cerebral Palsy or Down syndrome but often they appear as patterns of behavior that might be dismissed with frustration. Moms can do everything right and still struggle to breastfeed newborns with low muscle tone. A toddler’s excessive chewing could be related to sensory issues instead of the terrible twos..

March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, a time to spotlight the significant role early intervention makes to ensure people with developmental disabilities have the same opportunities as those without.

VersAbility Resources’ Early Prevention and Intervention for Children Program (EPIC) helps children reach their full potential. This family-centered program provides information and support to families of infants and toddlers under the age of 3 in Hampton and Newport News.

Getting help starts with a referral to the Infant & Toddler Connection of Hampton/Newport News, says Robin Drummond, manager of VersAbility’s EPIC program. She stresses, “Anyone can make that referral.” That includes doctors, social services or other agencies, or parents themselves, concerned about something that seems off about their child.

The Infant and Toddler Connection filters the referrals and schedules an initial appointment with VersAbility, which meets with families to complete the intake process.

“At that appointment that can take anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half, we learn all about the family’s concerns about their child. We explain how early intervention can help and what services are available,” Drummond says.

While children accepted into the EPIC program must meet eligibility requirements, no family is turned away for an inability to pay.

If a decision is made to move forward with early intervention, families are directed to the appropriate resources that typically include physical, occupational and speech therapy. VersAbility remains involved throughout.

“Once we start working with a family, we are with that family as long as their child is in the program,” Drummond says.

An Individualized Family Service Plan lays out milestones for children enrolled in EPIC. The plan is reviewed annually and renewable if necessary.

Often addressing a developmental delay can be as simple as a parent tweaking a certain part of the child’s daily routine. If that’s the case, everyone who interacts with that child regularly — grandparents, babysitters, daycare providers, etc. — must be on the same page in following recommendations.

“When consistency is implemented, you almost always see the progress you are hoping for,” Drummond says.

If the developmental delay continues beyond the child’s third birthday, additional services are available through the Hampton or Newport News public preschool programs and Head Start.

If parents suspect a developmental disability in their child, Drummond encourages them to be proactive.

“Early intervention definitely makes a difference, and that key word is early,” she says. “The earlier we can work with our little ones the better because at a certain point, it becomes a habit. Habits are hard to break.”

For more information on EPIC, click this link.

How early intervention makes an EPIC difference in a child’s life

Ethan Vance loves to eat — hardly unusual for any 7-year-old boy.

But it wasn’t always that way. Ethan was born with Down syndrome, two holes in his heart and fluid in his chest. He underwent open heart surgery as a baby.

After five months in the hospital, he was sent home with a surgically placed gastrostomy tube in his chest and a referral for VersAbility Resources.

VersAbility’s Early Prevention and Intervention for Children (EPIC) program didn’t just give Ethan’s mother, Debra, answers. It gave her direction and hands-on support. EPIC supports infants and toddlers with disabilities or delays and their families by providing the services and therapy they need to be successful in school, work, and life.

Ethan wouldn’t eat. He wouldn’t touch food. Robin Drummond, manager of EPIC, set up a therapy team that began making regular visits to the Vance home.

“They were a vital part of his life,” Debra says. “He was excited to see them and still is. He still receives private therapy. Those therapists are his people.”

Two years later, Ethan’s feeding tube was removed. Now at the age of 7, Ethan has a hearty appetite. Debra has relief and gratitude. She paid nothing for the services.

“Thank God for them,” Debra says. “Everyone should be aware of what VersAbility does and what they stand for and what they can do for all people.”

Ethan’s challenge was eating, but therapists from VersAbility Resources can help navigate families through multiple issues through early intervention. Although EPIC is a volunteer programs — parents can use services for some or all of their child’s first three years — many families stay for the duration.

If you have time, visit VersAbility’s YouTube channel here and hear Ethan’s story from Debra herself.

To qualify for one of EPIC’s services, a child must have a 25% delay in one or more developmental areas and demonstrate atypical development in motor or social skills. Children diagnosed with Down syndrome, vision and hearing loss or autism also qualify.

Screenings are free for children under 3 who reside in Newport News and Hampton.

To speak with a representative from the EPIC program, contact Dianne Fennell at (757) 896-8457 or

Miss Robin!

“Miss Robin!”

Robin Drummond never knows when she’s going to hear her name. This time she was in a parking lot, enjoying a car parade to celebrate her son’s graduation from Bethel High.

“Miss Robin!” the same voice shouted. “You’re not going to believe it, Miss Robin. Let me show you.”

Opening a car door, the parent revealed a grown boy inside, grinning ear to ear.

“I don’t know what we would have done without your program.”

Those moments drive Drummond, in her 30th year at VersAbility Resources, a non-profit that serves people of all ages with disabilities to ensure they live, work and thrive in the community.

Drummond started working at what was then the Association for Retarded Citizens, on Sept. 4, 1990, just a few months removed from graduating with a degree in social work from James Madison University.

When she started at JMU, she planned to be a veterinarian until realizing that the sight of blood spooked her. Thumbing through the college catalog to switch majors, the second-semester freshman stumbled on social work and decided, “I think I can do that.”

An internship with a population that included individuals living with disabilities prompted her to pursue that first job, where she was hired as an instructor — later renamed direct support professional. She transitioned into an employment specialist position before moving into a residential social worker role.

Nearly a decade into the job, Drummond discovered her niche, a program called EPIC, which stands for the Early Prevention and Intervention for Children Program. EPIC supports parents and families with infants or toddlers experiencing developmental delays by coordinating tailored therapy to help every child reach his or her potential.

Success stories like the one in the parking lot remind her of the difference the program makes in both a parent’s life and a child’s future.

“I have pictures of some of my babies, my families, of them reaching milestones,” says Drummond, today the EPIC manager. “It means the world.”

Free developmental screenings are provided for any child living in Hampton and Newport News under the age of 3. Parents can seek an assessment for a multitude of reasons; Drummond requested one herself when her son, Michael, wasn’t talking as early as expected.

Diagnoses made in utero — cerebral palsy, fetal alcohol syndrome, neurologic disorders — can lead a parent of a newborn to EPIC, but so, too, can less dire circumstances.

All it takes is a 25% delay in one developmental area to qualify a child for services. A child can also qualify due to a condition that could lead to a developmental delay in the future.

“That category is probably where we see the most children,” Drummond says. “It could be a vision impairment, a hearing impairment; it could be decreased muscle tone, the autism spectrum disorder.”

Any parent with a concern should know this: It’s never too early for early intervention.

“We try to get to the little one before they form some of their habits,” Drummond says. “The earlier we can see the child and start to work the family, the earlier the family can start to implement different techniques and strategies to address the area of concern. Research shows it works. It just works.”

For example, if the concern is that a baby isn’t taking in the proper nutrition during bottle feeding, a therapist can advise on different feeding techniques related to the type of nipple, the size of the nipple, even a more efficient way to hold the bottle.

“It all works together,” Drummond says. “If that baby had low muscle tone in their mouth and never received the support to show them how to  drink more effectively from the bottle, in the end it could result in the baby having more difficulty with communicating and using different types of words.”

Sometimes toddlers learning how to crawl or walk position their feet incorrectly. Braces on ankles can act as stabilizers or shoe inserts might help. Drummond stress neither modification means it has to be forever, but that early intervention is what puts the child on the right path.

When Drummond first started at EPIC, parents brought their child to the office for therapy. Today the staff of nine she manages delivers therapy in the child’s natural environment.

“We go to their homes, we go to Grandma’s house, we go to daycare,” she says. “We go to Chick-fil-A. We really push the coaching model, which is very different from the medical model.”

A therapist at an outpatient clinic might work with a child one-on-one while a parent waits. EPIC empowers parents and other family support to take the lead.

“In our process, the parent is involved. They tell us what they would like to work on when the therapist visits,” Drummond says. “We incorporate the parents, so it is not the therapist doing all of the work.”

That way the work continues after the therapist appointment. The time between appointments when the parent and child work together is how progress is made.

“We push the coaching interactive model,” Drummond says.

Today most physicians embrace the concept of early intervention. Previously, a doctor might have chosen to make a referral when a child grew to be 2 or even 3.

Parents are more know knowledgeable, too, thanks to a plethora of online resources.

“Our parents feel stronger because they have researched it for themselves,” Drummond says.

What hasn’t changed for Drummond three decades after she filled out a paper application for her first job is this, she loves to help people. She owns her own collection of keepsake photos of children who were once babies with a disability who today are achievers as adults.

A couple times a month, someone will stop her and ask, “Did you used to go out to people’s houses and help with kids?”

“Nine times out of 10 it was me,” Drummond says. “That just means so much.”

EPIC alters lives.

“All of our kids we are serving are our future doctors and lawyers and teachers and nurses and entrepreneurs,” she says. “We are helping families provide their children the building blocks for their development.”

Drummond wants parents to know EPIC offers multiple resources they need to ensure their child thrives. She admits COVID-19 presents challenges. Like so much of life today, services are virtual for the time being.

“COVID hasn’t stopped us,” she says. “We meet with our families on the phone or virtually.”

Drummond encourages any parent with a concern to reach out to EPIC.

“We’re here to support our families if they have any concern about how their child is developing. Even if they have a question. We have pre-development screenings.

“We’re here to help.”

To speak with a representative from the EPIC program, please contact Dianne Fennell at 757-896-8457 or

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