VersAbility Resources’ Renea Banks understands.
Her title for the Hampton-based nonprofit is Chief Human Resources Officer, but long before accepting that position, she was a parent of a child with a disability.
“I sit at both seats on the table,” Renea says. “I identify a lot with my families. If there are frustrations happening on the parent level, I am able to talk to them with a unique perspective.”
She knows what it’s like to be scared, frustrated, uncertain. She’s cried and she’s turned to Google for answers. Renea’s youngest son, Ehran, was born with White Sutton Syndrome, a condition characterized by autism that is so rare that he was thought to be only one of 25 individuals in the world with that disability when he was diagnosed in 2015.
The information out there about the condition was extremely limited, among the reasons why the Banks family and another started the White Sutton Foundation. They wanted to help others navigate what can feel like an overwhelming and lonely road.
Renea used to fret about the lack of solutions until she nearly lost Ehran when he was 5-months-old. It was a harrowing experience. Her older son, Brey, was allowed into the intensive care unit to say his goodbyes. Renea Banks turned to God in that moment and prayed, “Give him to me any way you see fit. You won’t get a complaint out of me anymore.”
Ehran lived. And today his mother lives those words.
“It took me five months to see that the worst thing was not that my child was disabled,” she says. “ The worst thing in life would be for me to bury my child.”
Prior to VersAbility, Renea didn’t have a good experience the first time she received a referral for a provider. The therapists were negative about Ehran’s future. She then asked for a second referral that directed her to VersAbility. Support from VersAbility’s Early Prevention and Intervention for Children Program (EPIC) made all the difference for Ehran and his family.
VersAbility’s Service Coordinators assess a child’s needs and coordinates tailored therapy programs to ensure children reach their full potential and are ready for school. EPIC is a family-centered approach that provides parents and caregivers with support and training in developmental milestones, parenting techniques and therapy techniques.
“I asked all the same questions and braced myself for the same negativity and I didn’t get any of that,” Renea says. “I got a lot of positives, a lot of, ‘I don’t see why not. It’s up to him.’ ”
Prior to working with VersAblity’s therapists, Ehran never made a sound. He didn’t cry. He rarely moved. He was unresponsive.
Through VersAbility’s EPIC program, Ehran learned to vocalize and communicate — today he’s especially enthusiastic about Bruno Mars music and snagging his mother’s cell phone. He tracks the movement of others with his eyes. He holds his own cup. He’s attended school.
“It was a slow progression, but he progressed,” Renea says. “There were things he wasn’t able to do but he was Superman in other things.”
It was a few years later, in 2019, when Renea spotted the posting from VersAbility seeking a Chief Human Resources Officer.
“I never in a million years thought I’d be working for them,” she says.
Renea loves and embraces the diverse culture at VersAbility. She likes the collaboration. She is part of a leadership team that values inclusion and passion for the advancement of people with disabilities.
She is grateful for the professional culture there that not only encourages her to use her voice but also listen to it.
“VersAbility is the real deal,” she says. “People think we’re a charity or we’re just doing this out of the goodness of our hearts. These are real people doing real work. They’re amazing. We make a difference. If other organizations would open up their hearts and minds, they would not discount people with disabilities.”