Student Impact hires new staff to make a difference in special needs students


By Renee Larr

Student Impact in Westfield recently noticed a trend in its clientele.

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“We noticed over the last year and a half or so that we’re serving about 27 percent special needs kids, in terms of autism and Down syndrome. I have two special needs kids myself,” SI Executive Director Danyele Easterhaus said. “It’s been really awesome to see things culminate and to give them a safe place in the city. They just blend in here.”

With so many special needs students, Easterhaus thought it would be a good idea to bring in someone who could understand their needs. She recently hired Eric Burden as an assistant programming director. Burden has special needs himself.

“Eric is a graduate of Anderson University but a product of the special needs community. He grew up going through special needs classes and being told he was going to be on the non-diploma track,” Easterhaus said. “He really pushed himself, and he did it. He graduated from high school. He graduated from college, too. He is a really interesting guy. I’m not a special needs kid, so I don’t know how to serve them. Eric can tell us what works really well for a special needs kid and what doesn’t.”

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Burden will work with Programming Director Terry Lee to not only create programs for the kids but also to work with the kids.

“He’s at The Rock (the Student Impact meeting place) all the time when the kids are there. He is able to bring a new way of looking at things,” Easterhaus said. “The special needs kids, they get what they need at school but the social portion is very hard for them to get outside of school. With Eric, we’re hoping we’re not only providing additional services but we have a better understanding of how to serve them specifically.”

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