Thelma Duffey, ACA's 64th president
Thelma Duffey, ACA’s 64th president

The Rolling Stones were a popular group when I attended my first junior high school dance. My memories of the dance are good ones, complete with great music and good friends. I remember spending that day picking out my outfit, listening to music and counting down the hours until my friend, Paul, and his mother arrived (yes, she drove us there!). This is a fairly common recollection of a young girl’s early Wonder Years-esque experience with new friends at a new school. As far as adolescence goes, it was a central developmental milestone in my life.

As counselors, we know such milestones do not arrive easily for every young person, nor do all children get the opportunity to enjoy them. This is sometimes the case for children suffering from serious medical illnesses or who have special needs. And yet, when these opportunities are possible, as they were for Allen, a pretty incredible young man with whom I once worked, they can be impactful for all involved. Allen suffered from a debilitating brain tumor, and reaching the milestone of attending a school dance was exceedingly exciting — for him, for his family and for me.

About 25 years after I attended my own first dance, I was working with Corina, a young girl with spina bifida, who invited me to another truly memorable dance event. This dance was sponsored by a local university and a spina bifida organization. That weekend, I spent time with a group of folks who, in addition to being wonderfully bright, friendly and a whole lot of fun, left an indelible imprint on my mind and in my heart.

I came across pictures of Allen and Corina the other day that brought back so many memories. With a cane in one hand and a date by his side, a dressed-up Allen, complete with suit, tie and boutonniere, was beaming. Corina’s picture also showcased an animated smile, and I can still remember how excited she was when the day of the dance finally arrived.

At this point in our profession’s development, we have made tremendous strides with respect to information and education related to working with children with special needs. Thankfully, our information base continues to grow. Through advocacy and education, the American Counseling Association and its divisions such as the American Rehabilitation Counseling Association do a wonderful job of supporting counselors in their work and empowering people with different abilities. ARCA, a long-established division of ACA, focuses on expanding opportunities in employment, education and leisure activities, while also increasing legislative action and public awareness on these issues. If you are interested in learning more about how to provide effective and skillful rehabilitative counseling services and sharing your own knowledge and experience, ARCA ( is an excellent resource. You can also read Counseling Today‘s article about counselors who help children and families with special needs.

We all have stories to tell, and today I have shared some of my own. Our stories remind us of the important people who helped shape us. Our stories connect us with the times in our lives when we made important decisions and when our passions were ignited. Our stories can also inform and inspire our next steps. I am excited by the next steps we are taking as a profession. I am inspired by our focus on social action and advocacy. And I am encouraged to know that if we — as counselors coming together — unite and invest, we can make a notable difference in many stories that are yet to be told. Will you join me? I hope so!

Wishing you all the best,