What We Do

“My disability exists not because I use a wheelchair, but because the broader environment isn’t accessible” – Stella Young 

I grew up playing in cornfields, catching lightening bugs, and pretending my collection of baby dolls were real. I am a midwestern girl who learned through osmosis what power women had in this world. It was demonstrated early on that I could be anything or do anything I set my mind to. 


I was the only girl sandwiched between two adoring brothers; though I only had two siblings, my mother came from a family of 5 girls and 3 boys. My Aunts and Uncles showed me how one set of parents doesn’t raise a child. It indeed takes a herd.

One aspect of parenting that wasn’t demonstrated in my family was how to care for a disabled child, Previous to the early 1960s children with disabilities were institutionalized or hidden away. Indeed my relatives, born in the late 1920s and 30s tried to convince me that putting my disabled child in a home was the best action for our family. In 1963 President John F. Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Act, which promoted community-based care as an alternative to institutionalization.

Many community programs have been established but caring for a disabled child at home is costly, stressful, and often overwhelming. Like President Kennedy, who was undoubtedly moved to create the Community Mental Health act because of his sister’s needs, we have created the Steelman Family Foundation to lessen the burden for families. We have been there, are still living it, and know the reality of being a caregiver 24/7.

Our commitment to you is to find friends, family, and community who are prepared to share their wisdom, encourage you, and lift you up, figuratively and literally!

I am a veteran of the US Navy and have a special place in my heart for our veterans families raising and caring for disabled children. Even though medical care is provided to members of the military, moving, being separated from family and having to establish new relationships in new cities and countries every few years adds stress to an already stressful life. States vary with programs and available services. Leaving a state that has facilities in place is heart-wrenching. . Our foundation serves our military; we make sure a percentage of our grants are awarded to military families every year.

The Steelman Family is proud to finally announce the formation of our foundation.

We are dedicated to giving back to the community that has given so much to them. In 1985 the Steelman’s welcomed their last child into the family. With three brothers and two sisters anxiously waiting for the new baby to come home, the entire family was surprised and saddened when a complicated birth resulted in the baby staying in the hospital for an extended amount of time. When mom and dad finally brought TJ home, he came home with lots of equipment and a devastating diagnosis, cerebral palsy.

Having a severely disabled child changes the lives of the entire family. Parenting time is unequally divided, vacations and special occasions are subdued or maybe even canceled forever. Our family has been blessed with friends and family who stepped in to provide respite, a school district that not only welcomed but embraced our child, and insurance that paid for equipment and therapy. Transportation was something we had to figure out for ourselves and our son was thirteen before we could afford a van that allowed our family to once again travel to events and be together on outings.

Through the foundation and its board of directors, SFF focuses its activities in the Portland and SW Washington area. Through special events like the annual “Boo Who?” a family focused Halloween event held every October, SFF raises funding to support families touched by various disabilities focusing mostly on Cerebral Palsy and Autism. Transportation, scholarships, respite care, caregiver support activities are just a few of the ways SFF gives back.

We use an elephant in our logo for many reasons. Here are the top 10:


Elephants produce several types of sounds.
They can hear one another’s trumpeting up to 6 miles. They know every member of their herd and recognize up to 30 companions by sight or smell. Our children are often are non-verbal. We learn to communicate in other ways and get to know our children’s desires and needs through association and love.


Touching is an important form of communication among elephants.
Just as we embrace our loved ones, elephants wrap their trunks. They also use their trunks to put junior in their place when needed!


Elephants feel the loss of loved ones, grieve and even cry.
They are highly sensitive and caring. if a baby elephant complains, the entire family will rumble and go over to caress and sooth it.  They are one of few non-human animals to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Elephants are the only non-human animals to perform burial rituals and return to visit graves.


Elephants can move forward and backward but are too heavy to jump.
Those of use who have children in wheelchairs know the feeling! We can push or direct our kiddos but lifting those chairs is impossible.


Elephant’s skin is very tough but extremely sensitive.
Sensory disorders, allergies, and contact wounds are a constant battle for our family members.


Elephants recognize themselves in a mirror!
Cerebral Palsy often restricts the physical ability to speak or move. It doesn’t affect the mental capacity of many of our children. Our kids hear, understand, and are fully cognizant of their surroundings and what is being said to them and about them. They know who they are!


Elephants form female-led, tight-knit groups consisting of a dominant matriarch.
Living in groups makes it safer and gives each mother more time to care and teach the young. We too understand that mothers are often the caregivers to disabled children and depend on other mothers for inspiration, information, and a shoulder to cry on.


Elephants seem to understand what other elephants are feeling.
They have demonstrated compassion and empathy. We get it. We are here for each other.


Baby elephants can’t see very well at first. 
They recognize their mothers by touch, scent, and sound. Sound familiar?


Female elephants stay with the herd for life.
We get it as moms! Even though our children may grow up, they are always our babies, and some of them require the same amount of care for a lifetime.

Board of Directors