09/26/2013 04:32 pm ET Updated Nov 26, 2013

How Our Legal Advocacy Helps a Child, a Family, and the Community

Children's Law Center measures success by looking at the improvements in the lives of each individual child we meet. When we help a child, we see the child's family get stronger as well. Often, this ripple effect continues into the community. Betty Washington is both an extraordinary and typical example of the ripple effect.

Ms. Washington shared her story at our annual Helping Children Soar Benefit last week in front of a rapt audience of 450 guests at the Kennedy Center's Roof Terrace Restaurant. She told them that she couldn't get school officials to take her daughter's severe health issues seriously until she was represented by a lawyer from Children's Law Center. With our help, Ms. Washington secured the accommodations she needed at school so that her daughter could learn -- and the help she needed at home in order to properly care for her daughter.

But I asked Ms. Washington to speak at the Benefit not only because of the obstacles she faced before she came to Children's Law Center, nor because of the incredible improvement there has been in Journey's and her own life since they received our help. I wanted Ms. Washington to share her story because, empowered by her experience, she has gone on to help innumerable others.

At four years old, Journey was diagnosed with narcolepsy and cataplexy, a pair of rare and somewhat mysterious conditions, especially for such young children. It would have been understandable for Ms. Washington to focus on helping her daughter and go no further. But from the beginning, Ms. Washington made it her mission to educate everyone she could: the teachers and administrators who would be supporting Journey, other parents of children with narcolepsy, and doctors working with families facing the disease.

Ms. Washington was instrumental in starting a parents' support group through Children's National Medical Center. One of these meetings became a nationally broadcast webinar, and it included a Children's Law Center lawyer explaining children's educational rights. Ms. Washington was also a panelist at a national conference earlier this year, and her story was so moving that she inspired a forthcoming special issue of the journal Behavioral Sleep Medicine on narcolepsy from the patient perspective.

And going even further, Ms. Washington is already teaching Journey to give back as well. Journey is enrolled in a national research project on pediatric narcolepsy, and with her therapist she's written a book on how living with narcolepsy and cataplexy makes her feel, so other children will know they aren't alone.

As you can see, Ms. Washington is an extraordinary advocate and educator. But she is also typical of the generosity that I regularly witness from families we have helped who, with little money or resources, share what they can with their neighbors. From Journey to Ms. Washington and beyond -- to the District, other families facing narcolepsy, and even part of the medical community -- our work has set off a ripple of positive outcomes.