Founder of Exceptional Parents Unlimited retires

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A fixture in the Valley's nonprofit community has retired after nearly four decades of service. The founder of Exceptional Parents Unlimited -- Marion Karian -- stepped down on Friday in front of hundreds of staff, students and community members.

A lifetime of applause might not be enough to thank Karian for her 38 years of service. Instead, she started off her retirement luncheon by thanking everyone else.

"Thank you to the children whose sweet faces have kept me motivated every day," Karian told attendees.

In 1976, Karian started Exceptional Parents Unlimited as a support group for families with children born with Down syndrome.

The mother of one of the original babies says EPU pulled her out of despair.

"We had no clue of what to do, how to take care of my son and what the future lay ahead. We couldn't do it without EPU," said Jo Anne Vanetti.

Countless stories like that were shared on Friday.

"Thanks to the legacy that Marion has left behind, my child, our children in this community now have a place and they have a face," said EPU board member Zoua Vang.

Many of the speakers and those in attendance were grateful parents of children with special needs.

"It was amazing because at the time she was very frustrated not being able to tell me things, and the speech therapy gave her sign language and speech," said Carolyn Tellalian.

"She's great. I'm gonna miss her," said former EPU student Stephen Zimmerman.

Missed but not gone. Karian's legacy lives on. The center now serves 800 families with a budget of close to $7 million.

EPU is now in the hands of a new director -- Ellen Knapp.

"I am honored to be part of EPU, and I made the promise to Marion and to the staff that we will continue in this community," said Knapp.

Carrying on one woman's dream that gave so many families hope.

Action News anchor Christine Park had the honor of emceeing Friday's event.

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