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November 14, 2007 > Children with special needs find a second home

Children with special needs find a second home

By Justine Yan

At any given time, Friends of Children with Special Needs (FCSN) in Fremont is brimming with activity. On Saturdays for instance, Shaolin monks demonstrate martial arts followed by a yoga class.

Now serving developmentally disabled children of more than 500 families throughout the Bay Area, FCSN facilities are growing to match a rising need for their services. The thriving East Bay center located in Fremont, affectionately named the "Dream Center," was completed last year. This is an integral part of FCSN's "Dream Project" of more than 35 programs scattered throughout the South Bay. Recently FCSN directors have explored the possibility of a center in the South Bay as well.

"We develop all our programs and grow our organization as parents... We want our children to become productive citizens just as any other parents would," said Anna Wang, a current board member and the local programs director.

To Wang, the continual growth of FCSN has come about through "leaps of faith." The organization started with small, tentative steps 14 years ago. Anna and her husband Albert suffered a blow when their son, Lawrence, was diagnosed with autism. They faced a long and complicated process to get professional help for their child even though Albert is a physician. The dream for a better future began to grow, as the Wangs joined with five other families with special needs children. Four concerned families with typically developing children also joined this search for hope and love in the community.

With a goal to secure lifelong support, FCSN envisions a setting in which special needs children are given an opportunity to participate in activities that normally developing children enjoy daily. Programs include cooking classes, soccer camps, dancing groups, mental math classes, and much more. FCSN realizes that, given a chance, a child with special needs can achieve more than many would imagine possible.

Ivy Wu, vice president of the Fremont Unified School District Board of Education, now serves as executive director. She noted that FCSN was created with a "village" concept. "People are there because they find it a home, and everyone just pitches in," said Wu. "Everybody wants to help each other out, and we want to make sure that the home is maintained properly."

To this day, FCSN puts an emphasis on community integration and family support. "We have a firm belief that there is no future for the child if the family is falling apart," said Anna. Every Saturday, alternating between East Bay and South Bay locations, there is a regular gathering. While children participate in arts and crafts, games, dancing, and other activities, adults attend instructional seminars given by guest speakers. Topics discussed provide parents with a range of practical and emotional support.

An 85 percent divorce rate between parents of special needs children indicates a critical need for emotional support for parents. Anna says that coping is especially difficult in Asian families. "Asian parents don't get divorced. It's not the popular thing to do," she says. As result, the relationships within a family are strained.

"Everyone reacts to the news differently," continued Anna. "A lot of people think that all the dreams and hopes are shattered. Some parents cannot switch gears, and they're still thinking 'My child is going to Harvard.' A lot of people are in denial."

The original cluster of closely-knit families decided to create FCSN as an outreach to the Chinese community. They understood the additional difficulty of new immigrants who were faced with anguish and a sense of desperation.

"Because, besides not knowing how to navigate the system...comes along the Chinese stigma that having a special needs child means there is something wrong with the parents," said Anna. Wu says FCSN is expanding beyond the Chinese community; Latino, Korean, and other ethnicities are seen in the center as well. The unique model of FCSN has been called the first of its kind in the Bay Area.

A major goal of FCSN is to help couples work out the kinks in their communication. Speakers give talks on stress relief, and conflicts are resolved. To Anna, parents have the biggest influence over a child's life. Most of a child's time is spent at home, with his or her parents as the teachers. It is FCSN's vision to empower parents to help their own children.

Wu and Wang are both particularly pleased to see volunteers during the regular gatherings on Saturdays, when normal high school kids can be seen flowing in and out of classrooms, holding the little hands of children, or guiding older kids by the shoulders. Though it may seem like two different worlds, inside and outside of the FCSN family, on these days, the same type of smile dwells on all faces.

"It seems like we're serving the special needs community," said Wu, "But actually, the special needs community is serving us."

Friends of Children with Special Needs
2300 Peralta Blvd., Fremont
(510) 739-6900

Fundraising Gala
Sat., Nov. 17
6:30 p.m.
Santa Clara Convention Center
5001 Great America Pkwy, Santa Clara
(510) 739-6900

$75 per person

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