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November 5, 2008 > Expanding the Dream

Expanding the Dream

By Justine Yan
Photos By courtesy of Jim Chiao and FCSN

When "Joe Jr." walked into the auditorium of the Friends of Children with Special Needs (FCSN) Fremont Center in September, the whole room erupted with delight. A famous Chinese-Portuguese pop singer in Hong Kong during the 60's, his performances of "You Are My Sunshine" and other familiar songs brought an air of excitement into the room of developmentally disabled adults enrolled in FCSN's Adult Day Program. In videos posted of "Joe Jr.'s Visit" on the organization's website, every member of the audience was clapping along with the music.

Since it was founded in 1996, FCSN has expanded its network and become better known as an organization working to serve the community by providing quality care and support to special needs children and their families. Over the years, many performers have volunteered their time and contributed their diverse talents to the annual FCSN Fundraising Gala.

This year, Limin Hu and Jim Chiao, co-chairs of the FCSN Fundraising Gala organizing committee, were excited to add Joe Jr. to the program. During the Nov 15 event, the IDEA Band with members from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao and Finland, will accompany the singer.

To Hu and Chiao, the Sept. 5 visit was a wonderful and personal glimpse at the true talent and passion that Joe Jr. will share with the gala audience. "We want a performer to play from his heart and really enjoy helping us," said Hu. "We're looking for ambassadors to help us, not just performers [to] come, [and] sing a few songs."

"We have planned a very fun-filled night," said Hu. After the performances, the IDEA Band will play dance music for guests who wish to stay a bit longer. And the special needs children will be the stars of the show. In past years, the audience has been touched by the beautiful music produced by the kids, sitting in front of their drums and pianos, standing in front of microphones.

Many developmentally disabled children have a genius for music. They really have a feel for the beat and the melody, said Hu. The "Magic Beatles" Band, the Tiny Bubbles Hawaii Hula Dance group, and young drum soloist Andrew Wilson are just a few of the featured dancers and musicians. It seems that every FCSN child has something to perform onstage, a skit, a carefully memorized dance or an impromptu song. Many hours have been dedicated throughout the year to learning and rehearsing these performances.

"It's great for the kids, because music is something that moves everyone..." said Hu. "Music is a way to connects [special needs children] with others." Approximately 900 guests attended last year, raising $250,000 for FCSN.

The organization's services are open to all special needs families, and FCSN is currently looking to gain as much support from the public as possible. This fundraiser is critical to FCSN's current programs and future operations. As a certified local vendor for special needs services, FCSN receives some funding from the government mainly through regional agencies, but that support is not sufficient, says Hu.

"You know that the economy's tough, and so the government's funding is very minimal," he said. "Even if they give 10 dollars per hour per kid, you find that it is very tight budget." To maintain high quality services to the community, the Fremont center operates with an annual budget of approximately $1.5 million. Center-based programs include 25 local programs throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

Money collected from the public sources, grants and private sponsorship is put to immediate good use, said Hu. Recently, FCSN rented facilities to establish a South Bay Center in San Jose, where a new Adult Day Program and After School Program have been started. "We need money from the public to help us to enrich and grow our programs," said Hu. "Without additional funding, it will be very tough to grow into a new area or start to offer new programs."

The bi-weekly "East Bay Regular Gathering," held in the Fremont Center on Saturdays, is just one of the programs that would not exist without private support. Regular gatherings include parent seminars, and a range of classes in dance, exercise, music, and arts and crafts for the children.

"[For] any new program, the initial startup funding is donated by the public. Once it's up and running, we want to be self-sufficient," Hu said. In the past, FCSN member parents and representatives have protested the proposed state budged cuts on education. "There is talk every year," said Co-Chair Jim Chiao. Every time they say 'budget cut,' they mention special needs education."

These funding challenges have spurred FCSN efforts to find new sources of funding for current programs while addressing other pressing needs, said Hu. "We just want to make sure that we are prepared no matter what." Families with special needs kids have many financial difficulties, he explained, because they need to spend more time taking care of kids, and often, only one of the parents can go to work. In addition, treatment and special accommodations for special needs individuals are "so expensive." Each family also has to worry about setting aside money for their child's future, when the parents may no longer be able to care for him.

"If we can relieve that effort, provide free service, provide knowledge, and then help the parents, that will be tremendous for the community," said Hu.

One of the primary goals of the gala will be to share information with FCSN's major donors, so that they will continue to provide their support. Each year, the organizing committee also introduces hundreds of community members to the gala, in order to promote FCSN's mission statement and celebrate the children's success.

"We are inviting new people, different people into our gala every year, so people will see how far we have come," said Hu.

Hu and Chiao are also thankful for all the non-monetary support FCSN has received from the community as well. Hundreds of volunteers, including teenagers that play with the children, Buddhist monks that teach martial lessons, and even a famous singer preparing to "sing with his heart" during the Fundraising Gala, have contributed their efforts to "expanding the dream."

"We are participating in a lot of activities just to help others and to demonstrate we can be an active part of the community, an integrated part of the community," said Hu. "Just the fact that we are spreading our spirit, I think, is helping a lot of the people."

"Expanding Our Dream" Fundraising Gala
Saturday, Nov. 15
6:30 - 10 p.m.
Santa Clara Convention Center
5001 Great American Pkwy, Santa Clara
Contact Josephine Chou at (510) 739-6900 for tickets.

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