On a nondescript stretch of Mission Street—straddling the trendier Mission, Castro and SoMa districts—is the location of the offices of Support for Families of Children with Disabilities (SFF). While this area showcases little of the historic charm for which San Francisco is renowned, inside 1663 Mission, an elevator ride away on the seventh floor, some history of a different sort is being made daily.
A pioneering concept of a community of support is being built by SFF–client by client–with families helping each other become effective advocates for their children with special needs.
JoAnna Van Brusselen (photo right), came to SFF as a client a few years back, later being groomed to work at this nonprofit that is a vital partner of the Mission Promise Neighborhood (MPN). JoAnna’s background in social services in the Mission made her a natural fit. Success has definitely been achieved over the past two years, with 45 Spanish-speaking clients turned mentors under JoAnna’s auspices.
How do clients turn into mentors? It’s actually an integral facet of SFF’s model: a new client comes to the nonprofit to obtain information and education about their child’s special needs and enlist support for themselves; as they learn and gain experience, many want to “pay it forward” by becoming a mentor to other parents new to the program. More than 130 parents and family members have completed SFF’s comprehensive training to become “Parent Mentors.”
Take the case of Gloria Diaz Galicia (photo left), a doting mother of three living in San Francisco’s Excelsior District, who came through the welcoming doors of SFF two years ago when her oldest son, then five, was diagnosed as having language delays. Gloria knew that her husband’s father had not spoken until he was seven years of age, so there was a possible genetic element; however, the root of the problem was secondary to immediately bettering her son’s academic experience.
Gloria needed help. Help on how to advocate for her son. Help in learning how to use the correct terms to garner that assistance for her child.
After seeking such help in various locales, with little success, a friend counseled Gloria to come to SFF.
That’s where JoAnna stepped in. She explains, “At Support for Families, we lend support. The staff works to help the parent learn how to stand up for their child’s rights.”
These rights are defined under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal law that ensures access to vital educational services for children with disabilities. IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to the millions of infants, toddlers, children and youths with disabilities and special needs.
Once Gloria was taught how to speak on behalf of her son, becoming his staunchest advocate, the youngster started to do better in school. He is now in the second grade and is on an upward trajectory.
The need for SFF remains for Gloria, as her youngest son was recently determined to also having language delays. This diagnosis was made when the youngster participated in an Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) screening, which Support for Families conducts at the Mission Neighborhood Health Center (MNHC), another MPN partner.
While JoAnna is gladly prepared to offer Gloria assistance again, the latter is starting at a much better point, with knowledge of how to deal with the issues in front of her.
Sums up an enthusiastic Gloria, “Support for Families has been amazing. They truly help parents who don’t know their children’s rights. The ‘Parent Mentor Program’ provides support on both sides. It continues to help me.”
SFF continues to build a community of support—one that has kept growing day by day over the past 32 years. It’s history in the making.