“The original plan was to go to the FBI Academy. My dad was in law enforcement. I thought I was going to study behavior and catch criminals. I started working in a group home for adults with special needs when I was at Auburn. That was just for fun, but I fell in love with it and got my master’s in applied behavior analysis. I moved to Mobile on a one-year fellowship and my mission in life became to make the bay area the best place to raise kids with special needs. I was 25 when I adopted my oldest boys. They were toddlers and both had autism and Fragile X. Everyone told me I was crazy and it was a bad decision. But adopting my sons was the best thing I ever did. My children are 18, 17, 4, and 2. The world will always stop for them and they will always come first.
I started a program in 2009 for kids with special needs and saw where the deficits are. I launched The CORE Project in April. Our goal is to create a program that doesn’t exist. We want to follow a child from diagnosis to death. As a parent of children with special needs, my biggest worry is always what is the next step? What happens when my kids turn 21? Right now there is a cliff when they become adults and most educational and support services go away. Parents are forced to quit their job or give up their child to the custody of the state because they can’t care for them. The child goes into a group home. Our goal is to help keep kids at home as long as they can. We are creating a place where special needs children will be safe and receive quality care while we optimize learning at every stage of their life.
Our program is also about enhancing the quality of life for the whole family. It is a big dream and we are going for it. We are getting 15-20 referrals a week. My staff works so hard. They get hit, punched, bit, and everything else for a living, but they care so much for those we are helping. We have clinic-based services that provide therapy. We educate parents about how to help their kids. We have CORE Academy, a private school. CORE stands for Creating Opportunities Reaching Everyone. There is no discrimination. No matter the age, ability, or disability, if you need us, we will provide services for you. CORE Life is a quality job training program that will benefit my son and hundreds of kids like him who have potential and abilities that people don’t know exists. He is worth more than stocking shelves. He is non-vocal. I taught him how to set crab traps and he takes them down to the local crab shop and sells them. It is meaningful and productive for him. That is the life I want for my son.
There is a fear of what happens to the child after the parents pass away. There is also a never-ending fight of where do my kids fit in. What happens when they aren’t invited to birthday parties anymore? When I had my first biological son, I had to make choices of do I stay home with my special needs kids because the babysitter canceled or do we go as a family to watch my son play baseball? What if they have a meltdown? What if they are head-banging on the concrete and I can’t get them up? So many what-ifs. Some families can’t go out to eat or church together. Kids who haven’t had a haircut in ten years. My boys live pandemonium every day. Change is hard for them. Routines change, and losing predictability or stability sets them off. The entire world is facing right now what they face every day.
There is strength in community. The more we enhance this community with passion and drive, the greater connections we will make. It takes many people to raise kids with special needs and we need support. We have to put our feet on the ground and do the things that make this world a better place. We need community experiences for our children and more places that will welcome our families. We want to get our kids out into real life and train them. Volunteer or help out a family who has a child with special needs. Take yourself out of your comfortable shoes and spend some time where things may be harder
I would risk everything if I knew it would make a difference in someone’s world. Every child and adult deserves a chance. We have to take dis out of ability and focus on what these people can do. If we focus on what they can do, we are going to have a more productive society.”