This blog is authored by Anna Kuang, a dedicated member of FCSN for over 10 years and current high school volunteer.
“Today we’re going to make Rice Krispies! Everyone, get your marshmallows and line up at the microwave!” Children eagerly rush to the small black microwave perched on the minifridge, Styrofoam bowls of mini marshmallows in hand. They hop in place, impatient as the child in front gets their twenty seconds to melt marshmallows. The large room echoes with vocalizations of excitement.
It’s 2008 and I am four years old, a student in FCSN’s afterschool cooking class.
“Welcome to FCSN’s first annual Drama Camp! Presenting… the Lion King!” The voice of the program director, Kathy, rings high above the bustling crowd of excited parents and children. I am sitting in a soft chair in the New Hope Church, wearing an elephant costume —- a large white bandana with black spots and a backwards blue cap with the face of an elephant glued to it. The narrator walks into the spotlight and delivers his first lines. I rush onstage and help unfurl the banner painted with an African sunrise as the first triumphant notes of “The Circle of Life” pierce the air.
It’s 2012 and I am eight years old, a dancer for FCSN’s first drama camp play, The Lion King. I will be a drama camper for the next eight years.
The Lion King Drama Camp 2012 Part 1 (I am the one in the green shirt onstage)
2011 FCSN Family Day — “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” Dance (I am front row third from right)
“So, do you want to go dance,” I point to the room down the hall, “or do you want to do arts and crafts?” I point to the mini library to my left. I stand there in silence for a moment. The girl I am helping glances first at the dancing room, where “Macarena” pulses loudly, and then at the much quieter mini library, filled with little kids coloring pictures. She looks down, unsure.
“Okay let’s go dancing, and if you think the music is too loud, we’ll go do arts and crafts. Or do a puzzle!” I talk to her, complimenting her dancing and puzzle solving skills. I put an arm over her shoulder and we make our way to the doorway of the dance room. “YMCA” is now playing.
In no time, the girl who was so quiet previously is waving her hands and bouncing on her feet, moving to the music in ways I couldn’t even try to copy. I clap along, and tears almost well in my eyes.
It’s 2019 and I am fifteen years old, a volunteer for FCSN’s East Bay Family Gathering.
“So, which is bigger,” I gesture with a hand at a picture of a field mouse and Golden Retriever, “the dog or the mouse?” I watch on my screen as one of my students stares at the screen. He thinks for a moment, and then yells out the answer, loud enough that I must take out my earbud.
Giddy excitement fills me. I want to get up from my chair and pump my fist in the air, but I must settle for a wide smile and clapping. “Yeah! A dog is bigger! Good job!! You’re doing AMAZING.”
It’s 2020 and I am sixteen years old, a volunteer for FCSN’s Virtual Social Group that takes place on Zoom.
Friends of Children with Special Needs is a nonprofit organization dedicated to enriching the lives of special needs families and individuals and integrating them into the community; these four snapshots are but moments in the deluge of warm memories the organization has given me. Over the course of thirteen years (and counting!), not only have I experienced FCSN through the eyes of a member in their classes and camps, but also as a high school volunteer in the last two years. Through my unique perspective, I have realized more and more that my life is not the only one FCSN has changed forever. For the thousands of special needs families across the East and South Bays, Friends of Children with Special Needs is a ray of hope, a priceless organization that wholeheartedly supports individuals with special needs with a myriad of classes and programs led by those who love them fiercely. Offering many programs from arts and crafts classes and dance camps for children and teenagers to invaluable job training and even apartments for adults, the organization truly enriches the lives of thousands of individuals, allowing them to reach their potential and live a happy and productive life.
Throughout my relationship with this phenomenal organization, I have had the privilege of watching my friends grow from withdrawn children into confident teenagers, and eventually employed adults with well-developed support systems. A proud smile always spreads on my face when I see my friends improve as a result of FCSN programs, whether it is a subtle increase in their vocabulary and verbal fluency, or they are applying for paratransit on their own for the first time.
Most importantly, FCSN has instilled in me a deep lifelong love for the special needs community and all the amazing children, adults, parents, aunts, and uncles that are part of it. It is because of this love that I look forward to leading my social group every Saturday and joyfully prepare every slide and video I share with my students. And it is because of this love that my friends and I created a branch of FCSN at our school, Mission San Jose High School, to welcome more FCSN volunteers and spread advocacy and support for special needs families beyond the Bay Area. Finally, Friends of Children with Special Needs has made me determined that regardless of the path I choose to walk in the future, I will always lift up the special needs community, be it in advocacy, research or volunteering.
Thank you FCSN. Thank you for undertaking the necessary and extremely rewarding task of supporting the special needs community. And thank you for giving thousands of volunteers like me a chance to make a difference, and to love your community and be loved back. For that I am forever grateful. ❤
Image source: FCSN Youtube page
Image source: fcsn1996.org