By Sara Kuang, FCSN Teen Volunteer
The mere mention of the acronym opens a very special place in my mind where warm snapshots of my childhood reside. Vignettes from the years I spent as a joyful, eager member of their Drama and Music Camps, and Saturday Gatherings cascade over relatively recent memories of being a volunteer at those same programs. I’ve been a member of FCSN for 13 years now, three of them as a volunteer, and every time I walk into the building, the feelings of love and happiness that emanate from each person is truly something I won’t trade for anything else in the world.
Friends of Children of Special Needs serves to love and support special needs individuals of all ages and walks of life. The doors of this close-knit community are flung wide open to every family with special needs children here in the Bay Area with numerous programs lovingly designed to enrich children and nurture them into successful, confident members of society. FCSN provides job training, life-skills classes, and even housing for adult clients to truly ensure all individuals with special needs find and utilize their own potential to the fullest.
Not only does FCSN give tremendous opportunities to the special needs community it serves, the nonprofit also provides unique, life-changing experiences for its volunteers as well. I’ve made close friends with so many of the people here and I truly consider the forever youthful program coordinators and founders to be part of my extended family. Every single special needs buddy I was paired up with to teach and support also taught me invaluable lessons in patience, endurance and love. I cherish each moment I had with every one of my buddies, even the difficult times, and it still astounds me now how vibrant and joyful they all are. I remember how much of a workout I had trying to catch up with a buddy racing up and down the halls in excitement. I remember staying with my buddy in the quiet bathroom throughout an entire Saturday Gathering trying to comfort her through the bathroom stall door as she struggled with sensory overload. But I also remember laughing with my buddy as we both danced wildly to “Can’t Stop the Feeling” and the overwhelming pride and joy I felt when my buddy called to me “Jie Jie!” (“Big Sister!”) as she came running to envelope me in a hug.
The strength and fortitude that the children with special needs and their parents have will always inspire and humble me. One buddy that I helped was most striking in her perseverance. I met her at a Saturday Gathering when my scheduled buddy was absent. I was moving to help my fellow volunteers with their buddies when I noticed her, a wheelchair-bound woman sitting at the far end of the arts and crafts table alone with her caretaker. The woman had lachrymose eyes and graying hair and was struggling to follow along with the craft we were making. I had never seen her at our program before, nor had I experience in helping older individuals, but I sidled over anyway to make her feel welcome. I helped and interacted with her all throughout the other classes as well, doing my best to make her feel loved and comfortable by talking about my week and asking her about her favorite activities; she always replied with dancing. It was evident that she was deeply passionate about it. When we spelled out our names together with blocks, played hangman, or drew on the white board, she would spell out “dancing” or try her best to draw a stick figure twirling. By the end, we were both smiling and enjoying each other’s company and we took a picture together as well. I found out later from a program coordinator that she had been the dancing teacher at FCSN many years ago until a motor neuron condition confined her to a wheelchair. I was at loss of words. I could not fathom how she could still derive joy from dancing and attending the very programs she had helped to coordinate before. At that moment, I realized the depth of courage and strength that the families at FCSN had and I was struck by how they could all still smile and love despite such struggle. I understood what a vital haven FCSN was and gained a deeper level of respect than I had before for all the buddies I helped, their families, and the program founders for creating such a nurturing, vibrant community for special needs. It truly was a momentous experience and I’m still very humbled today.
I can confidently say that I have a lifelong love for the special needs community everywhere. Through volunteering at FCSN, I’ve seen hope and joy as I’ve never seen anywhere else and I consider my experiences as a member and a volunteer to be one of the most rewarding I’ve ever had in my life. FCSN has shaped my character in the most prominent and profound ways and because of my involvement, I’m firmly determined to advocate for the special needs community as much as I can. My love and passion for FCSN and the special needs community spurred me to co-found a branch of FCSN at my high school with friends and join a college research team on autism. I will never stop speaking out for and lifting the special needs community up in everything I do.
Thank you so much FCSN for the wonderful memories I’ve made over the years. Here’s to many more.