By: Shayla Kumaresan
Anna Wang is one of the co-founders of FCSN, inspired and driven by the autism diagnosis of her son, Lawrence. During the 25 years since a group of parents came together, Anna has helped create many programs for children, adults, and families, fostered a sense of community, and been an outspoken advocate for the rights of special needs individuals. Through countless challenges, Anna has stayed motivated with the mantra of never giving up, always having hope, and trusting that it would bring happiness.
Lawrence was diagnosed with autism when he was three years old. At the time, only 1 in every 1500 children had the diagnosis of autism, which was quite rare. Since then, the number has increased rapidly, with recent statistics showing 1 in 54 children having autism. Lawrence was non-verbal, restrained socially, developmentally delayed, and had self-injurious behaviors. Today, he works as a professional musician in the community, works in an office, and works at a department store. His success has a lot to do with the help and support from FCSN.
FCSN’s mission has always been to help children with special needs and their families to find love, hope, and support through integrated community involvement. They do this through their three main programs.
The first is their enrichment programs. Community recreation programs typically do not accomodate children with special needs. Thus FCSN created camps and programs for special needs children and adults to participate in, and to develop their skills and talents. These include social skills classes, drama camps, music camps, and sports programs. They provide a starting point for children to find what they are passionate about and, in the case of Lawrence, whose music class inspired his current profession as a musician, can introduce them to their possible futures. A natural extension of these programs is the Special Needs Talent Showcase. Every year, individuals with special needs proudly show off their amazing skills and talents in front of a large audience, and in some cases, their abilities can land them jobs.
The second is the adult’s program. This program provides career opportunities for people with special needs because in the present day, 95% of special needs people are unemployed. FCSN provides job training, facilitates entrepreneurship, and has non-profit collaborations with local businesses to offer opportunities for special needs adults to get hired. In addition, the FCSN coffee shop, Friends Coffee & Tea, not only serves pastries and drinks, but more importantly serves as an on-the-job training ground for special needs adults.
Finally, FCSN supports families by creating a support system within the community. Parents often worry about what would happen when they get too old to take care of their special needs loved one, where would they live, and who would look after them after they pass away. In order to create a community connecting those with special needs together as well as keep them safe, FCSN parents privately funded and built apartments behind the FCSN Dream Center. The special needs adults live in their apartments with supportive live-in staff and roommates, and they are able to attend programs that they like, go to work, and enjoy an independent life that suits their preferences.
In a broader sense, FCSN raises awareness by advocating for children with special needs. FCSN trains teenagers from local high schoolers on how to work with special needs children, believing that the teens are the future of the community. FCSN also works directly with the California state government. Starting in 2003, the government has proposed budget cuts for programs benefiting children with special needs. Every time there’s a budget cut, Anna rallies FCSN members to protest the budget cuts in Sacramento and advocate for special needs families.
The FCSN community includes people with autism, down syndrome, cerebral palsy, or developmental delays. FCSN is also not restricted by age, and the oldest person at FCSN is 74 years old. Many adult and youth volunteers do not have special needs family members, but joined FCSN to support and contribute to the special needs community. With the recent addition of many online programs, FCSN has added members beyond the Bay Area, supporting families throughout the world.
Today, FCSN has grown to be a leading service provider for special needs families, serving more than 1,000 families. With the addition of more families and greater demand for services, FCSN has been struggling with finding funding and resources to support everyone. These challenges can be solved by sharing resources, empowering each other, and creating more dream communities such as FCSN. To quote Anna Wang, “Together with love, we can replicate these kinds of successful models for more and more individuals and families where they can have happiness and peace of mind”.
Watch the complete interview of The Story of Anna and FCSN on Youtube.