The Special Needs Foundation Cayman last week attracted 500 people to its breakfast fundraiser, which also raised the profile of those dealing with developmental issues.
The ‘Making Waves’ breakfast fundraiser, held 11 March, provided a platform for four parents and one sibling to tell their stories about living with a family member who has a developmental or intellectual disability in a world that still segregates them.
Organisers announced at the event that the Special Needs Foundation had received pledges of $25,000 from the government, and $100,000 from a private company.
Kaitlin Wood, a teacher at Village Montessori, took to the stage with her brother, Hamish Wood, 28, who has Down Syndrome, to speak about how important it is for a community to be inclusive and what impact the condition has had on her brother’s life.
“He wants and deserves the same opportunities everyone else has; to have friends and a busy social life,” Kaitlin Wood said.
She said it was important to be in an environment where everyone is treated equally, adding that segregation can deeply affect individuals like her brother.
“He wants to contribute meaningfully to an organisation. Just like you and me, if we don’t have friends or a purpose, our mental health is impacted,” Wood added.
She said she works with the foundation in making its curriculum impactful for children of all abilities.
“The biggest news is that with the support of the foundation, Hamish is working, something he is has always dreamed of. He is at Starbucks in Camana Bay. The foundation has advocated for him,” she added.
Nik Tatarkin, foundation chairman, said the charity is still working on the continuing challenge of promoting inclusiveness for individuals with developmental or intellectual disabilities.
Pointing out some of the challenges they face, he said they lived in “a reality where the majority of children with developmental disabilities are deprived of a high-quality education, friendships and opportunities. A reality that most families do not have access to the support they require for their son or daughter to be fully included in all that our community has to offer. A reality that destines adults with developmental disabilities to lifelong unemployment and impoverishment.”
The foundation is trying to create a “sea of change”, he said, adding that this issue is close to his heart as his daughter has a developmental disability.
“We are contacted daily by families desperate for assistance, whether that is the hope for a school placement, a meaningful job, the need for adequate support, or the ability to be fully included in the neighbourhood activities,” Tatarkin said.
Parents Jocelyn McLeod and Sean Scott told of their worries for their daughter Abigail, who has dyslexia and a speech disability, and how hard it is to find a school to work with them.
“I worry that we might have to move away because her school can only teach her till she’s 11, and she’s two years away from that,” McLeod said.
McLeod and Scott were both grateful for the foundation’s efforts to help their daughter and working with them to find a solution for proper education.
The charity focusses on evidence-based best practices in inclusive education and trains the public and private schools free of charge. The objective is to build capacity for mainstream schools to become more inclusive of individuals with disabilities so that segregated education is not the only option.
Charlotte Lewis, of Girlguiding Cayman Islands, said that group’s partnership with the Special Needs Foundation has proven beneficial in bringing everyone from the community together.
“They had a couple of girls that were part of their programme and they thought they would benefit by being part of our organisation. Both girls require special pads to communicate and so they helped us by training us on how to communicate with the girls,” Lewis said.
“We have a very great success story. They are taking part in all of the activities we are doing, all of the skill-building we are doing, and we are hoping to continue to offer this.”
This year, the foundation had 44 ‘dream makers’ sign up to donate to the charity’s cause.
At last year’s breakfast, 24 signed up. A ‘dream maker’ is someone who donates or makes a pledge to the Special Needs Foundation.