Image showing the front cover of the CSUEB Magazine Banner FALL 2009 issue

FALL 2009

Laying a Foundation of Caring

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Motivated by a desire to ease the stress that families experience when a child first receives an autism or other special needs diagnosis, Lisa McBride ’87, right, created a foundation that works to bring services to East Contra Costa County. McBride’s youngest son, 9-year-old Jake, left, was diagnosed with autism at 2.


Lisa McBride ’87 launches group for special kids


Eight years ago, Lisa McBride’s 2-year-old son Jake was diagnosed with autism. Like so many parents grappling with a special needs diagnosis, McBride ’87 felt confused, frustrated, and alone.

“At the time I thought I was the only one,” says McBride, who is also mother to Jake’s twin, Hannah, now 9, and Zack, 12. “You get a diagnosis from a doctor who says: ‘Here’s a couple of resources, good luck.’ You go through grieving. You go through all of these different feelings.” 

 Complicating her case was the fact that the family lived in East Contra Costa County, far from many of the Bay Area centers, programs, and teachers that specialize in diagnosing and working with autistic children. 

 Instead of letting grief overwhelm her, McBride spent her nights scouring the Internet for resources. After spending some time with a local autism support group, she launched her own multi special needs group and a Yahoo group. That group quickly “exploded” to more than 100 parents, many who shared the same problem: getting local services for their kids. 

Many of the kids in the county’s eight cities being treated for some sort of disability in overwhelmed public schools are shuttled to places like Stanford every time they require an assessment, McBride says. 

“To get anywhere from here is a nightmare,” says McBride, who lives in Discovery Bay with her children and husband Mark. “Our kids are in school all day, and we’re in cars with them for two to three hours.” That stress takes its toll on marriages and jobs, she says. 

McBride decided to take her cause a step further, starting the nonprofit Special Kids Foundation. Armed with a few books on how to build a nonprofit, McBride and a friend, Cici Migay, also the mother of a special needs child, started the organization with $500 and a loan from McBride’s mother. The pair built a board, and started finding donors to contribute to everything from music to bowling to soccer to baseball programs for special needs kids. 

Today, McBride helps run the foundation while working full time as an elementary school teacher in Antioch. McBride did the bulk of her student teaching while at Cal State East Bay in Hayward during the 1980s. Through the CSUEB program, she worked with a racially and economically diverse group of students, experience she taps today. 

“I learned to think outside of the box,” she says. “They encouraged us to be independent.”

One key goal of Special Kids is to build a satellite office where families would meet specialists including nutritionists, occupational therapists, play, speech and language therapists, and family therapists. While working to achieve that goal, McBride is coordinating with a local YMCA to build a playground in Oakley for kids of all abilities. Special Kids is also raising funds to create a comprehensive binder that would be given to parents after receiving their child’s diagnosis to help them find good therapists and recreational activities, and navigate everything from insurance to special needs trust planning.

While there’s an outpouring of community support for her cause, McBride says the economy is making it tough to raise money (to date they’ve raised $90,000). Though times are difficult, she says, people must consider the long-term cost of not treating special needs kids when therapies are proven most effective: when they are young. If society fails these kids, she warns, many will not be able to live at home or independently and ultimately will become wards of the state. What drives McBride is preventing this fate. 

There’s comfort, she says, in the knowledge that she’s helping other mothers and fathers — especially those who can barely take a shower and leave the house after a child is initially diagnosed. Says McBride: “It really heals me to watch parents get out of that space — that I can do something for them.”

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