How it all began: A Seminal Meeting (1996)
In the early 1990s, many Chinese-American families in the Bay Area were struggling to raise their special needs children.
Shiow-Luan Chen, a special education teacher, sought them out and lent a helping hand. Visiting their homes, she taught parents about special education and encouraged playgroups so the children could learn socialization skills. Single-handedly, Shiow reached out to more than 20 Chinese-American families. After seeing all the struggles of these families, in late1995, she suggested that the families get organized in order to support each other. Initially, her idea was not met with enthusiasm by the overburdened parents. Linmei Chiao, a parent and a former special education teacher, recognized the potential and decided to take action. She worked with Shiow to organize a meeting of special needs families. Knowing they would need more support, Linmei also invited her regular friends who did not have special needs children. Gathering in Saratoga on April 4, 1996, the families agreed to form a group and initially called themselves, “South Bay Integrated Family Support Group.”
Early years (1996-1998)
Within weeks of that meeting, a planning committee was formed. Soon, the group held their first event, a picnic in the park,
to get the families to know each other. With no formal structure, the group was led by Shiow and Linmei, heading the planning committee in 1996 and 1997 respectively. Their mutual friend, Peter Hsia, active in the community, provided much-needed support. In the start-up phase, the committee focused on establishing the organization, recruiting members and supporting families. At end of 1996, the organization was renamed “Friends of Children with Special Needs”. The first newsletter launched in January 1997. Biweekly family gathering began in April 1997 in San Jose, drawing families from all over the Bay Area. In 1998, Anna Wang started “Milpitas Playgroup” to meet the need for more localized activities focusing on children. This became a model for many parent-directed programs that followed. In July 1998, a Board of Directors was established, with Linmei elected as Chairperson/President. The formal structure and increasing membership firmly established FCSN by the end of 1998.
Dream Project (2001 – 2006)
As In 1999, then-president Linmei proposed building a “Dream Community” to offer resources supporting special needs individuals,
providing opportunities and challenges to enable them to reach their potential. So far-fetched was this vision at the time, most in the Board of Directors thought it was an impossible dream. In 2001, Dr. Albert Wang learned of an opportunity to purchase a parcel of land in Fremont. Within weeks, a group of FCSN parents pooled resources and acquired it. They subdivided the parcel and donated a portion to FCSN a year later. At the same time, Albert, Linmei, and Peter formed a committee to work on the “Dream Project” and to determine best land use. Albert led the team to set a goal – build a community center to house programs to enrich the lives of special needs individuals – and saw it through to completion. In the first few years, the Dream Project was all about building the Center. However, in the long term, the Dream Project is about building the Dream Community.
As the project progressed, many more people chipped in to help. In 2002, Limin Hu, an entrepreneur, organized FCSN's first fundraising gala. He followed with a popular folk song concert in 2003, with help from FCSN's Fathers’ Choir, which greatly increased the public awareness of our organization. In 2003, Dream Center construction began and was completed in 2006. During those 3 years, Stanley Woo, a developer, led a volunteer team overseeing the construction progress. With huge member participation and amazing community support, FCSN raised several million dollars to make the Dream Center a reality. FCSN held grand opening ceremonies in October 2006, which also marks the completion of phase one of the Dream Project.
Building Programs (2006 - 2013)
The Dream Center opening led FCSN to launch Adult Day Program and Supported Living Services in Fremont in 2006. Sylvia Yeh, Lilian Lin,
and other key staff came on board to advance the programs. Under the leaderships of Jim Chiao and Tsai-Wei Wu, FCSN's business and management grew and expanded, leading to more vendorized programs, including CIDP, ILS and Respite. .
Children and local programs expanded quickly, starting with music camp in 2006 and followed by after-school and summer programs. Anna Wang and her team initiated programs parents had only dreamed of – job training and job creation programs. Sherry Meng and Anna launched soap-making, chocolate making, and sales. A musical entertainment band, Dream Achievers, formed in 2009, becoming ambassadors for FCSN.
In 2013, FCSN reached a milestone: 200 adult consumers, 200 staff, and more than 40 local/children’s programs, serving more than 800 families.