The playground at San Marcos’ Sunset Park was awash in laughter and squeals Wednesday evening as more than two dozen families from the San Diego County Office of Education’s (SDCOE) HOPE Infant Family Support program gathered for an evening of pizza and play.
The HOPE team -- which provides early intervention services for infants and toddlers with special needs and their families -- hosts Family Dinner Nights about twice a year for clients in both North and South County to help parents and their children connect.
“We can meet other families that have had the same journey we’ve had,” said Domenica Gomez as she helped 2-year-old Diana around a play structure. “We talk about resources, and get to know new people.”
Julie Widman, a HOPE special education resource assistant, said the idea for the dinner get-togethers came about because the team had not had much success in getting families together in the daytime for support. Because HOPE services are provided in the home, these families and children aren’t seeing each other daily at a school or day-care. The team decided that an evening activity would allow many families to make the time after the workday, and parents wouldn’t have to worry about dinner.
Fernando Ramirez’s 2½-year-old son, Yelani, has been in the HOPE program since age 1. “Coming out to these events makes a difference for us,” Ramirez said. “Just identifying with other families is important. And getting to see people from HOPE in a different environment is good, too.”
Yelani kept busy on the playground crawling and climbing, spinning and sliding. But he stopped and flashed a huge grin when he spotted his HOPE speech pathologist, Patti Crosier, who immediately sat down with Yelani and the two launched into one of his favorite songs, “No More Monkeys.”
Yelani was born with Down syndrome and missing two heart valves. “He had a tough first year,” his dad said. With HOPE, Yelani receives services several times a week, including speech therapy. “Since Patti has been working with him, he’s shown amazing progress. He loves his music,” Ramirez said.
With HOPE, the early intervention service providers come to the family in the home, or wherever the child is. In Yelani’s case, that means home and the child development center at MiraCosta College, where he’s enrolled twice a week. Ramirez said that the inclusion model program has two children with disabilities in every classroom.
HOPE Regional Manager Hope Michel said that providing services in the home gives an opportunity to build a bond as well as to be where the parents are so that they don’t have to pack up and go somewhere. And when parents decide they want their child in a preschool environment, HOPE supports that, too.
“We meet families where they are. We support their priorities,” Michel said. “Our focus is on the family and the child. Our work is a triad with the child, parent, and provider that increases the parent-child relationship. We wholeheartedly believe a parent is the child’s first teacher.”
HOPE serves about 375 families and children in North and South county. Early intervention services are provided at no cost to families. Special needs could include hearing loss, vision loss, orthopedic impairment, developmental delays, speech and language impairments; other health impairments; and intellectual disabilities. The HOPE team includes credentialed early education teachers who are early intervention specialists; language, speech, and hearing specialists; social workers; occupational therapists; physical therapists; early intervention assistants; teachers for the deaf and hard of hearing and visually impaired; bilingual aides; and a nurse. HOPE also offers American Sign Language classes for parents.