The San Diego County Office of Education’s HOPE Infant Family Support program is designed to assist parents of children ages birth to 3, but the impact on those families lasts well past the time a child ages out of the program.
That’s the case for 5 ½-year-old Sophia Lara and her family. Sophia, who has Pallister-Killian Mosaic Syndrome, recently celebrated a classroom makeover from the Make-A-Wish Foundation of San Diego, and mom Veronica Lara was sure to include their SDCOE and HOPE supporters in the unveiling at California Avenue School in Vista. Lara also recently participated in a HOPE team planning event, where she was invited to be the “parent voice.”
While Sophia and her family were offered various opportunities, like a Disney vacation, from Make-A-Wish, Veronica thought about something that would benefit her daughter and her classmates.
“Sophia, who is non-verbal, likes lights and music, and her mom thought a classroom makeover would be the best thing,” said Tere Monasi, a HOPE early intervention assistant who worked with Sophia and her family for three years. Monasi joined the Lara family at the classroom unveiling.
The result was a Make-A-Wish gift that benefited several children and their teachers at California Avenue School. Lara said her daughter received a P Pod postural support system chair, and the classroom received a new changing table, sensory toys, fish, new features for the sensory room, storage bins, outside to free up space, and a shade canopy.
"Sophia's wish was special because it focused on creating a space outside of her home, where she feels the most comfortable, to enhance her day-to-day interactions in her classroom," a Make-A-Wish San Diego official said. "Since she spends so much time there and will for years to come, her parents decided they wanted to create a more conducive environment for her to be able to play and learn while also giving back to a community that has helped her so much and leave a legacy for the students who will follow."
The wish was adopted by two firms in San Diego, HoyleCohen and Duane Morris. Volunteers from both firms spent a full weekend organizing, assembling and decorating the classroom as a way of not only providing a financial contribution, but a physical contribution as well, Make-A-Wish said.
HOPE is a public special education program that offers services to infants and toddlers with special needs and their families. Lara said the program was crucial to their family adjusting to their daughter’s diagnosis, which came when she was just a few days old.
When she meets other parents struggling with the special needs diagnosis of their infant, HOPE is the first place she sends them.
“When you’re impacted so much that you have no idea, you’re mourning a normal childhood,” Lara said. “You’re in a dark place. It was very difficult. It through me for a loop. I had no idea where to go. HOPE connects you with people, programs. I consider myself knowledgeable, but I was at ground zero. When you have people who have experience with special needs, they help you connect.”