Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Raising Money for Special Needs Kids

I think I am really itching for a life outside of my kids. For the past 2 weeks, I've been a little obsessed with raising money for Logan's school. Usually fundraising is not fun for most of us, myself included, but for some reason, I found this round of fundraising for the school to be educational, inspiring, and exciting.

It all started with contacting some book authors I know. I just wrote them an email and asked politely to donate an autographed copy of their book for our auction. There would be a live auction for big items and a silent auction for smaller ones.

I knew these writers so I felt there would be a good chance that they would say yes and they did. However, I wasn't satisfied with my "gets." But what else could I get for the auction? Who would want to give to a small school for special needs children? This was my first year raising money for the school so I ran out of ideas really fast.

One day, I had a little extra time after a doctor's appointment and went to Barnes and Noble. I love going there. It's almost like eating at a buffet. I get a dozen books and magazines that look interesting and eat with my eyes while I drink coffee or a cappuccino if I'm splurging. Sometimes I might actually buy something. This only comes after a big internal battle because I am committed to only taking books out of the library to save money.

On my way to my feeding session at the cafe, I stumbled upon a book display. It was featuring children's books about subways. Wow, I thought, "Spencer would love this. I wish I could buy them all!" At the top was Subway, illustrated by Karen Katz, a book that he made me read to him every night for months. But there were others. These books were great and then it hit me. Special needs kids love subways. I know both of my kids do. When Spencer was not yet 3, he would look at the New York City subway map hanging next to Logan's bed and try to read it, calling out the numbers and letters that named the train lines. That summer, on days we had some free time, we'd go to the train station, sit on a bench on the platform and watch the trains go by while eating a snack.

Logan did the same thing when he was younger too. We actually took him out for subway rides with no real purpose other than to ride it because he was so hyper, we didn't know what else to do with him. It definitely helped that our line was partially elevated so he had things to see while we rode the train.

What is it about trains and subways and special needs kids? I think there are a few components that strongly attracts our kids. For one, the motion is just to their taste, isn't it? It is consistent, not that smooth, bumpy enough to soothe them but not too bumpy to startle them. I think they also love the predictability of the announcements. "Stand clear of the closing doors, please." Spencer loves saying that as well as imitating the bell sound that comes after the announcement.

The maps are a whole different animal. I think that some special needs kids see maps like a girl looks at a diamond heart pendant. On one yahoogroup that I'm on, a mom was concerned that her child was a human Mapquest. I think for these kids, maps are just beautiful and fascinating. They are empowering because they help you figure out how to get somewhere and they are anxiety-reducing because they help you know where you are and then you won't get lost. At least that is why I think they like maps. Logan found the GPS feature on my Blackberry and was instantly intrigued. He immediately felt that he could find his way to Philadelphia from New York. I know that he can't right now but I was impressed that the thought of the possibilities. Either way, Logan loves his subway map. He remembers not all but many of the stations, transfer points, and other features like the colors and names of each train line.

To make a long story short, the subway display at Barnes and Nobles inspired me to raise money for my son's school in a different way. How do you raise money for special needs kids? With inspiring tearjerker stories? Maybe. By going to your friends and local businesses around the school? Yes, but you can do more. You can inform people that your special needs child is part of a group that needs and adores them or their services. It's even more effective when you are telling them something they didn't already know.

When I got home that day, I started to contact authors of subway-themed children's books and many of them wrote back to me immediately saying that they'll send me an autographed copy or copies of their books to the auction. One author who was also a painter was so moved, she said she would create a painting that might be appealing to a special needs child and donate it to Logan's school auction. How kind and inspiring but I had to move on. "More, more, more," said this greedy monster in my head.

Then I thought about how much I want Logan to learn yoga. I know it is so good for him and other children with special needs like anxiety, sensory processing disorder, ADHD, the list could probably go on but I have not read any studies on this yet. I thought these yoga instructors and yoga schools would want to know just how much the special needs child would appreciate their services. Some of them knew that yoga was good for special needs kids but still, I loved telling them about how yoga has helped me and I just know it can help other children and other moms like me learn to relax better.

To my absolute delight, some of my queries were answered with gracious generosity. I was really inspired. I kept thinking of other businesses that may not know that their product or service could be extremely helpful to a special needs child. It was not like I was asking the obvious folks, like a company that produces oral motor tools but instead I would call places that would probably like to reach out to our community but may possibly not know how. I even talked to gluten free eateries since so many special needs kids have allergies and are on the GFCF diet. In fact, two gluten-free eateries immediately said yes after I approached them. It was an awesome feeling. So far, out of 34 queries, I got 12 positive responses. I consider that pretty darn good.

Wish me luck. I'm going to keep on going.

Video: My husband suggested that we buy Spencer books about trains for his birthday and luckily I bought him one book about trains and another about subways. The subway book was a hit as you can see. Once he saw this $6 dollar book, he saw nothing else that came out of that box.

Resource List if you have subway fanatics at home:
  • My Subway Ride by Paul Dubois Jacobs and Jennifer Swender and illustrated by Selina Alko
  • The Deaf Musicians by Paul Dubois Jacobs and Jennifer Swender and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
  • Subway Ride by Heather Lynne Miller and illustrated by Sue Rama
  • Under New York by Linda Oatman High and illustrated by Robert Rayevsky
  • Down in the Subway by Miriam Cohen and illustrated by Melanie Hope Greenberg
  • Subway by Anastasia Suen and illustrated by Karen Katz
  • Subways by Mary Winget


BEE said...

awesome job
wishing you the best of luck
your the best mom :)

Hartley said...

I would be happy to email you a list of other authors/special needs company owners if your monster still wants more more more! And you didn't ask me for a book :( but I'd be happy to send one if you still have time.

Way to go Jen! Amazing what one motivated momma can do, right?!


Jenn @ Beautiful Calling said...

Way to go. Thinking outside the box is certainly blessing your family and others!

melanie hope greenberg said...

Hi Jenn, you contacted me by email about my book DOWN IN THE SUBWAY. I hope that the publisher was able to help you out. If they send you a book I would certainly send you an autograph label. I enjoyed watching Spencer's fascination with the subway book in the video. Best Wishes, Melanie
ps your blog post came in a Google Alert email. Nice blog and thanks for recommending DOWN IN THE SUBWAY.

dyedblonde said...

Hi Jenn

Thank you for your enthusiasm and commitment in raising money for our auction. Way to go!