Many community-oriented student organizations and clubs at MSJ combine service events with the purpose of spreading awareness on various issues. MSJ Friends of Children with Special Needs (FCSN) is a club that raises awareness about the lives of the special needs community by providing students with access to training and resources to get acquainted with individuals with disabilities.
Founded in January, MSJ FCSN works closely with the local non-profit organization Friends of Children With Special Needs’ East Bay center. The club organizes fundraisers to support the education of children with special needs in rural parts of the world. MSJ FCSN’s Vice President Junior Megan Pau described one of the club’s goals as preparing the MSJ student body to be allies to the special needs community. “In the future, [club members] can use all the experiences they gathered from volunteering and from the guest speakers and just combine all of that information that they’ve learned and use it in their real lives because students … want to go into medical and definitely there’s people who want to go into specializing in autism and special needs, and these experiences will definitely help them in the future,” Pau said.
“In the future, [club members] can use all the experiences they gathered from volunteering and from the guest speakers and just combine all of that information that they’ve learned and use it in their real lives because students … want to go into medical and definitely there’s people who want to go into specializing in autism and special needs, and these experiences will definitely help them in the future.”
Some of MSJ FCSN’s past service events include Saturday Family Gatherings, where volunteers are paired up one-on-one with a child or adult to lead them in dancing, arts and crafts, and social classes.
The club also occasionally invites medical experts to speak about their experience working with individuals with disabilities. One of their past guest speakers from September was Stanford University Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Linda Lotspeich, who spoke about her experiences as both a clinician and as part of a psychiatry teaching faculty.
Unlike many other service clubs, students must complete a mandatory volunteer training session before becoming involved in MSJ FCSN. During this training session, the officers explain the different types of special needs and how to interact with children with disabilities. President Junior Isabella He said, “We start off with defining what is autism and what is special needs. We train the volunteers on how to manage them and how to interact with them in terms of physical contact … Specifically for virtual training, we also have some basic zoom instructions on how to increase engagement over tiny windows on the screen.”
The club also recently kick-started a one-on-one virtual tutoring program that allows students to tutor students with special needs in different subjects. Training resources such as a mandatory video and Q&A sessions with experienced FCSN tutors brief volunteers on how to effectively teach students with learning disabilities.
“Some are verbal. Some are nonverbal and some are high functioning … . So, you have to know how to deal with just keeping up with them and also making them feel comfortable,” Pau said.
Although distance learning has interfered with in-person club meetings and events, MSJ FCSN has had many more opportunities to host guest speakers and gather larger audiences in these meetings.
“Online events, I think, are sometimes easier to access,” Pau said, “We do open it [events] up to other FCSN and club members so some people from Irvington may come, and that definitely makes it a lot more widespread than what it would be at school.”
In the future, MSJ FCSN plans to invite more medical professionals to give students credible advice on entering career paths relating to special needs. They recently hosted an event through Zoom on November 13 featuring Stanford University Ballinger-Swindells Endowed Professor in Development and Behavioral Pediatrics Heidi M. Feldman. Her talk included details from her role as a pediatrician and the care required to look after individuals with disabilities.
Cover graphic by Feature Editor Ian Park