Fostering a sense of community when you prefer your own little world

When my son, Jake, began 6th grade this school year, we learned that our school district requires 6th graders to participate in community service. When I looked at all the forms and requirements, I admit I felt a bit overwhelmed … and then concerned … I wasn’t sure that would be the most effective way to explain community service and all the associated requirements (written documentation, oral presentation, and so forth) to him.

 Well, it turns out I just needed to give Jake a chance to show what he can do and not worry about any limitations. One of his 1st quarter projects involved volunteering at a Dreams for Kids DC (DFKDC) Soccer clinic featuring D.C. United starter Sean Franklin; Jake interacted with participants, parents, and volunteers in the process of making name tags for them. This may not seem like much, but, for an individual on the Autism spectrum, with social and pragmatic communication difficulties, it’s a great accomplishment! Plus, he got to meet a lot of new friends in the process!

Following the Soccer clinic, DFKDC’s Executive Director, Glenda Fu, contacted me with an amazing announcement… that Jake, along with his sister, Sofia, had been selected to be recognized as “Outstanding Participants of the Year”! 

Glenda had this to say about Jake and Sofia being among the first group of participants to be selected for this award:

young boy volunteering
Jake taking on a volunteer role at a recent Dreams For Kids DC soccer clinic with DC United.

“I have seen Jake and Sofia grow up in front of my eyes ever since I took over as Executive Director for Dreams For Kids DC in 2011. Jake has really come out of his shell in the past few years, his confidence in himself is apparent to all those around him. Recently, Jake has desired to step out of his participant role at our clinics to become a volunteer. Just this past weekend, Jake stood with me at our check-in area, assisting me with making name tags for all of our participants. Energetically, asking other participants for their names as they arrived! The whole mission of Dreams For Kids DC is not only to provide adaptive clinic for children with disabilities; moreover, empower them to reach for their dreams and give back to the community. Jake is exemplary of this, which is why we will be honoring him as a participant of the year at our upcoming holiday celebration!”

Jake was happy to hear about receiving an award from DFKDC, but he was, in all honesty, more interested in the “party” aspect of the event. The DFKDC 2015 Holiday Celebration will center around special needs children and their families partaking in a 3 hour event, where they will have lunch, entertainment, and many activities — the majority of which will include wrapping presents and creating gifts for the homeless in the city, to showcase that DFKDC participants are able to give back and incite a cycle of change, despite their disabilities. Jake seemed very interested in helping DFKDC make sure that other kids would have a happy holiday as a result of the event. This newly sparked interest in helping others has led to this:

Jake wants to help DFKDC help disadvantaged adults by providing a useful gift! Jake will be collecting unused purses, backpacks, or other bags AND toiletries through December 18th. On December 19th, he will take what he’s collected to the Dreams for Kids DC Holiday Celebration, where he and other youth with disabilities will ‘stuff’ these purses for disadvantaged adults, and wrap presents for the homeless!

I could not be prouder of my children for being recognized by Dreams For Kids DC this year. I am especially proud of Jake and his heartfelt interest in helping others .. this is what high expectations and supporting the passions and interests of kids like him who have special needs is all about.. helping them to achieve in their endeavors and not letting their disabilities be an obstacle to their success.

For more information about Dreams For Kids DC, DFKDC Holiday Celebration, and how to get involved, go to