Wayfinder Family Services
When Gina was preparing to adopt a baby girl, she experienced a rush of thrilling emotions that comes with going through the process for the first time that will dramatically change your life. First there’s making it through the selection process, then learning the name of your new child. With the day of the child’s arrival in her home approaching, Gina started imagining their new life together as a family.
But when Kennedy arrived, Gina’s excitement turned to worry. Baby Kennedy was supposed to be a perfectly healthy three-month-old, but the infant was just half that age, merely six weeks old. More importantly, something seemed to be very wrong.
“She didn’t cry at all for the first eight months,” recalled Gina. “And when her eyes were open, she’d just stare into a corner.”
It was soon discovered that the little girl had been exposed to methamphetamines in the womb. An assessment revealed that Kennedy was legally blind and her development was severely delayed. The prognosis from doctors was so bad that Gina didn’t think early intervention could help her vision.
Gina was distraught.
“I thought, how are they going to teach a blind kid to see?” Recalls Gina, who prefers to keep her real name private.
That’s when Wayfinder Family Services stepped in. Since its founding as Junior Blind 71 years ago, the nonprofit has created a number of programs that have earned them a strong reputation for helping children and families that many other organizations are unable to serve. Wayfinder’s Child Development Services program may well be able to provide effective treatment for Kennedy, one of many children with vision impairment or multiple disabilities with which the nonprofit has worked for decades.
Wayfinder’s Child Development Services helps young children who are blind, visually impaired, or have multiple disabilities to increase their visual functioning, sensory awareness, communication and social skills. Its services improve children’s physical, cognitive and emotional development, and the nonprofit also helps families become successful advocates for their children’s education and care.
Bertha Preciado, one of Wayfinder Family Services’ Early Intervention Specialists, was assigned to work with Kennedy. When the child was just four months old, Bertha started making home visits. Among other items, Preciado brought an iPad that featured a vividly glowing red bunny. Week after week, Bertha worked with Kennedy, patiently encouraging the little girl to follow the slow-moving red bunny with her eyes.
“When I first met her, Kennedy was very unresponsive to stimulation,” Preciado explained. “If she wasn’t being touched, she was unaware of her surroundings.”
To give Kennedy more tactile sensory input, Preciado introduced sand and water. The little girl loved it. It wasn’t long before Kennedy started showing abilities that seemed impossible months earlier.
“It’s amazing how plastic babies’ brains are,” Preciado said, referring to the brain’s malleability. “It took a few months, but she started seeing.”
By the time Kennedy turned one, she was able to follow the red bunny as it bounced rapidly all around the iPad’s display screen. Working steadily with the Early Intervention Specialist from Wayfinder, Kennedy’s vision continued to improve, and she made rapid developmental progress. Now, at age 4, Kennedy is attending a typical preschool and does not need special education services. But her case is not unique, as research shows that every $1 spent on early intervention saves $17 in future care and support, according to Wayfinder, which has had many dozens of similar success stories.
“Working with Wayfinder’s Early Intervention was totally life-changing for Kennedy,” said Gina. “I don’t know where she’d be now without them.”
Child Development Services is just one of Wayfinder’s wide array of services. Based on the belief that those facing the greatest challenges deserve an equal chance to thrive, Wayfinder has created more than 20 comprehensive programs that collectively provide high-quality, professional, trauma-informed services, individualized to support an increasingly diverse population of children, youth, adults and families. Among its offerings are special education, recreation, independence, workforce development and mental health programs; safe, temporary shelter for youth who have been removed from their families due to maltreatment; medical and mental health services for youth who are in the child welfare system; and foster care, adoption, and children and family services to ensure that children have safe, loving homes.
Wayfinder has also developed its first program specifically for older adults with visual impairment. Older Individuals who are Blind (OIB) targets individuals aged 55 or older who have difficulty living independently due to their vision loss, which can reduce their ability to care for themselves and navigate their community. Each OIB client receives individualized, one-to-one services that are based on their personal needs. The program can help in so many ways, including providing assistive technology and devices, targeting re-training and orientation and navigation techniques.
What’s also new is Wayfinder Family Services’ course adjustment to be more community oriented in its approach, as well as more proactive.
“We are continuing to provide full services in our areas of expertise: foster care and adoption, mental health, and visual and multiple disabilities,” said Wayfinder’s president and CEO in the organization’s 2023 annual report. “The change is in where we are providing them. We are moving from campus-based to community-based services. We are going to where people need us: in their homes and schools. We are expanding prevention services in communities. And rather than play catch-up downstream, upstream prevention can avert the need for crisis services.”
Last year, Wayfinder Family Services served more than 21,000 children, youth, and family members across the state, with offices in southern, central and northern California. More than 90% of the people Wayfinder supports are low-income, and its services are always free.
Donations of any kind are always welcome. Visit www.wayfinderfamily.org/ways-to-help.
(323) 295-4555 ext. 205
Associate Vice President of Development and Donor Relations: Vanessa Botshekan
Wayfinder Family Services ensures that children, youth and adults facing challenges always have a place to turn.
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With Wayfinder, we don’t feel like my son has a disability. We feel like everyone else.
Changing the Future for Children Who Have Special Needs
Wayfinder understands the unique challenges facing some of our state’s most vulnerable youth and adults. Those with disabilities, those without a home of their own, those who have been abused and many, many more. Wayfinder sees them. They believe in the amazing potential of each and every one of them. And, they turn that potential into reality.
Last year, Wayfinder Family Services served more than 21,000 children, youth, and family members across California. More than 90 percent of the people Wayfinder supports are low-income, and its services are always free.
A $1,000 donation can cover 10 life-changing early intervention sessions for children like Kennedy.
Board of Directors:
Harold A. Davidson
Scott M. Farkas, Esq.
Timothy E. Ford, Esq.
Robert D. Held
Steve L. Hernández, Esq.
Jonathan I. Macy, M.D.
Linda Myerson Dean
Glenn A. Sonnenberg
Fernando Villa, Esq.
Elworth (Brent) Williams Jr.
Nicholas (Nick) Aull