Mother-Daughter Team Brings Sunshine To Kids With Disabilities

Faelin Klein and Briana Beaver

Faelin Klein and Briana Beaver

Faelin Klein embodies the term “mama bear.” For 23 years, the diminutive blonde has fought long and hard to ensure her daughter has had access to the medical, educational and community resources she both needed and deserved. While this is not exceptional in itself, in many ways she has become a fierce advocate for thousands of children besides her own.

Faelin discovered that her daughter, Briana Beaver (now 23), had Cerebral Palsy shortly after her birth. Faelin became a single mother when Briana was a baby, and moved to the Chico area from Monterey. After suffering such indignities as being excluded from a “Mommy and Me” class and Briana being asked to leave a ballet class at the age of 3, Faelin came to the shocking realization that her daughter may continue to be excluded from many opportunities, simply because she was “different.”

Briana, a bright and beautiful young woman with enviably long curly hair, says, “After enduring seven years of constant judgment, minimization, criticism and rejection, I expressed to my mom that I was fed up. What was there to look forward to when people could focus only upon the sway of my hips and the braces that encased my legs?” She adds, “My peers were terrified of me. My teachers treated me as though I had undergone a lobotomy…where did I belong?”

Briana was so despondent, that at the age of 7, she ran into oncoming traffic. This prompted her mother to act and find a way to connect Briana with other children in the community with disabilities. She started by inviting several children with and without disabilities to a play date. Briana and the other children reacted positively to this interaction, and could hardly wait to do it again. That inspired her mother to start what was then called “The Sunshine Kids’ Club,” which eventually gained nonprofit status, and within 11 years grew to serve more than 500 children annually and offer more than 90 youth and family programs with the help of volunteers. Programs include self-defense classes, teen nights, disability sensitivity training, and sports such as wheelchair basketball. The idea was to create a safe and supportive environment where everyone who walked through the door was accepted.

“The support, acceptance and love cultivated through these activities have saved my life,” says Briana. “The program is built on mutual respect, values and a shared interest in each other. Kids LOVE it! For the first time in their lives, they are not a problem – they are great the way they are.”

Due to legal issues, Faelin and Briana (who is a board member) were forced to change the name of the organization to the Sunshine Connection in 2009. The cost to change their name, logo and website, in addition to loss in funding due to the economy, has been an enormous struggle for the pair, but they aren’t giving up just yet. They are taking a break from programs and now operate out of their home. There are thousands of kids in the area with disabilities, and they hope to continue to reach out to these children and their families. Sunshine Connection is looking into large business donors and partnerships with other nonprofits. “Instead of focusing on being fundraisers, we want to focus on the kids,” says Faelin.

Briana has come a long way from that lonely little girl who was kicked out of ballet class. She now mentors younger children within her organization. This fall, she will graduate from CSU, Chico with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, having won several scholarships and academic awards. She is not sure what her plans are after school, but she plans to continue being an advocate for disability awareness.

Faelin now offers advocacy services to parents of children with disabilities, and is empowering young adults with disabilities using life-skills coaching. Most of this is done by phone, enabling her to reach the largest group of people with minimal overhead. The first session of the compassionate coaching series is free. “I am available to listen to your concerns, hopes and dreams without judgment, and assist you in identifying goals for yourself and your child,” she says.

The Sunshine Connection
Sunshine Connection

http://www.sunshineconnection.org
530-776-5095

 

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Desiree Gonzalez
About Desiree Gonzalez

Desiree Gonzalez is an author and a mother of two in Chico.

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