Resident Feature

Empowering, Inspiring, and Supporting

Through a Pandemic

  “K. Leigh lights up talking about how she looks forward to her THRIVE groups on Zoom.”

“We’ve heard from families about our new online educational webinars, ‘this is the most comprehensive information I’ve been able to get…it has been the most beneficial workshop I’ve attended in years!’”

“We spend so much time providing one-on-one and individualized support. We are basically here 24/7 to empower each one of our members.”

These are some of the sentiments of the caring and committed staff of the Down Syndrome Connection of the Bay Area (DSCBA), which has been able to keep its entire staff working remotely during the pandemic to provide essential services to families with a child or adult with Down syndrome in the Bay Area.

The DSCBA was established in 1998 by longtime Danville resident Martha Hogan, whose 43-year-old son Blair was born with Down syndrome. The organization has grown significantly in the past decade, under the leadership of Nancy LaBelle, DSCBA’s executive director, and with the help of a passionate staff and many dedicated volunteers.

Headquartered in Danville, DSCBA offers classes and programs in many satellite locations around the Bay. In March, due to COVID-19, the DSCBA was faced with the unthinkable—the organization had to shut its doors following safety guidelines and could no longer support members in person. The staff quickly and thoughtfully strategized about how to best support DSCBA members using online technology.

Connection is a huge part of the DSCBA’s impact. Their services are meant to bring people together—to connect, to share, and to build lasting supportive friendships. How does an organization do that without the ability to physically bring people together?

The DSCBA is a lifeline for new families, so the first step was to bring the Early Connections program online. “We have welcomed 30 beautiful new babies and their families in 2020. It is the most important thing we do—connecting new parents to each other and to vital resources,” says LaBelle.

The unique and popular THRIVE program was then brought online. These weekly development-based classes offer opportunities for friendship, socialization, and learning, and are highly looked forward to by participants. They are offered in 12 Bay Area locations. Volunteers in the community are always a big part of THRIVE’s success. Several local chapters of the National Charity League delivered supplies to members’ homes for class projects as well as lawn signs to remind members that the DSCBA loves and misses them.

Next, the Music Therapy program came online. DSCBA’s music therapist provides music therapy in English and Spanish, karaoke, talent shows and yoga classes virtually. Dance classes were added as well—something fun and active for DSCBA members to do at home and they look forward to it!

At the same time, DSCBA’s director of education developed a weekly TEACH series to empower members who are faced with at-home learning, providing strategies, tools, and supports to navigate this new form of education. Support groups were also shifted to online for moms, dads, parents of children with Down syndrome and dementia/Alzheimer’s, parents of school age children and much more.

Lastly, in collaboration with John Muir Health, Charlie’s Clinic, Global Down Syndrome Foundation, the Lowell Berry Foundation, numerous volunteers, and local donors, the DSCBA developed a food relief program for families who were hurting for basic food supplies during the pandemic. Sixty-five families (292 people) received food boxes for three months with the generous funding the DSCBA received.

For more information on DSCBA visit their website at DSCBA.org or email their staff at info@dscba.org.

By Nancy LaBelle, Executive Director, Down Syndrome Connection of the Bay Area