Easter Seals Central California

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Easter Seals Central California: Special Kids, Special Sibs

Monterey/Santa Cruz/San Benito CountiesAptos
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$1 million - $5 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

The Special Kids, Special Sibs program seeks to foster a culture of empathy with Sibshops™, kid-friendly workshops in which siblings of kids with disabilities can make friends with other children who “get it”; and Kids on the Block, an educational puppet show which models tolerance and inclusion.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if we learned from an early age to notice and reject stereotypes, respect our disabled peers and value their differences?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Despite the life-long roles they play in the lives of their siblings with special needs, typical brothers and sisters’ needs are often overlooked. Siblings of kids with disabilities often endure hurtful remarks, stares, and outright teasing and bullying right along with their brothers and sisters. PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center indicates that 60% of disabled students report being bullied regularly compared with 25% of all students.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Special Kids, Special Sibs will foster a culture of empathy with two proven, successful models. First, Sibshops will provide siblings of children with special needs with enriching, supportive workshops in which they can share common issues with other sibs, the only ones who can truly relate to their life journey. Life-long effects include siblings’ improved self-esteem, giving them the capacity to become “ambassadors” for their sibs and others. Secondly, numerous studies indicate that the participation of general education students in Kids on the Block improved the interactions between the disabled students and their non-disabled peers by reducing stigmatization and labeling, effectively changing attitudes toward persons with disabilities.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

The Sibshop model intersperses interactive games like “push pin soccer” with quieter discussion activities during which kids talk openly about their feelings, positive and negative, about their special sibling. At the Sibshop training, we had a child whose little brother with autism is an ESCC Early Intervention client. Both parents had expressed concern particularly about their middle son, who had been acting out, and they were thrilled that their older children were invited to participate. Both children were actively engaged, and the son told his parents that “I found out that the other kids had a brother like A” and “I can’t wait until the next one!” His parents noted afterwards that he shared more about his feelings regarding his sib.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Since 1990, the Sibling Support Project has trained service providers in all 50 states and abroad on implementing the award-winning Sibshop program. ESCC staff was trained by the National Director, Don Meyer, and thus are “first generation” trainees. Locally there is a huge unmet demand for sibling support, and no other agency in our area offers this service. The Special Education Local Plan Areas for Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito Counties serve a combined total of 13,658 students ages 0-22. Assuming at least one sibling each, the potential impact is significant. Even engaging 1/10th of them, 1300 siblings could benefit from Sibshops. We have presented Kids on the Block in Santa Cruz County for many years; since KOB is usually performed for 4th grade assemblies, thousands more students can learn about their peers of differing abilities, leading to a culture of greater empathy.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

To launch Sibshops and expand the impact of Kids on the Block, we will engage our extensive network of contacts in school districts and partner agencies that serve families with special needs in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito Counties for referrals, venues and support. Once we have begun presenting Sibshops and Kids on the Block assemblies on a regular basis in our coastal counties and analyzed our measurable outcomes, our intention is to seek additional funding to replicate Special Kids, Special Sibs to meet this same unmet need in the other seven counties we serve in the Central Valley.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Financial sustainability will be achieved through diversified sources of support. A SibShop costs $500 and each Kids on the Block assembly is $325. Parents will be asked to contribute a $20/sibling share of cost, and schools contribute $125 for KOB assemblies. We plan to collect data to measure outcomes and use that data to seek additional grants and funding from service organizations and individual donors in our entire 10- county area.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

As noted, to our knowledge no other agency is providing a program comparable to Special Kids, Special Sibs in the Monterey/Santa Cruz/San Benito County area. The marketplace is ripe to fulfill the unmet need for sibling support, given the feedback we receive through our parent trainings, community outreach and communication with our community partners and referral sources. Although we have presented Kids on the Block in Santa Cruz County for years, administrators in other districts have expressed great interest in making this type of empathy training experience available to their students.

Founding Story

The "aha" moment is from personal experience. My son is on the autism spectrum, and my typically-developing daughters, now 28 and 25, benefitted greatly from Sibshops when Easter Seals offered them when they were in elementary school. Sadly, the program was discontinued due to budget cuts and staff changes, but it has always been my dream to bring it back since I have witnessed first hand the powerful impact of peer support in my own children. I also work directly with many parents of children with disabilities as a mentor and trainer, and often listen to their concerns for their typically-developing children's wellbeing. I have also seen the "ahas" of the children during Kids on the Block, and their insights give me hope for the future.


Our team is wholly committed to ESCC's mission to provide support, education and advocacy for children and adults with disabilities and their families. We have 7 full-time staff trained in the Sibshop model by Don Meyer, the National Sibling Support Project director. Jerry Falek, our Kids on Block performer, has over 25 years experience presenting KOB to literally thousands of children. Our CEO and Board are entirely supportive of this project.
About You
Easter Seals Central California
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Project
Organization Name

Easter Seals Central California

How long has your organization been operating?

Organization Country

United States, CA, Aptos

Country where this project is creating social impact

United States, CA, Monterey/Santa Cruz/San Benito Counties

What awards or honors has the project received?
Funding: How is your project financial supported?

Friends and family, Individuals, Foundations, Businesses, Other.

Supplemental Information
On which of the following California counties does your project focus its impact? (check all that apply):

San Benito, Santa Cruz, Monterey, Other.

How does your idea help cultivate empathy skills to strengthen communities and equip young people to become leaders of change?

The goal of Special Kids, Special Sibs is to support siblings of children with special needs and instill empathy in their peers to nurture a generation of "ambassadors" for their special siblings. Typical siblings are naturally their special brother's or sister's most empathetic advocate, but they often struggle with their own conflicting emotional issues. Moreover, children with special needs and their siblings are often targets of bullying or, conversely, treated as invisible. Through the Sibshop™ model and our Kids on the Block educational puppet show, Special Kids, Special Sibs seeks to create a network of support for siblings of kids with special needs and expand the circle of concern and tolerance for all kids in our community.


Referrals to special needs families and venues for presentations


Presentations on tolerance and inclusion of children with birth differences

Tell us about your partnerships

These organizations and others support our mission to provide support, education and advocacy for children and adults with disabilities:

*First 5 Monterey, San Benito, Santa Cruz: funding and support for parent education and home visitation;
*San Andreas Regional Center: funding and program referrals;
*Head Start: training space and referrals;
*Special Kids Crusade: cross-agency support;
*School districts in the counties listed above.


Like most non-profits, we are moving out of “survival mode” toward thoughtfully planned stability and growth. Years of “doing more with less” have taken a toll, yet we persevere wholly and passionately dedicated to ESCC’s mission and the people we serve. However, the demand for our services continues unabated as we strive to respond to unmet needs to give families the support they urgently need.

Lack of funds has hindered hiring for program expansion, including the start-up of the Special Kids, Special Sibs program. Additional funding will allow us to hire more staff for implementation.

Does your project use any of the following approaches to cultivate community members as empathetic and collaborative leaders?

creating a safe space, developing emotional competency, building leadership skills, group play, storytelling, collective problem-solving, identifying shared values and differences, instilling courage, enabling action.

Target Age Group(s)

3-5, 6-12, 13-17.