Young people in Marysville with autism or with disabilities gathered to sing and have fun together at a Valentine’s party on Feb. 7.
The event was organized by the Leah’s Dream Foundation, a local nonprofit that puts on events for young people with disabilities, in partnership with the Marysville School District.
The party provides a safe environment for families with children with disabilities.
“There’s friendships that are being built here. You get a lot of kids who are young adults and aged out of the school program and this is a good time for them to be together,” said Deanna Sheldon, who runs the Leah’s Dream Foundation.
The whole family is welcome at events that the foundation runs.
“We believe in inclusive environments, so we have a lot of families who have non-disabled children here as well,” said Sheldon.
They also provide a place for local parents to get together.
“I was just talking to a parent, who has a daughter the same age as my daughter, and it’s just so nice to talk to someone who you can just share something using minimal words and you know what each other mean. And it’s great because there’s no judgement,” she said.
Parents said they enjoyed the event.
“This is my second time coming and it’s amazing,” said local parent Joseph Klomparens. He said he enjoys the karaoke they put on at the event. “It gives the kids a chance to perform in front of everyone,” he said. “It’s a great chance for everyone to get together. It’s a highlight for me."
Kevin Copley, step-parent to a child with a disability, also said he enjoyed the event. “She’s from Darrington, so she’s used to be the only person around school as unique as she is,” said Copley.
“She told me about this, and we thought it was a school dance for Totem [Middle School], so when we showed up it was really cool,” he said.
The Leah’s Dream Foundation was founded in 2015 and this is the fourth year they have held a Valentine’s dance.
“We started this nonprofit because of my daughter, Leah, who was diagnosed with autism at age 2 and we just really wanted to be a part of this community,” said Sheldon.
Sheldon was inspired by the work Marysville-Pilchuck High School teacher Jim Strickland was doing.
“Jim is a person I admire a lot, so I took what he was doing while he was at M-PHS Life Skills, where he would get all the kids and parents together, and I wanted to provide that for the younger kids,” said Sheldon.
The foundation started small but it has been growing, said Sheldon.
“The first few events we didn’t get a lot of people, because the outreach wasn’t there. But this past year has been phenomenal,” she said.
“Each event we’re getting bigger and bigger and more people are coming,” she said.
All the events the foundation puts on are completely free.
The organization has also obtained grants from the Tulalip Tribes’ charity foundation and more funding elsewhere as well.
“With our annual golf fundraiser we’re generating more money and getting more people in our community who are invested,” said Sheldon.
In addition to putting on free events, the foundation provided $15,000 this last year to the Marysville School District for curriculum and materials to assist teachers and the students in the special education department.
Sheldon said that the foundation typically has around four events each year.
“After this we’ll have our springtime event, date to be determined, and an end of school year event,” said Sheldon.
For more information or to get involved with the foundation, visit their website leahsdream.org.