D. Martinez / SFVS

By Diana Martinez | Editor

Parents and families with children with special needs lined the route along the San Fernando mall, waving American flags and cheering as the Special Olympic “Flame of Hope” passed by.  Members of The San Fernando police Department ran behind the flame, shepherding it as it made it’s way through town.

Opening ceremonies for the World Games are scheduled for Saturday, July 25,  at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. An estimated 6,500 athletes with intellectual disabilities and 2,000 coaches — representing 165 countries — will be taking part in the event, which is the largest sporting event the Southland has hosted since the 1984 Olympic Games.  

For many lining the route the upcoming 2015 Special Olympics World Games was very close to their hearts.

Sylmar resident Marcus Magdaleno stood at the corner of Brand Boulevard and San Fernando Road with his 7-year old daughter Maya. Smiling, she jumped up and down waving her flag as her dad smiled back. Born with an extra chromosome T21, Magdaleno said his daughter goes to therapy three times a week and loves to dance and play games.

Doctors say they can often give families of those with Downs Syndrome the most negative prognosis without seeing any upside.  

The Special Olympics world Games  smacks against those negative notions.

“My nephew Eric is doing so much better than doctors said he would. They told us that he would never walk, and he’s walking,” said Atiai Woodley, a San Fernando resident.

Woodley,  said she plans on attending the soccer competition at the Balboa Sports Center.

“I know people will probably go to the hot spots at USC and UCLA, but I want to make sure that there are people  to support the athletes competing at venues in the surrounding [San Fernando Valley] areas.”

Woodley held a sign with the Special Olympics motto, “Reach Up L.A.”, joined by other families who understand the challenges.  Woodley has a 22-year-old nephew with autism. For her nephew Eric, his mom, and others like them, she started a local  group called The Puzzled Pathway for parents of children with autism.

“I saw what my sister went through, there weren’t a lot of resources resources especially back then, so I started this group so that parents would have a place where they could find resources. If I don’t have the answer, I know where I can find it, “ said Woodley, who is now working toward becoming a formal non profit organization.

She said they hold resource fairs, and have held seminars at her the Reseda Blvd. Church of Christ.

Similarly, Syrenthia Ferris, a Chatsworth resident, started POCWASN or Parents of Children With All Special Needs.  

Woodley said they have all become part of an “extended family that supports each other.”

Ferris said that her group focuses on providing health and wellness for parents and caregivers of children with any special need.  

“We can burn out really fast,” she said.

Being a caregiver can be very isolating.  Ferris, a mother of a 28-year-old on the autism spectrum, said she didn’t leave her house for 20 years.

“Trying to just get out of the house can be a challenge. I now know that the first thing I do is to get up and  take care of myself first, and then my son, and then I can take care of the rest of the outside community,” Ferris said. “I can’t take care of anyone  else unless I take care of myself.  “Fitness is really important,  parents  need to rejuvenate themselves.”

 Ferris said they hold outings and family picnics that include all of their special need children along with friends and children who don’t have special needs.  

She said it’s a two-way street.

“It’s important that kids without special needs also understand that there isn’t a reason to be afraid [of our children] and understand there are people with differences and in reverse that children with special needs have an opportunity to be in the company of all kinds of people [beyond the special needs community].”  

For more information about POCWASN, call (818) 322-3407 or visit www.pocwasn.org.

For more information about The Puzzled Pathway, call (818) 639-1487 or visit TPP@thepuzzledpathway.org.