SDC Blue Ribbon Foundation: Spreading compassion for disabled youth

Empowering children with learning disabilities is the backbone ideal to the SDC Blue Ribbon Foundation – a youth driven non-profit organization that uses integrative programs and activities to foster relationships. The organization’s youth leaders first established a legacy of compassion in the Greater Vancouver area, and operations have since expanded to the international level. A recent cross-national trip to China – to raise awareness of issues surrounding disability in East Asian communities – shows that whether at home or abroad, SDC Blue Ribbon strives to build inclusive communities by promoting social tolerance and understanding.

The SDC After School Connection (ASC), in partnership with the Richmond Centre for Disability, is one of the longest running programs in Vancouver to facilitate the development of children with learning disabilities.

A happy marriage of arts and play, educational activities – with an emphasis on music, drama, and games – have a feel-good end result for everyone involved.

Sheila Lee, an accredited music therapist and certified neurologic music therapist, runs music therapy sessions during the school year for the ASC program.

“Youth (ages 9–15) with various special needs and abilities, come together to have fun and work on non-musical skills through the use of music,” says Lee.

Lee encourages skill development through creative means.

“Some of the common goals have been leadership, initiation, fine motor skills, attention span, and increasing vocabulary. I aim to provide an environment where all different forms of self-expression and communication are accepted and respected,” says Lee.

“As I get to know the group, therapeutic interventions are chosen to fit the needs of the participants. Some examples include: drum circles, singing pop songs, and dancing with scarves.”

An After School Connection session at the Richmond Centre for Disability

An After School Connection session at the Richmond Centre for Disability | Photo courtesy of SDC Blue Ribbon Foundation

A shared sense of joy

SDC’s programs are beneficial not only to participants, but also to staff and volunteers as they forge connections with the disabled youth. These relationships arise from a mutual sense of joy shared between participants and those who work with them.

Lee cherishes the laughter and happiness she shares with participants.

“Laughter and music is where we often find a common ground to connect and understand each other. Sometimes more serious and emotional issues come up in sessions, so they don’t always involve laughter,” says Lee. “But I usually find myself smiling at the end of the week, when I reflect on the special moments that my clients and I have shared.”

Lee also enjoys watching peer interactions between the participants and the volunteers.

“I see a lot of compassion and joy. It’s really touching to witness,” says Lee.

Serena Li, a 2nd year UBC student, is vice president and a former ASC volunteer who fondly remembers working one-on-one with a participant, and witnessing his development.

“Our programs are one-on-one; each child with a disability is paired with an older buddy. The pair can learn from each other and learn together. When I was a buddy, I was paired with a participant who was very shy and timid,” says Li. “By the end of the program, he was more social with others and more independent. He was offering to take initiative when getting board games or playing team activities. That boy had a lot to offer. He just needed a little guidance to believe it for himself. As a volunteer, I’m just glad I was there to witness it all happen.”

Making a difference overseas

The SDC Blue Ribbon Foundation expanded the program to Berkeley (Calif.) and from July to August of this year, members of the organization embarked on a 20-day international project: the 2014 Global Impact Delegation, to tackle the marginalization of disabled individuals in China.

“We worked with children with disabilities – using music, art, and games to spread love to children with disabilities across the country,” says president and founder David Wang, a 2nd year student at the University of California, Berkeley.

During the trip, Wang found many were oblivious to the plight of disabled children in China – something the organization wanted to change.

“Many parents refuse to let their kids, who have disabilities, go shopping or to the movie theatres. These children are isolated from their communities, and sometimes even by their families. By bringing attention to these children, we were able to make people think twice about diversity and tolerance in their communities.”