Special Needs Network’s mission is to raise public awareness of developmental disabilities and to impact public policy, while providing education and resources to families, children and adults. SNN serves as a link between under-served communities and mainstream developmental disability organizations and governmental institutions, which often fail to address issues specific to these communities. SNN firmly believes that dignity, hope and opportunity are the birthright of all children.
Founded in 2005, Special Needs Network, Inc. (SNN) grew out of the struggles of Areva D. Martin, Esq. after her son Marty was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2. After finding it incredibly difficult to access services for Marty, Ms. Martin became aware of the enormous challenges faced by families affected by developmental disabilities in underserved communities – in particular, the neighborhood of South Los Angeles. A Harvard-trained attorney, Ms. Martin used her entrepreneurial and legal skills, as well as her own experiences navigating the complex system of care, to create a parent-centered organization with a mission to help the communities in need through four resolutions:
1. Reduce the waiting period for families to have their children diagnosed;
2. Bring education, resources, and services directly to the community;
3. Provide unique learning opportunities for children and young adults with developmental disabilities; and
4. Forge an action-based coalition of families empowered to self-advocate at all levels of government.
These urgent resolutions were the seeds that blossomed into Special Needs Network and our long list of programs that today serve thousands of families in the Los Angeles area and throughout the state of California.
In May of 2005, we hosted an event that sent shockwaves all the way from South Los Angeles to Sacramento. It was a town hall style meeting held in the heart of the community at the Challenger Boys and Girls Club on South Vermont. More than a thousand family members and caregivers turned out to show their support at this inaugural event, which was aptly titled “Impact of Autism on Communities of Color.” Among those in attendance were key local and state officials, many of whom heard for the first time the frustrations of families who are struggling to deal with an unjust system.
Next, we followed this successful event with a series of comprehensive training programs designed specifically for parents of special needs children seeking help in navigating the complex system of care on their own – our flagship Parent Advocacy Mentor Program (PAM). Since then, our roster of programs have grown to include Tools for Transformation Conference, Joe Patton Inclusion Camp (Camp JPAC), Back to School Inclusion and Resource Fair, Christmas Care Exchange and Toy Giveaways, and many more. (Learn more about our work.)
Focusing on health and human services, education and awareness, and outreach and advocacy, our programs have provided resources and services to more than 20,000 families to date, effectively establishing Special Needs Network as the premier nonprofit organization in South Los Angeles working on issues of autism and related developmental disabilities.