Recognizing the need to improve programs and services for children with Down syndrome in Orange County, California, Down Syndrome Foundation of Orange County (DSF) formed in 2001. Shortly after incorporating, DSF launched a monthly support group to connect local families and provide a forum for sharing information. Structured to include social and educational components, the group quickly grew to include families not only from the Newport Beach/Costa Mesa area, but from San Diego and Long Beach as well.
DSF hosted its first fundraising event in October 2001. The Visions of Hope for their Future gala brought families, friends and community members together to celebrate people with Down syndrome, spread awareness and raise much needed funding for local services. DSF has hosted the Visions gala each year since.
For its first eight years, DSF delivered much of its work through, and in collaboration with, another local parent group (then called PROUD, now DSAOC). From 2001 through 2008, DSF donated almost $350,000 to DSAOC. DSF also helped procure a series of grants (worth over $275,000) that enabled DSAOC to open its first office, hire its first executive director and implement new programming.
DSF developed its first formal program in 2002. DSF, in collaboration with DSAOC, designed a detailed parent education program designed to help families navigate the first five years of life with Down syndrome. This program, delivered through DSAOC, provided critical Orange-County specific information and resources to families through an orientation guide, seminars, resource center and home/hospital visits. This successful program qualified for renewable funding through the California Children and Families First Act, and received national honors. Aspects of this program are still delivered by DSAOC.
By 2004, with its support group growing and its work expanding, DSF recognized another critical unmet need: effective education for children with Down syndrome. That observation set the stage for DSF’s most innovative and impactful work: development and implementation of The Learning Program™. Over the course of the next eight years, DSF worked with educators, researchers and therapists to create its program, which uses evidence-based approaches to teaching children with Down syndrome. The Learning Program™ is now a model for parent-focused educational intervention, delivered through Down syndrome associations across the nation.
In 2009, DSF partnered with Down Syndrome Education USA to open Orange County’s first Down syndrome-specific developmental research and training center. With its base in Newport Beach, California, DSF and DSE USA are working to improve education for people with Down syndrome.
The Learning Program™ has served as a springboard for other local and national services. DSF now offers year-round educational opportunities for teachers, parents and students, provides individual and group tutoring, hosts a monthly Teen Time program, and provides educational training at local and national conferences.