One woman helping hundreds of special needs children.
While advocating for her own children to get them the accommodations they needed to succeed in school, Raja Marhaba saw the challenges that special needs kids and their families faced first hand. To help these kids and their families, she founded The Jonathan Foundation, an organization that provides assessments, attorneys, and advocates for children with psychological, emotional, behavioral, and educational disabilities. Marhaba fights every day to get children the proper therapies, accommodations, and schooling that they need to thrive, supporting them and their families every step of the way. Here at Hope, we had the privilege of interviewing this amazing woman about the difference she is making in the world.
HOPE: Can you tell us a little bit about your organization, the Jonathan Foundation?
Raja Marhaba : The Jonathan Foundation was created to empower parents and children. Its essence is to provide advocacy support and resources to our special needs children. The Jonathan Foundation holds yearly galas to raise funds for our Assessment Scholarship Program. Assessments drive Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and the IEP is the legal document that allows a special needs child to receive services from the school district. The IEP goals and objectives are written from the results of the assessments.
HOPE: What inspired you to become an advocate for special needs children in education?
RM: Eight year due process for both my sons of which one of them reached 9th Circuit Federal Court. The due process tore my family apart. The emotional and financial burden was significant and I felt that no family should have to bare such a financial burden and no child should be placed on hold and/or sacrificed until the due process is resolved to obtain appropriate services for a Free and Appropriate Public Education.
HOPE: What is the most difficult thing about your work?
Listening to the families’ hardships. There have been times when dads call me and tell me they feel intimidated by district personnel and won’t speak with them unless I am on the phone. I have personally met with moms struggling to keep a marriage together and yet fighting for their special needs children.
HOPE: What do you enjoy most about your work?
When parents tell me how grateful they are. They are happy that they can better understand their children. It’s a great high when I see progress in the children that are helped.
HOPE: What do you do to encourage others?
Both my sons are happy to speak with children that are struggling to help them better understand why they may feel a certain way. To encourage them and lift their spirits and to let them know they are not alone. I am always speaking with parents and letting them know that it’s not their fault and not to feel guilty for what is happening to their child. Raising a typical child is challenging, but raising a special needs child…well that compounds the situation and adds more stress then is already in existence.
HOPE: What obstacles have you overcome?
Keeping it together when it seems it’s all falling apart and out of your control.
HOPE: What’s one message you wish all woman could hear?
Have faith and never give up no matter how dim the situation looks. There will always be an answer. When you have a weak moment just look into a child’s eyes...that is where I got my strength each time things went south. I just looked into my children’s eyes and hugged them. I cannot even begin to express the strength that came from them.