Twenty-seven years ago, my husband John and I, had our first child, Jane…a beautiful, blond baby girl – “princess Jane”. Our first year together was filled with the usual joys – we took Jane everywhere with us.   We were in love with our little “princess Jane”.

Everything was fine, or so we thought.  But over time we noticed she was no longer meeting her developmental milestones. Doctors and other professionals noticed as well; they ran multitudes of tests – leading to Jane’s diagnosis of “Microcephaly”.  This was our first life curveball.  As new parents, we had all this confusion and uncertainty.  Though we felt anxious, fearful, and alone with this news, we rolled with the punches nevertheless.

There was no roadmap on what to do.  What we did know was that Jane, our “special needs princess” was a gift in our life.  Jane brought us so much joy as parents that we grew excited to have more children.  Before long, Jane was joined by two little brothers – first Jim, and then little Joe.  Jane became their “little big sister”.

Like her brothers, Jane went through the Palo Alto school system.  She had both good times and tough times.  One highlight of Jane’s K-12 school years was joining the inaugural  “Palo Alto Little League Challenger baseball team” – which Abilities United co-sponsored.  She learned skills, built confidence, and made lifelong friends playing baseball on Sundays.  The Palo Alto Weekly even did a feature story about the team!   Another highlight – thanks to Kathleen Foley Hughes of “Ada’s Café” fame – was that Jane learned to be a Barista at the Terman Tasty Treats and Gunn Gourmet café’s.  Kathleen bought Jane her own “pink princess” barista apron!

Though Jane did OK throughout her secondary school years, the post-secondary years were a kind of scary.  As for many young adults, this transitional period can be difficult and uncertain for both the children and their parents.  This was definitely the case for us.

As we evaluated programs for Jane, we knew that Abilities United would be the perfect fit for Jane’s needs – and it was right near our house in south Palo Alto!  The problem was that the program was so popular that Jane had to be wait-listed.  She was #43 on the list, with no visibility of when a spot would open up for her.  So we enrolled Jane in a program in South San Jose. For a long, grueling year, Jane took paratransit alone to San Jose, five days a week. We worried every day about her safety.  Then one year later in 2013, we got the call from Abilities United that a space had opened for Jane.  It was truly a “woo whoo” day for our family – like getting an acceptance letter to Cal!

Today, Jane is thriving at Abilities United.  Her language, social and living skills have all blossomed.  She goes to Abilities United or “school” as she calls it, Monday through Friday.  She loves it. Along with her friends, she

  • Takes classes at Foothill College and Abilities United that teach her daily living skills so she can help herself and our entire family. Someday we hope she lives away from home and these skills will be essential.
  • Volunteers at community nonprofits. She is a greeter at Magical Bridge in Mitchell Park. She cleans aquariums at Marine Science Institute. Mucks horse stalls at NCEFT.

Jane loves to be productive and learn new skills, skills she may use in a future job.

  • Enjoys social and recreational activities including going to the theatre, hiking, camping, and Stanford football games. She exercises her talents by singing in a choir, making art, and dancing at the Abilities United sponsored parties.

My biggest wake-up call was in 2016 when Jane’s artwork was selected for display at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. Her original painting was enlarged to a wall-sized display at the exhibition!  During the grand opening reception, I was flabbergasted at how inspired Jane’s painting was; I couldn’t believe that she could create such beauty.  I stood there with tears in my eyes the first time I cast my eyes on her life-size artwork on the gallery wall.  It was an amazing awakening.

So, over all these years, why didn’t I believe that Jane could create beautiful art? Play baseball? Be a Barista? Sing in a choir? Do volunteer work?  Jane taught me, her family, and her entire community that if you BELIEVE and BELONG, you can do anything!  Jane truly BELONGS at Abilities United – her “school”. It is her school, her community, and her extended family all in one.

I think we’d all agree that life is full of curve balls.  But Jane has taught us so many valuable lessons along our journey together:

  • Be flexible and resilient when facing the unexpected; have courage and empathy
  • We all have needs and abilities – no matter what our circumstance
  • When we feel that we belong, we are connected together and can be at our best for our family and society.

Abilities United has been here for Jane and our family for the past 50 years.  This Gold Standard agency continues to deliver services well into the future to individuals and families faced with those “Curve Balls in Life”.  We are so grateful for the extraordinary staff and services that have helped Jane grow and achieve her full potential.  We look forward to continuing this wonderful engagement with Abilities United for Jane and others into the decades ahead of us!

-Submitted by Jen Wagstaff-Hinton November 2017