Westchester Special Needs Families Resources MyConnect
Two extraordinary moms, Caroline Bilal and Faradjine Laurore. recently created a service for Westchester-based parents of kids with special needs. MyConnect is a comprehensive directory of supports for parents to find special needs programs, providers and resources in their area — as well as read other parents’ qualitative reviews of these services. The platform allows parents to connect with each other, and even matches them to parents in similar situations. With relevant articles and chat rooms, the program, still in a Westchester-only testing stage, provides parents of special needs kids with crucial and often hard to find information and local support. We spoke to its creators about their project.
MyConnect Launched in Westchester
Bilal’s interest in MyConnect came from her own experience: Her son was born with a rare disease and corresponding developmental disability. “It was clear to both my husband and I from the get-go that Yonas was going to have special needs and we found it incredibly difficult to first and foremost access information about available support and resources in our local community,” she says. She knew that technology would be key to facilitating those connections and was shocked when a platform didn’t already exist.
That’s when she met Laurore, who has an tech background and “an immense interest in using technology to solve problems faced by any underserved communities,” she says. They both agreed that all parents, regardless of their socio-economic status, should have free access to the information that enables more successful advocacy for their special children.
After about two years of speaking with other families, Bilal built a team of about 20 volunteers and she and Laurore co-founded a grassroots tech company with small donations by family and friends. In March, MyConnect’s pilot product went live for Westchester parents, and is set to launch in Manhattan this summer. Bilal and Laurore eventually hope to secure enough seed funding to scale to other cities and areas in the United States.
How does MyConnect fit into Westchester’s community of special needs families?
While Facebook is helpful to some families, Bilal explains that the support groups are often tiny compared to the total number of families who have kids with disabilities. (In Westchester, nearly 30,000 families receive Early Intervention services.)
There are many community-based organizations and nonprofits, and MyConnect plans to partner with these organizations to make sure parents are always informed about local trainings, webinars and events on all the different topics that can help them become better parent advocates. In Westchester, Bilal says, “the information and tools exist – it’s just a matter of accessing them more systematically and efficiently so that parents aren’t burdened with having to do the research themselves.”
In fact, Bilal says that she and Laurore were initially surprised by the number of providers who reached out to them after MyConnect’s launch. “Many providers simply want to share what events they are hosting or what resources they offer. Others want to simply be able to connect with parents or contribute content or written works to us,” she says.
How will MyConnect help Westchester parents?
Bilal hopes that all parents who have kids with special needs will one day be able to optimize their children’s potential and serve as effective advocates for their kids. She and Laurore also want to ensure that parents understand that their community is not limited to parents who have kids with disabilities, but that there is a real potential to serve all parents who are simply feeling overwhelmed or need that extra bit of help with their child.
“While there certainly is no handbook for being a “special” parent, there really isn’t a handbook for being any kind of parent – of any child,” Bilal notes. “Parents everywhere need to feel supported at one time or another in their parenting life and if we can play even just a tiny part in making that happen our mission is accomplished.”