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Empower
Growth

OUR  STORY 

Our story begins with a mother- an exceptional mother named Cindy Myers, from Memphis, Tennessee. Cindy, who would become our founder, had a dream of reaching out to children with special needs in a community in Africa. As a parent of a child with special needs, she was curious to know what life was like in other parts of the world for children with disabilities. With the help of missionary friends, Cindy was able to connect with a school in Kibera, Kenya that was searching for ways to support children with disabilities in that community, and Cindy put together a calendar for the school filled with pictures of her daughter, Gabrielle, and all of Gab's friends with special needs. It was Cindy’s desire that the calendar reach other special needs families;  it would give them hope that they weren't alone in their journey. She wanted those parents and their children to feel love and acceptance, even if they were half-way around the world from her. And with that simple gesture, Exceptional Connections International was born. 

In April 2015, Carol and Dennis Ochieng, the teachers of the school in Kibera that received the calendar visited Memphis. Cindy and Gabrielle met them, and had the opportunity to introduce them to their special needs community in Memphis. As one of the very few schools in their community to accept children with special needs, Dennis and Carol shared their hope of being able to provide quality educational services for their students with disabilities. A few months later, in August 2015, Carol and Dennis returned to Memphis and stayed with Cindy and her family. During that visit, they were able to see more of the special needs community support in Memphis including schools, church groups, and extra curricular activities. This inspired them to provide even more support to their special needs community in Kibera. 

By the end of summer 2015, we had developed a project called Connect2Kenya. We built a team, began fundraising, and made our very first trip to Kenya in July 2016 to work with Carol and Dennis at their school, Tabasamu Watoto Inclusive Center (TWIC). Our focus was to educate the community, professionals, and parents on understanding and accepting individuals with special needs. The community response was overwhelming with over 70 people showing up for training during our two-day workshop. We were welcomed into homes of special needs families where we were allowed to see their specific needs first hand, and we were able to enjoy some one-on-one time with these precious families. At the end of that first trip, we knew this was a community that we wanted to commit to long-term. Once we returned home, we kept in contact with TWIC staff and continued to collaborate on how we could move forward with the work that was done in July. We felt the best way to support the school was to “divide and conquer” by adding more professionals to the Connect2Kenya team. We knew that if we could get a variety of professionals to volunteer with us, we could assist TWIC’s professionals in targeting the individual needs of each student or family. We set a goal for our next trip's team to include a Speech Therapist, Occupational Therapist, Physical Therapist, Mental Health Counselor or Psychologist, Special Education Teacher, and a Parent of a child with special needs. In April of 2017, we were able to take that team of professionals to aid us in our community training, and celebrated another successful week of support to TWIC and their community. Today, ECI is still working to actively support TWIC and their community. (To learn more about our Connect2Kenya project, please visit the Partner tab in our Menu bar.)​

 

After returning from Kenya in 2017, we decided to take our work to the next level by becoming a non-profit organization. In August 2017, we formed our own Board of Directors and held our first meeting.  In January 2018 we filed for 501(c)(3) non-profit status; and in February 2018, we officially received our approval. This huge accomplishment allows us to push even further in support of special needs communities worldwide.

YES! You read that right- worldwide! We see our mission connecting with additional communities in any part of the world that seeks us. To reflect our commitment to our mission, we chose to rename the organization, Exceptional Connections International so that we can plan for future 'connections' and continue to operate Connect2Kenya under this same 501(c)(3) umbrella. We want professionals to know that we are open to, and capable of providing support to exceptional populations anywhere in the world, as our time and resources allow for it. We continue to actively seek professionals with training in speech, physical, and occupational therapies; mental health counseling, and special education who would like to join our team and volunteer their time with us, as we continue to work towards Special Education growth in developing communities. 

As you can see, we are dedicating ourselves to this venture long-term. We are committed to communities who seek us out for partnerships and training, for as long as they need our support. However, our long-term purpose is to foster independence with each connection that we make, so that our partners obtain the knowledge, training, and resource development skills that they need to bring awareness, show acceptance, and provide quality services on their own someday. Our mission has been, and always will be, this: To remain dedicated to raising awareness for individuals with disabilities through parent empowerment, education, and resource development across the globe, through sustainable efforts.

 

We are excited to be a part of this amazing opportunity! We are extremely appreciative of all of our supporters and partners- we definitely would not have accomplished so much without you! Please continue to follow our work and watch for upcoming fundraisers to support these precious individuals. Please invite people to like our page; share it, and follow our upcoming events! Thank you all so much!

With love,

Lauren & Melissa

and

The Exceptional Connections International Team

 

 

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