Sarah Rintamaki started Connecting For Kids after feeling alone and frustrated trying to find support for dealing with her children's speech and developmental delays.
Now, she's definitely not alone.
Connecting For Kids and Westlake Porter Library have been awarded $33,000 in grants to provide support, resources and education for parents of children with developmental issues including autism, ADHD, Asperger's, anxiety issues, speech delays, and sensory processing disorders, as well as developmental issues that don't have a definite diagnosis.
A $23,000 grant from the Cleveland Foundation, given to the library, will pay for parent discussion groups, music therapy, playtime and storytime. All of these are free of charge. The grant will also be used to train library staff in working with children with developmental disabilities, and to buy toys for the storytime program. The Nordson CorporationFoundation's $10,000 grant allows for more music therapy and play sessions.
Rintamaki and Connecting For Kids have come a long way since the organization was launched in September 2011.
"I never pictured myself running a nonprofit," Rintamaki, a Westlake resident, said. "I worked in business."
But after both her children had developmental delays, she was on the path to a new life.
"Everyone else's kids were doing fabulous," she said. "They were reading early, doing sports and all these amazing things. And I couldn't get mine to talk. I felt like the odd one out."
Rintamaki took a leave from her job, instead spending 40 hours a week on her children's various appointments and therapies.
She turned to the Internet to find information about her children's issues, looking for any kind of support. Over time, she found other parents who were struggling with similar challenges.
That's when her business experience kicked in. She saw a need. She saw something new was needed. So she got to work, talking with parents, doctors and other developmental professionals to put together an assessment of what was needed.
"We target parents in the questioning stage," Rintamaki said. "They have concerns about their child's development, but don't know if it's a big deal or a little deal."
Connecting For Kids helps parents find those answers. Sometimes, Rintamaki said, simple changes help a child get on track with developmental, behavioral or emotional issues. Sometimes, when those changes don't work, it's a sign that more needs to be done.
"We're a safe place," Rintamaki said. Parents may not want to talk about their concerns or fears with family or friends. But Connecting With Kids allows parents to face what's going on with support and resources.
Dealing with developmental delays, especially those who have no firm diagnosis, can make a parent feel stigmatized as well, Rintamaki said.
"If a child is having problems learning, we get them a tutor," she said. "If a child has physical developmental problems, we get them into physical therapy. But when a child has emotional or behavioral delays, we're still a culture that attaches shame to that and immediately go to there being something wrong with the parents. We need to start saying that it's OK to get help."
Parent discussion groups are opportunities for parents to talk about topics ranging from taking children to helping children with appointments such as the doctor or hairdresser, to finding time for yourself.
Even after doing the needs assessment, Rintamaki is surprised by the positive response.
"We hit on a huge unmet need here on the west side," she said. Six hundred families in Westlake alone have children on an individualized education program to meet special needs, she said.
Rintamaki connected with Westlake Porter Library director Andrew Mangels to hold programs at the library. She was thrilled when he saw the possibilities, and supported the idea completely.
"I don't think you could ask for a better leader of a local institution," she said. "He did everything he could to get this program going at the library, and worked with us to get grants."
Interested in the Connecting For Kids programs at the library? The next music therapy events are Jan. 4. Advance registration is required. Go to the Connecting For Kids website, click on the event you're interested in, and sign up. For more information, call 440-250-5563.