When her son was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at 1 year old, Johana Maison didn’t let the reality of coping with a special needs child overwhelm her. Instead, she founded Help Free an Angel, an organization that serves single parents of children with disabilities in the New Orleans area.
Given her firsthand experience, Maison realized that children with disabilities – as well as their parents and loved ones – are often an overlooked community. While adjusting to her son’s condition, she had the idea of forming a more cohesive community of support for these families. The organization’s name, Help Free an Angel, came about when she realized that by providing special needs children with the right resources and tools, caretakers can help free them from the limitations of their conditions.
Maison’s initial challenge was finding the right group of people to get her program off the ground. She found great allies among teachers and doctors – in fact, most of her board has a medical background.
But Johana’s “A-Team” supporters are a little closer to home: her daughters Leilah Marie (9) and Nala Jean (8) are both very engaged with the organization.
The most rewarding aspect of launching Help Free an Angel has been the willingness of people to help carry our her mission in the New Orleans community, Maison says. By collaborating with her dynamic board members, she has helped special needs children enhance their communication skills and enjoy specialized arts programs.
Many of the Help Free an Angel programs have a distinct New Orleans twist. For instance, Blaine Kern supports the program by throwing a mini-parade for them. He and his wife ride floats and distribute beads to the children.
Maison is thrilled by the initial reaction to Help Free an Angel. “People do want to help,” she says.
The ultimate goal of Help Free an Angel is the designation of a building in the metro New Orleans area for parents of special needs children to gather and share support. Furthermore, Maison is creating after-school and summer programs especially for children with disabilities, because parents who have commitments to jobs or other family members often find it difficult to locate care for them outside of school hours.
Individual volunteers are always welcome, and businesses and organizations are invited to share their resources, such as donating building space for an afternoon program.
Visit their websites, HelpFreeAnAngel.org and FreeAnAngel.com, for more details.
Tagline: With Love and Unity Bringing Hope and Support!