Remarkable Mom Advocates for Special Needs Education Support Hayley Gripp
For the past 17 years, Raja Marhaba has been advocating for hundreds of special needs children in the education system. Raja founded The Jonathan Foundation when she learned both of her sons were special needs. She fought the school system for 10 years to get her sons the proper accommodations so they could succeed in school. The Jonathan Foundation pays for special needs children’s assessments, refers attorneys for parents, and advocates pro-bono for children with psychological, emotional, behavioral and educational disabilities. Raja runs her own company, but still makes time to handle multiple children’s cases.
Raja is making an impact in helping parents connect to the way their child’s brain is wired. She is also making an impact by helping children understand themselves and know they have gifts. Raja doesn’t just help children get the proper therapies, accommodations, and schooling—but she gives families and children dreams. Many families receive a diagnosis and are told what their children cannot do. Raja tells them what they can do, and that is something that changes lives. Sometimes all it takes is someone to believe in you and fight for you to learn how to appreciate who you are as a person.
Raja formed The Jonathan Foundation because of the trials and tribulations her family endured. The Jonathan Foundation provides resources, guidance, and advocacy and has established an Assessment Scholarship Program. They contract with highly credentialed assessors in the special education industry to provide a complete and comprehensive assessment which includes social, emotional, academic, cognitive and academics. Funds are all privately raised during a yearly gala fundraiser. They are an emerging nonprofit.
LOCATION: Granada Hills, CA
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Throughout all of their schooling, Raja was told her sons, Jonathan A. Marhaba and Omar J. Marhaba, would be lucky to graduate high school and that college might not be a reality. “I am proud and honored to tell you that both my sons are amazing success stories. Jonathan did go to a two-year college and graduated with a 3.99999 GPA–I like to say 4.0 GPA since he is severely dyslexic with a fifth-grade reading level,” Raja said. Omar did graduate high school but chose not to go to college for various reasons. “Instead he moved out of our home at the age of 19 for a job opportunity in the technology industry in Orange County and has supported and lived on his own since.”
INSPIRATION: Raja said if you have a passion–pursue it. “I am the founder of a nonprofit and own a for-profit construction company. The construction company is what feeds my family, but the foundation is my passion. I enjoy working and growing the foundation. There is no greater fulfillment then seeing the children I help progress and the families at peace. They are my inspiration!”
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GOALS: The Jonathan Foundation has a vision to go national in an effort to reach out to more families needing guidance. Raja said, “We view it as saving one child at a time. It takes a village to make an impact, and with the proper support, The Jonathan Foundation will realize its vision.”
ADVICE FOR FAMILIES AFFECTED BY AUTISM: “Faith, blind faith. Just go with the punches. There will always be resolve; at times the resolve may cost you some money, and others an emotion of some kind. When we bring a child into this world, we pray that the child is healthy and has all the body parts. As the child grows older, he/she looks perfect, no visible signs of anything wrong. Nobody can prepare someone for a special needs child that turns out to be God’s greatest gift to us.
Tragedy comes in when you don’t know how to navigate for your own child through a broken special education system; years are wasted, the child is placed on hold, wrong services provided, wrong placement and wrong diagnosis.
The worst feeling of all is a mother’s guilt. The guilt I felt because I blamed myself for what was going on with my son. A guilt that no parent should bear because it is not his or her fault, and it is beyond them. The mountain gets harder and harder to climb; families are torn apart due to the lack of understanding of what is happening with their child.
No family should endure the emotional and financial burden my family did try to obtain a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for their children. No child should be sacrificed and placed on hold because the system is so difficult to navigate. I filed a due process against the school district which turned into eight years of hell taking us to 9th Circuit Federal Court. A journey none of us were prepared for. No matter how difficult the climb is just remembering to look into your children’s eyes, and be empowered to continue pushing forward.”
This article was featured in Issue 76 – Raising A Child with Autism