Home #Hwoodtimes Up Close – Advocate, Influencer, Leader: Raja Marhaba, Founder & President of...

Up Close – Advocate, Influencer, Leader: Raja Marhaba, Founder & President of THE JONATHAN FOUNDATION, Advocating for Children with Disabilities By: Sharoll Jackson

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Northridge, CA (The Hollywood Times) 5/19/2018 – The proactive mother of two sons who both were facing an unknown journey of being diagnosed with ADHD and learning disabilities, dug down deep in order to stand strong and advocate for her children. She gained knowledge and wisdom with every step to find resources and needed services for them and then she went above and beyond to pass forward positive outcomes and hope to other children and their families as well. Raja readily embraces those in need, those who are seeking help, with the same nurturing manner that she shares with her own family. It quickly became apparent that she is a sensitive, strong, and compassionate person who advocates with expertise, passion, and a sense of right-doing for those with disabilities.

The Jonathan Foundation has established an Assessment Scholarship Program, and their upcoming 5th Annual Spring Fundraiser  will be held on Saturday, June 2, 2018, at Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels, 555 W. Temple Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012 at 5:00 this year honoring Holly Robinson Peete and Rodney Peete.

Here is what Raja has to say about taking on the duties of advocacy and the Foundation’s role for those in crisis.

Q:  Raja, when did you realize that creating a foundation would fulfill a need?

Raja: I had no idea at the beginning. I was a frustrated mom in court going through eight due processes for both sons. I had to go through three attorneys before I got the correct help. Dealing with attorneys was very expensive and, until I won my cases my kids remained on hold. I had two children that I was advocating for; taking them for various assessments and therapies, dealing with their daily struggles, and trying to keep a marriage whole. Our business suffered, and our personal life completely changed. We lived in an upper, middle-class neighborhood and were forced to sell our home and relocated to a lower-class neighborhood due to the cost of astronomical legal fees, nonpublic schooling, assessments, and therapies for both sons. Thank God we had a property to sell. I could only think of those families that did not have a property or a business, and all the negative possibilities of what they may have been enduring.

No family should have to go through what we went through, and no child should be sacrificed for a free and appropriate public education. The public school funds should be there to support our children, and what they need which are comprehensive assessments, appropriate services, and placements. People in general really don’t know and may not understand what is going on in the home with these families who are trying to survive with their special needs children. In a private conversation, someone said to me, “Live your dream, and your passion will make your dream a reality.” I thought about it; this was the turning point in my life where I opened the foundation. I became one of the first credentialed advocates in the state, as a Special Education Advocate. I also became a paralegal. I did an internship in an attorney’s office and learned about hearings, due process, mediation and settlement in the special education industry. This was a huge learning curve and being a business owner was a bonus. I quickly realized that having a nonprofit is no different than having a for-profit business. I also learned from the book of hard knocks – it was a lot to handle. But the big picture was my children, and my foundation to fund assessments so that families will not go through what my family did.

Q: With that bigger picture in mind, what were your initial goals or expectations for the foundation?

Raja: Again, I was not sure in the beginning, but I knew I needed a plan so that I was not always hands on in order to grow and to have a national presence, to have a legacy, and the most important thing – funding assessments. This was to by-pass the broken special education system. Districts do not always have the experienced staff to provide complete and comprehensive assessments. The unfortunate part is some people just do not see the whole picture when assessing a child and do not find all the deficits that are the “common denominator” among all the various types of assessments, which is the key to unlocking the door for that child.

The assessor should include actual recommendations in their reports based on their findings. Most District assessment recommendations state “the IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) team will make the appropriate recommendations.” Unfortunately, that statement does not include recommendations. How can an IEP “team” meeting be collaborative if the parent/District staff ratio at times may be 10:2?… by providing a child with an assessment from a credentialed PhD., having that professional not only assess the child, but also have them attend a two-hour IEP meeting to defend their report and the recommendations – that’s leveling the playing field for the parents. The advocate’s responsibility is to negotiate and collaborate to obtain services for the child. Having a credentialed professional attend the meetings and defend his or her report is priceless.  We are literally saving one child’s life at a time.

Q: Have your goals seemed to have grown organically?

Raja: Yes, and my vision will become a reality. I want to help anyone, including all special needs, not just limited to learning disabilities. Most of the families that come to me for help for their children who have learning disabilities also have co-existing conditions such as; autism, Aspergers, intellectual disabilities, etc. A deep spiritual conviction and commitment to the children is the reason for the success.

Q: Where do most of the challenges arise from?

Raja: From not understanding the child. My motto is – “How your brain is wired.” The child is going through their own struggle and parents, and others can’t interpret without understanding the wiring. Teach the parents what the scores mean on the assessment reports. The deficits get in the way of success. With the right understanding, and in order to connect with the child, it is imperative to help the child better understand what their “invisible” struggles are. It even goes beyond that by giving the child someone to fight for them, which empowers them! Touching the lives of these children by helping them realize their strength, and work on their weakness is, in turn, allowing them to spread their wings and fly.

Q: You encourage so many, who encourages you?

Raja: My two boys, and the parents and the children that I meet along the way. It means so much when the parents come and tell me, “Now I understand my child,” or the child says, “I’m okay now because you understand what I need.” Witnessing firsthand the success of these children and having their parents connect with them on a level they could not have prior to coming to me is what puts fire in me to keep on doing what I do.

Q: What do you want for the future of The Jonathan Foundation?

Raja: What I really want to tell the parents is to do some soul searching within themselves and to really try to keep the door of communication open with their children; there could be an underlying cause for the behaviors that have not yet been identified. The one main thing that I believe in is to love your children with all of the love you have, and then love them with even more love than you have to give….. that’s really the key to their success.

The Jonathan Foundation advocates for children with Autism and learning disabilities but is not limited to learning disabilities. We also provide advocacy and resources for children with other obstacles to success including: Intellectual Disabilities, Emotional Disturbance, ADD/ADHD, Apraxia, Autism/Aspergers, Behavioral Disorders, Bipolar, Brain Injury, Cerebral Palsy, Developmental Disabilities, Diabetes, Down Syndrome, Dyslexia, Epilepsy, Learning Disabilities, Mental Health, Mental Retardation, ODD (Oppositional Deviant Disorders), Tourette’s Syndrome.

As Raja, and her leadership of The Jonathan Foundation, continues to educate and reach out to individuals with disabilities and their families, it is easy to say that she will be a tour de force helping many to grow in knowledge and understanding as they receive the services they need.