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#MompreneurMondays: Stephannie Addo Zuniga – Champs For Autism

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#MompreneurMondays: Stephannie Addo Zuniga – Champs For Autism

Champs For AutismAutism is a cause and diagnosis that is near and dear to my heart.  I have many children on the spectrum that mean the world to me and it always excites me to learn about people trying to make this world better for them.  I learned about Champs For Autism last year when someone tagged me in a post for an event that they were having.  I wanted more info but life happened and I wasn’t able to get in touch with the people putting together the event.

Fast forward to this year when Stephannie’s publicist reached out to me.  Talk about the stars aligning.  I had just been saying that I missed our #MompreneurMondays and Stephannie walked right into my inbox ready to be featured.  Stephannie, a US Army Veteran is the founder and owner of  Champs For Autism which creates fun events for children with and without Autism to help create an inclusive environment, where all children feel empowered and encouraged.

Stephannie Addo Zunniga - champs for autism

Keep reading to find out more about Stephannie and her company.

How did you come up with the name of your business?

I believe that business names are an extension of what you are going to do for your client. All of my business names gave the client an idea on what to expect. Champs For Autism explains that this company will be a Champ for people with Autism. We will be their voice when they are not able to express themselves in the way they would like. We will be their advocate to ensure that all of their rights are met. We will be their guide to help them achieve the dreams that they would like to accomplish, we will be their Champ. Most of all through our organization we will create more Champs with Autism.

What were you doing before you came up with the idea for your business?

I had a residential daycare called Scholars of the Future Educational Center, and I had an after school program named Achieving Scholars Educational Center. I ensured that typically developing children exceled within their education. The children in my residential program were ages 6mths- 5yrs old, and the afterschool was ages 6yrs-12yrs old.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a teacher.

Why should we shop/support your brand?

You should support my cause/brand because people with Autism deserve the chance to live successful lives. Some have hopes and dreams just as their typically developing peers, they just need more assistance to achieve them. The problem is they are not often given the chance because of their disability. Champs for Autism’s goal is to show that people with Autism have valuable talents and gifts to share with the nation, they are skilled and are capable of being productive citizens in society. They just need to be given the chance, and that is what Champs for Autism will give them.

When did you start your business?

My business is still in the startup phases. We are in the arena of fundraising. The idea began in 2014. Our goal started out as sliding scale private school for children with Autism, and it later expanded to offering Community Habilitation, Respite, and Recreational programs for people with Autism.

Why did you start your business ?

I started this business because I am a parent of three children, and my oldest has Autism. My son was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 2 years old. As he grew older I realized in my community things were very limited for him such as recreational activities, and schools. Parent of typically developing children have the option of choosing whether they will send their child to public schools or private schools, parents of children with Autism do not. Special Education private schools in NYC start at $80k a year and they do not offer financial assistance. Then I started looking at recreational programs for my son and many of those programs are expensive also. It can be very costly when you have a child with a disability. This takes away from the other children you may have in your household.

I came up with the idea of opening a sliding scale private school because of my daughter’s school. She is in an independent school that offers financial assistance based off of the expenses within your household. Typical financial assistance looks at the household size and your tax return, but their financial assistance take into account your car note, life insurance payments, rent, tutoring, etc. Then they come up with a monthly tuition rate for your child. Although their tuition is $40,000 a year, you may only have to pay $200 a month. They are able to do this because they receive heavy financial donations to cover a child’s education expenses. I decided to create my private school for children with Autism, based on these same principles. It is going to take some time before the school gets off the ground, but it will be one of a kind, and hopefully inspire others to do the same, so parents of children with special needs can start having options.

I came up with the idea to start offering more recreational programs, because they are limited in my community. Things such as my “Champs For Autism Fashion Show” is the only of its kind in the Bronx. It helps to show off the talent of children with and without disabilities in my community. People come from all 5 boroughs to participate in this event, or even as far as Indianapolis, and Virginia. The participants either have Autism, or they are walking for their sibling, cousin, friend, etc. We need more impactful inclusion events such as this to start creating awareness.

Three things you’ve learned since starting the company.

  1. Planning events is not easy!
  2. This idea is bigger than just me and my community in the Bronx, many want me to take this idea to other states.
  3. Network, Network, Network! In the realm of the Special Needs community everything is not online, you HAVE to network with other parents and professionals. They have more information, and connections than you can ever get online.

Where do you see the business being in five years?  In fifteen?

My business in 5 years will have an ongoing Respite, Recreational, and Community Hab program. Our school will just be opening within our 4th year. In fifteen years I see us expanded throughout New York State, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

Who is your biggest supporter?

Jesus Christ, my husband, and close friends. They are the ones there with me through my tears, and constantly giving me advice. My husband has made countless sacrifices to ensure that I am able to go after my dreams, and for that I am grateful.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

My children. Every time I look at them, I know that I cannot give up. I am a strong believer that role models begin at home. I want them to know that they are able to achieve any of their goals, if they do not give up. The best way I can show them how to do this, is to not give up myself.

Three brands other than yours that you support.

Cancer Awareness (because my grandfather died of cancer), Suicide Prevention (because I have had 3 military veterans I know die of suicide) Veteran organizations (because I am a US Army Veteran)

Parenting advice you would like to share. 

Spend time and talk with your children. If you feel you do not have the time, you have to create the time. When you are planning your month, or week in your planner, block off a time for your children. Time is not promised to anyone. Cherish all the time you have with your children, and family.

#momguilt – do you feel it? How do you cope?

I sure do feel #momguilt . I don’t think it is possible to escape it, especially if you are an entrepreneur. I cope with it by saying these affirmations to myself in the mirror a couple of times a week. I say “I am a good mother.” “I do the best I can for my children.” My children love me for me, not for what I can do for them.” Mom guilt comes from a variety of things, but for me it comes from second guessing what type of parent I am. I am always questioning my decisions. I had an amazing mother and I try to measure up to her at times, but the truth is she was the best mom she can be for me, and I have to be the best mom for my children. This mean creating my own path, and walking in it. That is how I came up with those affirmations.

Favorite knock knock joke. 

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Banana.

Banana who?

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Banana.

Banana who?

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Orange.

Orange who?

ORANGE YOU GLAD I DIDN’T SAY BANANA!

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