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You can make a difference in a family's life

Scroll down to read Emily and Ziggy's story.


I love being his mom ... I am a better person because of this journey.
Emily, Ziggy's mom

The early founders of St. David’s Center knew children of all abilities could thrive together, and we quickly became known for welcoming all children at a time when parents had no other care options for their children with special needs. Sixty years later, this deep commitment to supporting parents and families on their path continues to be the fabric of our DNA, encompassing a long history of collaborative partnerships with school districts, counties, pediatric practices, the state, and other nonprofits who depend on St. David’s Center to expand and serve the needs of young children and families.

Every family’s path at St. David’s Center is their own, with joys and challenges. Recently Emily Steffel Barbero shared  her experience over the past five years with St David’s Center, which illustrates the strength so many families draw from this treasured organization. With Emily’s permission, here are her words:

At 8 years old, Ziggy is a brilliant light in this world – brave, inquisitive, and funny. He was born prematurely, and he has a complex medical history including cerebral palsy, Autism, and a rare genetic condition that affects his neural signaling. I was a different person five years ago, when I first was willing to share my son’s story. A world of change can happen in five years. He was a different kid, we were a different family. His mom and dad, well, now we each have different addresses. His medical situation: different. His school: different. His therapies: different. He now likes Johnny Cash and “The Bad Batch” and has canoed in the Boundary Waters. I was pretty different five years ago, too. Well, I still rock skinny jeans, emojis, and a side part. Not everything changes.

But then one night I was cooking dinner (aka ordering Brito’s Burritos from my phone with DoorDash – I’m so grateful for this change), when I had a surprising moment of clarity. You know what has been one of the constants through these years? St. David’s Center. I am so fortunate to not have to return to ground zero every time I need someone to lean on, learn from. Medical, emotional, developmental – adult, child, family unit, classroom. I know where to turn. And I have absolutely no shame in saying mental health services have been key for our wellbeing through it all. And there’s no “all-or-nothing” pressure from the center – we pick what works for us, when we need it.

There are so many esoteric details about raising children with developmental needs. Sometimes, late at night, we parents of atypical littles resort to internet searching “why does my child …” and by some Google magic, this place called St. David’s pops up, and bam boom ding, we’re connected. But where the Google marketing magic stops, the real community magic begins. Something grows in the strangest conditions of starts and spurts and stops with therapies, through different phases, helping kids, and helping parents, and over numerous years. Therapies and interactions become scalable. One life experience to the next.

The shared experience is no longer about overcoming something. No more shelling out everything you have to buy into the illusion of the better version of your child or yourself, which feels just outside of your reach. While there are definitely short-term gains to a relationship with St. David’s, this type of life, of community – it’s a way of creating meaning over a long-term investment. It’s a way of growing into self. It’s a wonderful way of not being alone in the human experience in this sometimes exhausting world, when things are comfortably familiar, kind of different, and totally foreign all at once.

Five years into our St. David’s Center path, Ziggy is highly empathetic and is a true friend to others, including his classmates at Spero Academy in Northeast Minneapolis. His care team spans three hospital systems and multiple specialty centers – including St. David’s Center – in the Twin Cities area. He is thriving in therapies and discovering he can meet and smash new goals as he grows. As a valued and beloved member of our several community circles, friends and family have recently taught him how to break open geodes, use a power drill to build a tree fort ladder, and launch water balloons with impressive accuracy. He teaches us, daily, how to laugh more and let your heart shine like the sun.

Since the start of the pandemic, parents are feeling more stress than ever. We remain their trusted partner, be it by improving their children’s trajectories or supporting them as parents. Because of caring people like you, we have been able to adapt during uncertain times to support more than 4300 children and families. All children deserve the best possible start in life. Support this vital work with a gift today!

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