Challenged Child and Friends in Gainesville has changed its name, taking a Finnish word officials say better describes the program’s mission as it serves children of all abilities and needs.
Sisu is the new name of the organization, founded in 1985, focusing on special-needs children ages 6 weeks to 6 years in 14 Northeast Georgia counties by pairing them with their typically developing peers.
“The meaning of Sisu talks about a spirit to go forward, to believe that you’re capable of trying to achieve against odds that might be discouraging and that you’re in a place that is encouraging,” said Cathy Drerup, who served as executive director of the organization from 1988-2007 and was involved in focus groups that were a part of the process of coming up with the new name. “I am excited that an organization that is over 30 years old is having a fresh review of its impact and the process landed on a definition for one word that encapsulates it for all children, children that integrated together, as a part of the description.”
Sisu doesn’t have a literal English translation, but describes a combination of “determination, persistence, grit, bravery, resilience, hardiness and indomitable spirit,” according to Jenny Floyd, a board member and marketing committee chair.
“We searched high and low for words like ‘thrive’ and ‘soar’ and when we came up with those words, there were large corporations that already claimed them,” said executive director Jamie Reynolds, who added that the mission of the organization has not changed. “Our goal is that every child be served and to have their Sisu be captured and their spark ignited.”
The agency’s yearlong rebranding effort gathered input from staff, parents, donors and the community in settling on its new identity, according to a news release, which said the move “better conveys its promise to celebrate and nurture the individuality of all children of all abilities and guide them to reach their full potential.”
More than 250 children are involved in the program that seeks to have a 50-50 balance between special-needs and typical children. Reynolds said the program currently is comprised of about 60 percent children with special needs and 40 percent typical children.
“It was identified by the board and the staff that the name was becoming a barrier for maintaining a 50-50 balance,” Reynolds said. “People shortened our name to ‘Challenged Child.’ A child in wheelchair already has a label because they’re sitting in a wheelchair. What we felt was all children benefit from our program. The term ‘Challenged Child’ was somewhat limiting to the population that we serve.”
Both typical and special-needs children are equally important to the program’s success, according to Reynolds.
“We expect more and they shine through with their spark,” Reynolds said. “We see miracles and exceptions to the rule on a daily basis and how that’s accomplished through these children’s spirit. When you place them next to their typical peers, it’s amazing what peer pressure can do. “The typical children, they learn compassion and empathy,” she added. “They also learn a higher level of thinking. When you see a 2-year-old little girl tube-feeding her baby doll, she has adaptive thinking already because she’s seen it in the classroom.”
Drerup had four grandchildren who participated in the program as “friends” under the former name.
“They were among a community of unique friends,” she said of her grandchildren. “For the rest of their lives, they will always have an open mind and an open heart about all the different kinds of friends that they can have.”
The organization offers physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, dance movement therapy, and pet therapy integrated in the program at its home at 2360 Murphy Blvd., Gainesville. For more information, go to mysisu.org.