Jeena which means “To Live”, in Hindi, is a non-profit organization, in California, USA, dedicated to empowering individuals with developmental disabilities, and offering emotional and information support to their families.
The organization is a legacy of the founders’ daughter, Gina. After Gina died, a few days shy of 16 months old, Rajni found she was not alone in her feelings of helplessness, guilt, loneliness and a myriad of emotions. There were other families, living in the Bay Area, of South-Asian origin, who also felt isolated and confused. These families struggled with navigating the complex insurance benefits, State and County resources and educational services for their children. Theirs was a life unlike any typical immigrant; these families did not have a “village” to support their child’s needs or their own emotional wellbeing.
Jeena was formally formed and became the first non-profit organization in CA for families of South-Asian origin in 2000. The very first program was a three days/week playgroup for one month in August 1999. Supported by a speech therapist and an occupational therapist, seven children with a range of developmental disabilities and age range of 4yr to 7yrs met in a clinic while their parents exchanged information about services and resources, sitting outside the clinic or in a coffee shop a few feet away from the clinic. In that one month, strong connections were being formed and friendships were being forged.
By the end of the first year, Jeena had grown the parent support network from 7 to 50 families. We met in parks and local libraries. We created opportunities for our children to engage socially by organizing field trips to swimming pools, movie theaters and train rides to name a few. We organized family overnight summer camp and invited specialist for workshops addressing specific needs of our members.
By 2003, Jeena had a sprawling center in Milpitas, CA. Jeena members often described the center as “home away from home”. Members organized multiple classes for the children, arranged workshops for parents and offered intervention support for children while families navigated the labyrinth of agencies each with their own eligibility criteria and bureaucracy.
By 2018, Jeena’s membership rose to approximately 750 and a well established chapter in Southern CA. Over the years, our annual event Jeena Yahaan has provide a platform for our children to showcase their talent, changing the conversation to offering opportunities with support and compassion.
Although JeenaBoard made the hard decision of closing the Center due to the pandemic in 2020, Jeena’s tradition of organizing activities for our children and offering information and emotional support continues online. We hope to once again offer in-person support.