Like a lot of grassroots organizations, WisconSibs developed because of an unmet need. In the words of Harriet Redman, a founder and the current executive director of WisconSibs:
“It was more than 20 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday when the doctor said that our 5-month-old son would be severely disabled. He said he would probably not walk. Maybe not talk. Not keep up with other kids. Not be ‘normal’. It wasn’t necessary for the doctor to go on to say that this would have an impact on our whole family, including his older sister.”
For too long, the needs of individuals growing up with siblings with special needs had been overlooked and ignored. So in 1996, a small group of concerned parents and school psychologists in the Fox Valley area of northeast Wisconsin got busy. They discovered sibling pioneer Don Meyer’s Sibshop® model of workshops for siblings of children with special needs, experimented with a few of them, and quickly learned that these were valuable enough that they needed to be delivered on a regular basis.
In 1998, the Fox Valley Sibling Support Network (FVSSN) officially became a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. In those days, organizations offering support for siblings of children with disabilities were very rare. Children with disabilities in the not-so-distant past had much short life expectancies. They attended segregated schools. They often lived in communities away from their siblings. But things were changing.
The vision: to help siblings thrive throughout their lives, from childhood through adulthood.
Over the years, FVSSN has served hundreds of families and thousands of children. It has:
And, since it started serving adult siblings as well in 2007, it has reached more than 500 families with adult conferences, “Future is Now” planning, and social events.
Today, as WisconSibs, it continues to offer peer support, education, social activities and leadership opportunities to children, teens and adults who have siblings with special needs or long-term illnesses.
First in a series of Sibshops held in Appleton and Neenah. 14 siblings attended. In 1996, the Arc of Outagamie County organized a very successful Sibshop which sparked the energy of a small group of parents and professionals to offer Sibshops on a regular basis in the Fox Valley. In 1997, Sibshops were offered to allow siblings ages 6-15 an opportunity to get involved. Total attendance in 1997 was 60 siblings.
The Fox Valley Sibling Support Network is granted 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. Founder: Harriet Redman. Founding Board of Directors – Barb Arndt, Amy and Craig Jordan, and Jim Johnson.
First issue of SibNews newsletter
Hired first employee, Harriet Redman, as part-time Executive Director.
Launched rapid program expansion that included the first day-camp style program called SibDays of Summer, new S.P.A. and H.U.L.K. Sibshops, and the Santa Celebration.
First fundraiser to support Sibshops and summer programs for children. Called the “Big Fling”, it brought together the community and area disc golfers. Disc golf pros taught new players the sport and competed for prizes. Later that summer, FVSSN collaborates with ASPIRO of Green Bay to offer Sib Camp.
Launched first adult sibling programs by hiring an Adult Sibling Coordinator, Sally Randa. She organized the first Wisconsin Adult Sibling Conference which was held April 28, 2006.
A FVSSN Sibshop held in Oshkosh was featured on ABC World News and ABC Nightline. Sibshop creator, Don Meyer, helped facilitate this Sibshop.
First “Celebrate Sisterhood” Fashion Show and Luncheon fundraiser held at Riverview Country Club and emceed by Channel 2 News Anchor, Bill Jartz. It featured adult siblings and their sisters modeling fall fashions along with a silent auction. This would grow to become an annual event with each year featuring an updated presentation.
FVSSN begins offering Future is Now!, a program created and tested by the University of Illinois at Chicago to help adult siblings concerned about their future and their siblings’ future.