Learning that her two and-a-half-year-old daughter had pervasive developmental disorder (not otherwise specified), Izabela O’Brien found herself on foreign terrain, struggling to make sense of a prognosis certain to alter her family’s life.
“When Alina was first diagnosed, I really shut down,” Izabela recalls. “I didn’t want to go to friends’ homes because I didn’t want pity. And I didn’t want to scare their children with a sound or behavior that Alina might make.”
Instead, Izabela threw herself into researching early-intervention therapies and immersing her daughter in educational opportunities, therapeutic activities and biomedical treatments for children on the autism spectrum. The experience was eye-opening.
“I would sit in waiting rooms talking to parents who were emotionally, physically and financially drained,” she says. “It’s truly devastating.” Grateful for the financial resources that she and her husband had to provide for Alina, Izabela vowed to help others less fortunate.
In 2104, THE FEARLESS ANGEL PROJECT (TFAP) was launched to help economically challenged families raising a child on the spectrum. Since its inception TFAP has awarded scholarships to fifty-three children, and funded a multitude of therapeutic and biomedical interventions, including applied behavioral analysis, occupational, speech, aquatic and equine therapies.
Attending therapeutic classes benefits children and parents alike. “Many people go into seclusion with this diagnosis,” says Izabela. Attending classes helps break through the isolation by getting parents connected to others experiencing similar challenges.
While early intervention is vital, what’s also needed is empathy. “What’s most hurtful is when I see adults [responding to] special-needs children without considering what that child may be going through,” Izabela says. A little compassion does indeed go a long way.
A Swift Ascent
In just five years, The Fearless Angel Project has evolved into a dynamic, impactful organization under the vision and determination of founder Izabela O’Brien. Committed to serving children on the autism spectrum, TFAP also supports scholarship recipients’ families and educates the broader community. Here, some of the accomplishments of which Izabela is most proud.
Scholarship funding for licensed therapists and physicians is made available immediately, allowing children to begin or continue a program without delay. Most other financial awards take time to process, leaving children without the support they need until the monies are released.
2 INTENTIONAL EXPANSION
Founded in Greenwich, TFAP has grown to serve children in Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts, and plans to expand into New Jersey, Pennsylvania and various Midwestern states in the year ahead. By 2025, the organization hopes to be available in all fifty states.
International families with children on the autism spectrum are often shunned within their communities. Many travel to the U.S. to seek treatment and therapy. Welcoming all, TFAP has awarded scholarships to children from as far away as Nepal.
4 COLLABORATIVE PARTNERSHIPS
TFAP fosters synergistic relationships with therapeutic and biomedical providers dedicated to improving the lives of special-needs children. Quite often, providers match TFAP scholarships, extending recipients’ services twofold.
5 SUPPORTIVE COMMUNITIES
TFAP families draw strength from one another. Through their shared experiences, parents gain confidence and esteem without fear of judgment or ridicule and often educate others unfamiliar with an autism diagnosis.
6 UNDERSTANDING & ACCEPTANCE
The Fearless Angel Project Junior Ambassador Program fosters compassion and activism among youth, inspiring a new generation of philanthropists. School-age volunteers create their own fundraising events and frequently present scholarships to the recipients.