We had the good fortune of connecting with Sandra Baker and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sandra, as a parent, what have you done for your children that you feel has had the most significant impact?
The most important thing I have done as a parent of a typical daughter and a son with special needs was to set healthy work-life boundaries to spend quality time with my children. Having a son with special needs, Down syndrome and Autism, has helped me connect with many wonderful people with big hearts. At the same time, I have also encountered many injustices that others in the community have faced. This is why I started advocating for my son early on and learning everything that I could about disabilities and services. I developed a passion for advocacy and began advocating for other parents who could not secure services for their kids because they either did not know their rights or did not speak the language.
However, working with families began to consume all my time. My son was getting the attention he needed, but I had to take a step back when I realized that my daughter was growing up too quickly for her age, which was not what I envisioned for her. I wanted her to remember a beautiful childhood that included a mom who was present. So, I started making a conscious effort to spend more time with her, just the two of us. I even became a girl scout leader to be part of things that were important to her. I was never a girl scout, so it was challenging. Going forward, I prioritized my work-life balance. I started working for the Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles (DSALA), and I have been assisting families for about 15 years. I have been blessed to work for a nonprofit organization that has allowed me to work on my career goals and have the flexibility to be part of my children’s lives.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
The most challenging time of my life was when my son was born with Down syndrome. The pediatrician gave us the worst-case scenario. I did not know where or who to turn to, and I did not understand why it happened to me. I was very depressed and did not want to talk to anyone. Then, a mom of an older child with Down syndrome invited me to a support group, and I attended the group hesitantly. I met many families with their children, and they seemed happy. That was the first time I felt hope, and I knew everything was going to be okay. I realized that I wanted other parents also to find that hope. With hard work and dedication, I became the group leader, then a family advocate, and now the Director of DSALA. I have assisted many families secure services for their children with Down syndrome and other disabilities from regional centers, school districts, and other institutions throughout my career.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
There is a lot to do in Los Angeles, so I would start by taking my friends to the Universal Studios Theme Park and having dinner at the Buca di Beppo Italian Restaurant at CityWalk. I would also take them to Disneyland and eat at the park. Another good option would be to explore Hollywood such as by taking a tour of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. I would also find free or inexpensive activities like visiting the Getty Museum or the La Brea Tar Pits.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I want to dedicate this to the Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles Board of Directors for always supporting the Down syndrome community and me. Also, to my children Alexandra and Larry for making me a better person. And of course, my parents, they always have my back, no matter what.
Lavid Studious (Nancy Portillo)