During a 10-day trip to China last year, Terese Brennan, May Institute’s Senior Vice President of Quality Improvement and Compliance, walked along the Great Wall, visited the Terracotta Warriors, and enjoyed great food, gracious hospitality, and the rapt attention of those who attended her workshop on quality improvement.
What surprised her the most, however, was the lack of services for older individuals with autism and other special needs. “I discovered that there are no adult services for people with autism in China,” said Terese, who was one of only three Americans selected to participate in the Professional Fellows Program (PFP)
The PFP is a two-way, global exchange program designed to promote mutual understanding, enhance leadership, and build lasting, sustainable partnerships between emerging leaders from foreign countries and the U.S. The program is sponsored by the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations
, and funded by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The National Committee is the leading nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages understanding of China and the United States among citizens of both countries.
May Institute was invited to apply for a fellowship with the PFP because we had previously been a host organization for the exchange program. In the Spring of 2018, Sun (“Scott”) Zhongkai, a PCP fellow from Beijing, spent a month at May sites learning about our programs, services, and evidence-based practices. Scott is the Executive Director of Stars and Rain
, a non-governmental educational organization (NGO) that serves children with autism in China. [The name “Stars and Rain” comes from the movie Rainman, which raised public awareness of autism, and the expression “Children of Stars,” which Taiwanese people fondly call their children with autism.]
When he visited May Institute, Scott expressed a strong interest in implementing quality improvement systems for Stars and Rain. Given her expertise, Terese was the ideal candidate for a State Department-funded fellowship that would enable her to travel to China and share her expertise. During her visit, Stars and Rain was her host organization, and she presented a one-day leadership workshop on quality improvement.
Terese met up with Sheila Fesko, Assistant Dean for the School of Global Inclusion and Social Development at UMass Boston, another PCP fellow, at Logan Airport, and the two women took the long flight together. Upon arrival, their first assignment was a one-day orientation conducted by the China Global Philanthropy Institute (CGPI)
, an organization that partners with the National Committee to welcome the fellows and provide cultural information about China.
Following orientation, Terese and Sheila visited The Beijing Golden Wings Arts Rehabilitation Service Center
, a CGPI-affiliated arts program for children with autism and other special needs. Golden Wings students danced, played music, and showed their artwork for their guests. The program focuses on preparing children for adulthood and potential employment opportunities. “In China, the government does not fund programs for people with special needs,” explained Terese, “therefore programs like Golden Wings are funded through private pay from parents or through grants. Seventy percent of Stars and Rains’ services are funded through philanthropic activities.”
Next, Terese took part in a two-day leadership workshop. Scott took the lead on the first day for a workshop on strategic planning. Terese took the lead the next day with a workshop on quality improvement. About 30 leaders from NGOs throughout China attended the workshops, many traveling hundreds of miles to get there.
“For me, the big take-away from my presentation was learning that there are no formal regulations in place for safety risk management in China,” said Terese. “That became evident when I was talking about quality improvement, safety monitoring and related protocols we have in place at May Institute. There were lots of questions like, ‘What do you mean by that?’ and ‘What does that mean?.’ The country does not have a standardized system for First Aid or CPR training, but I was told that they are working towards development of a system in the near future. This is still fairly new territory for China and as such they really are building from the ground up.”
Terese also visited a Stars and Rain “group home” while she was in Beijing. Unlike our residential programs that house individuals, the “group home” turned out to be more akin to a day program setting for six adolescents. Scott and his team are working on a strategic plan for the program and asked for Terese’s input. She recommended three steps they could take to help the adolescents grow into active, participating adults:
- Ensuring they have a way to communicate;
- Assisting them in developing the necessary skills for daily living, and;
- Helping them develop marketable skills.
“There is so much we could do to assist,” Terese said. “We can start by sharing existing May Institute resources such as our environmental safety checklists and other basic guidelines, protocols, and best practices they can modify to meet their needs.
“Moving forward, Scott wants to implement safety risk management systems at Stars and Rain similar to those we have at May Institute and then replicate them throughout China. We’re going to reach out to the State Department and see if they will provide funding for this effort.”
Read Terese's personal account of her trip here.