For the past seventeen years, Raja Marhaba has been advocating for hundreds of special needs children in the education system. Raja Marhaba founded The Jonathan Foundation when she learned that both of her sons were special needs. She fought the school system for ten years to get her sons the proper accommodations so they could succeed in school.
The Jonathan Foundation pays for special needs children’s assessments, refers attorneys for parents and advocates pro-bono for children with psychological, emotional, behavioral and educational disabilities. Raja runs her own company, but still makes time to handle multiple children’s cases.
Raja Marhaba is making an impact in helping parents connect to the way their child’s brain is wired. She is also making an impact by helping the children understand how their brains are wired and that they have gifts and to better understand why they are the way they are, and that it’s ok. Raja doesn’t just help children get the proper therapies, accommodations and schooling… she gives these families and children hope.
Many of these families get diagnoses and are told what their children cannot do. Raja tells them what they can do, and that is something that changes lives. Sometimes all it takes is someone to believe in you and fight for you to learn how to appreciate who you are as a person.
What motivated you and inspired you to start your own business?
Tragedy is what motivated me to start my nonprofit. Twenty three years ago I was a helpless mom sitting at the edge of my son’s bed crying my heart out because I could not help my son. I did not know how or what I was supposed to do.
When we bring a child into this world, we pray that the child is healthy and has all the body parts. As the child grows older he/she looks perfect, no visible signs of anything wrong. Nobody can prepare someone for a special needs child that turns out to be God’s greatest gift to us.
Tragedy comes in when you don’t know how to navigate for your own child through a broken special education system; years are wasted, the child is placed on hold, wrong services provided, wrong placement and wrong diagnosis.
The worst feeling of all is a mother’s guilt. The guilt I felt because I blamed myself for what was going on with my son. A guilt that no parent should bare because it is not their fault, and it is beyond them. The mountain gets harder and harder to climb, families are torn apart due to the lack of understanding of what is happening with their child.
No family should endure the emotional and financial burden my family did trying to obtain a Free and Appropriate Public Education for their children. No child should be sacrificed and placed on hold because the system is so difficult to navigate. I filed a due process against the school district which turned into eight years of hell taking us to 9th Circuit Federal Court. A journey none of us were prepared for.
Tell us about your business?
The Jonathan Foundation was formed because of the trials and tribulations my family endured. We provide resources, guidance, and advocacy. The Jonathan Foundation has established an Assessment Scholarship Program.
We contract with highly credentialed assessors in the special education industry to provide a complete and comprehensive assessment which includes; social, emotional, academic, cognitive, and academics.
Funds are all privately raised during our yearly gala fundraiser. We are an emerging nonprofit.
Are you currently running any promos/contests/giveaways that you would like our readers to know about?
If families need guidance and/or their child requires a psycho-educational assessment, have them apply on our website www.thejonathanfoundation.org. We have also created a form of support on our instagram page. We post daily pictures, quotes and captions that relate to families with special needs. We post about everything from the stressful holidays, to difficulty making friends, to overcoming milestones.
The feedback we get from parents has been amazing. They feel they are not alone. Anyone with a special needs child is welcome to follow us on instagram and join an amazing support network. Our instagram is @
Where is your business based?
The Jonathan Foundation is based in Granada Hills, CA. We are in the process of going national with respect to guidance, assessments and support. We have a few cases out of state. IDEA 2004 is Federal Law which enables us to outreach beyond California.
What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?
Honestly, I own a construction company which is what pays the bills for my family. The Jonathan Foundation is an act of passion stemming from the excruciating pain of a mother who could not help her two special needs children.
My children were both identified as twice exceptional and learning disabled, obtaining badly needed services from the school. An invisible disability that cannot be seen on the exterior of an individual, but the interior struggles are overwhelming to the point of self-destruction if not identified and remediated timely.
I was appalled that our public funds were being used against parents to fight them with high priced attorneys in order not to provide services for their special needs children. I did not want families to be sacrificed as mine was.
The Jonathan Foundation was established in 2001, but our first fundraiser was in 2014. We received a tremendous amount of support and attracted over 230 guests. Our following and support grew from that year forward. We raise funds during our fundraisers, and 100% of the proceeds go towards assessments.
Every board member volunteers their precious time, and I advocate pro-bono but can only take a limited amount of cases a year. We do refer families to low income organizations who can assist with advocacy and legal representation.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers?
Word of mouth. The families that come to me for help are broken and lost, as I once was. At times I find myself giving consult in an effort trying to keep a marriage united and not divided. That is what this fighting for your children against a school system does. Their children become my own flesh and blood.
I fight as hard for them as I did for my own. I try very hard to connect with the children. I need to meet the children and speak them to help them understand they are not alone and they have an advocate. Eventually parents started to refer other parents to The Jonathan Foundation website and Facebook pages in addition to our yearly fundraisers the Foundation just took off on its own.
What has been the biggest challenges so far?
Running a nonprofit is similar to running a for profit business. I never dreamed of having a nonprofit organization. When I filed for the tax exemption I honestly had no idea what I was in for.
The blessing in disguise is that I own a construction company and that is where my business experience comes from. Finding Board Members who are compassionate and have resources is always a challenge. Everybody is very busy these days and time is limited.
How did you overcome these challenges?
The Jonathan Foundation is continuously seeking qualified passionate individuals who have time to dedicate to an amazing cause. In 2017, we brought on a marketing director and her organization to help with coordinating the board members which has definitely helped us grow.
How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
Faith, blind faith. Just go with the punches. There will always be resolve; at times the resolve may cost you some money, and others an emotion of some kind.
How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
The Jonathan Foundation has no boundaries with respect to who we provide services to. Although The Jonathan Foundation is for Children with Learning Disabilities, we have had many families approach us for help for their children with various deficits and/or challenges such as;
- Tourette Syndrome
- Intellectual Disability
- Down Syndrome
- Brain Injury
- Anhidrosis (the inability to sweat), etc.
It is very difficult to turn a family away if a service can be provided.
What is the best advice you have received recently?
To keep pushing forward with The Jonathan Foundation work.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
If you have a passion – pursue it. I am the founder of a nonprofit and own a for profit construction company. The construction company is what feeds my family, but the foundation is my passion. I enjoy working and growing the foundation. There is no greater fulfillment then seeing the children I help progress, and the families at peace.
What are your favorite business tools/resources and why?
The internet… nothing is sacred. Any resource you are looking for, all you have to do is google.
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
“The Little Engine That Couldn’t” Los Angeles Times Article dated Monday July 16th 2001.
It is not an article I read recently. I came upon it in the Los Angeles Times during the time I was having difficulty with the broken special education system and my children. It made so much sense and just got to me.
It is a cartoon clip about a child that came home with an “F” on his test and showed it to his dad. The dad was telling his son that the “F” stood for “fine”, “fabulous” and “fantastic”. Instead of listening to the cries of a child, we sometimes tend to brush it away because we don’t know how to deal with it.
The sad part is the damage we leave behind with that child because we chose not to deal with the reality of what is happening. The “F” should not have been explained to the child that the definition was about greatness in an attempt to help the child feel better. We should find out the underlying cause for the child obtaining the “F”. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
What are you currently learning about your business or looking for help with?
What The Jonathan Foundation is seeking is more Board Members with resources, passion, contacts and time to dedicate to an organization that is growing. There is a need for what we are doing, and it goes far beyond learning disabilities.
What are your goals for the next few months and how are you striving to achieve them?
We recently booked our date for our 2018 Fundraiser, which will be on June 2nd at Our Lady of Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles. We will be selling tickets, and soliciting for sponsorship. We are very excited as this will be our fifth annual fundraiser. Our save the date will be released in the next week.
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