The School of Imagination opened its new Dublin facility this weekend with a festive ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday and a public open house on Saturday.
"It's an absolute miracle that the community came together to provide this incredible gift for our children and families," said Charlene Sigman, who founded the school's precursor, Happy Talkers, with her husband Mitch in 2001 when they opened their Pleasanton home for daycare and therapy for children with speech delays, autism and other developmental needs.
The Sigmans began with four children in their living room, and the endeavor grew until, still in their home, Happy Talkers served more than 120 children each week. It came to be recognized as a much-need community resource and evolved into School of Imagination.
For a decade the Sigmans and their team of specialists and educators have moved from place to place -- a total of eight times -- and this week finally settled into their new 12,000-square-foot, custom-built permanent facility. Most recently it was held at Crosswinds Church, with the teachers packing up their classrooms each Friday afternoon and reassembling them Monday morning.
"We finally have a permanent home. It's a dream come true," Charlene Sigman said at the ribbon cutting.
KTVU/Channel 2 Sports Director Mark Ibanez, whose 7-year-old child with autism has attended the School of Imagination, was emcee for the Friday ceremonies.
"It's a great day for me," Ibanez said. "Not many times do we get to celebrate the fruition of a miracle."
"We always have to have hope," he added. "Hope leading to a dream leading to this. Hope is alive and well in the Dublin-Pleasanton Valley."
At the dedication, both Charlene and Mitch Sigman thanked Discovery Homes, which donated the land and the building.
"Many times we could have thrown in the towel -- but we couldn't because of the children," Charlene said. "Thank you for making this school a reality."
"The Seeno family has no idea what a gift they've given us," Mitch added.
They also thanked the city of Dublin for its support, including former Mayor Janet Lockhart and current Mayor Tim Sbranti.
"Mitch and Charlene were so clear about their vision and what they wanted to see," Lockhart told the crowd. "They brought a dream to all of us."
Sbranti called the school a perfect example of a public-private partnership and said people across the state and even the country have heard of the School of Imagination.
"People are blown away," he said. "It's one of the most unique facilities in the United States."
With its "integrated inclusion model," the school pairs typically developing children and children with developmental disabilities.
"In this environment, children don't learn prejudices and discrimination because of a person's differences. They learn compassion, patience and understanding. It's the way the world is supposed to be," Sigman said.
The School of Imagination received the Jefferson Award for Public Service in 2006 (San Francisco Chronicle and CBS5 television) and is considered a national role model for inclusion programs.
School of Imagination provides developmental and educational programs as well as free screening and outreach services for children with developmental disabilities such as autism. It now reaches more than 300 children weekly, attracting students from as far as Sacramento, Napa and San Jose. Ten children are diagnosed with autism every day just in California, according to The Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Sigmans noted that the new facility would not have been possible without support from hundreds of volunteers, dedicated staff members, as well as government, non-profit and corporate entities, including Discovery Homes, the city of Dublin, Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty, Black Tie Transportation, Quest Foundation, Pleasanton North Rotary, Providing Autism Research for Kids Sake, Palo Alto Medical Foundation and Santa's Charities.
The new School of Imagination is located at 9801 Dublin Blvd.
For more information on the school or to reach the Parent Support Network, call (877) KIDS-TLC (543-7852) or visit www.soi4kids.org.