Sibs Support Workshops are BACK! Starting in December 2023, this multi-workshop series spanning four months is designed specifically for siblings of individuals with disabilities, and is open to youth in grades K-8.
With our first meeting date just a few months away (and our Sibs Support Kick-Off scheduled for our Fall Family Fun Day on Sunday, Nov. 5) we want to take the time to introduce you to your workshop leader: Mary Emily Wang. Keep reading to learn more about Mary Emily and why she’s so passionate about this initative.
Register for our Sibs Support Workshops HERE.
Can you give us a short bio of yourself? Let our audience know who exactly they’re reading about!
My name is Mary Emily Wang and I am from Indianapolis. I am the youngest of three girls and my oldest sister, Mollie, has Down syndrome. My husband Jon and I met at Purdue University and in June of 2024, we will be married for ten years. We have two sons who are five and two years old.
I was a Kindergarten teacher in a local school for almost 15 years before joining Joseph Maley Foundation as an official staff member in June of 2022. Prior to becoming an Education and Service Manager for Joseph Maley Foundation, I supported the Foundation as a speaker with my sister and was a volunteer for a number of Sibs Support events.
How would you describe what Sibs Support is to someone who might not know?
Sibs Support is designed specifically for siblings of individuals with disabilities. We meet monthly for 4 months and we celebrate what makes each individual unique, build a community of support, and address concerns that often come our way as siblings.
We combine games and crafts with meaningful activities that offer opportunities to reflect on storms that have come our way as siblings. We have young adult volunteers who are siblings as well, offering their experience, ideas for growth in sibling relationships, and to simply be someone who knows what our Sibs are going through.
Why is Sibs Support work so important to you?
Growing up, I was often hesitant to share about my experience as a sibling of someone with a disability. I didn’t think that my friends would understand because they often saw the bright and sunny side of being a Sib. It felt like I was complaining about my sister if I was sharing my experience. I want other Sibs to know that they can both LOVE their sibling while also experiencing those feelings of frustration or embarrassment. I want Sibs to feel safe and heard while sharing their experiences.
Why are some of the biggest struggles or misunderstandings that you’ve seen Sibs facing?
A number of our Sibs (myself included) face the struggle of needing things from their family but being hesitant to ask because they don’t want to be seen as adding more to their parent’s already very full plate. So often, Sibs will shoulder burdens themselves because they don’t want to place that burden on their parents. They often can feel isolated from their peers because they are living a unique experience that others just can’t seem to relate with.
What does a typical Sibs Support Workshop look like? What are some of the common themes or activities that a Sib might experience?
During a Workshop, you will find us gathering together in games and activities to break the ice and getting to know each other. We spend time finding similarities between the participants so that when we move to harder conversations, we have already started building a space of trust and support.
We spend time focusing on joys and challenges that are currently happening with our family and work together to talk out the emotion behind these experiences. We also work on learning strategies for calming ourselves down and ways to talk with our family.
This Workshop Series for Winter ‘23-’24 will focus on Communication Tools and Exploring Who I Am.
How have you seen the impact of this initiative? Is there a particular moment or memory that stands out?
Seeing the ways that our participants open up during the whole of our series is incredible! Participants grow to feel safe in expressing their feelings about their family because there is no judgment, only true understanding.
A parent of a participant shared this message with us and it fully captures the goals and hopes we have for Sibs Support:
“For the first time he verbalized some of the things that are challenging about having [him] as his brother. I know he holds these feelings in, but it was like he was given permission to let it out!!!! Knowing that other siblings feel the same way probably helped.”
Anything else you’d like to share?
I love that I have the unique experience of being a sibling to someone with a disability! Having Mollie as a sister has fully shaped who I am today — even through our disagreements and frustrations we had growing up. She helps me to see the world with a different perspective and I hope to be able to share that with our Sibs so they can begin to see that as well.