Today we’d like to introduce you to Oscar Madrigal.
Oscar, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
We met over coffee. At first it was Maja and myself. We were introduced because we had a similar vision of making a difference in the lives of individuals with autism. We both wanted to use creativity as a way to enable more inclusion in the world of people with autism and other special needs.
Maja Watkins grew up with a brother, Zack, who is on the autism spectrum. Inspired by her brother, she decided to pursue a career in education: Maja studied early childhood development with a focus on special needs. Maja then joined The Second City-LA an improv school while working in a special needs classroom. She found that many of her improv techniques engaged students who were otherwise unreachable.
It was Maja’s work with improv and experience having a brother with autism that later coincided with how we met. As both a parent of two children with autism and also a special education teacher, I saw how Zip Zap Zop addresses the need for enrichment beyond the clinical interventions that my children and students experienced.
With myself as President of the Board of Directors, the Zip Zap Zop organization was founded with the idea that individuals with special needs should have every opportunity to be included in our society as best as they can and wish to be.
We began the challenging and rewarding work of starting our project as a non-profit. It has now been 3 years since Maja and I met over coffee and now we have both taken on new roles in the organization. This year I became the executive director tasked with growing the work that we have been doing and expanding into professional development and social skills classes.
Has it been a smooth road?
Starting a non-profit is seldom a smooth road. When we began I was trying to balance a full time job, parenting, and starting this amazing project.
Of course funding was and is an issue. We had to make sure we could dedicate a lot of our time to building the organization and the funding. The first year was the most challenging but, slowly we’ve been able to find partners such as the Find Your Light Foundation that, have seen the value of what we bring to kids with special needs.
One other challenge we have faced is convincing people that improv is not just used for theatre but, is something can be used to develop social skills and help all learners develop kindness, empathy, understanding, stress management and relationship skills.
The best part of what we have been able to do is really be able to use all of the knowledge I have gained as both a father of two kids with special needs and a special education teacher to really share what I know with the communities we serve.
Also, this process has been something where Maja and myself have become close friends united in creating a more inclusive world for individuals with special needs.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Zip Zap Zop Enrichment story. Tell us more about the business.
Zip Zap Zop Enrichment is truly a unique program. We provide a hands-on approach that supports individuals with Social and Emotional Learning using improv games.
Social and Emotional Learning (www.casel.org) includes five areas: social awareness, relationship skills, self-management, responsible decision-making, and self-awareness.
Improv games are used to create teachable moments when working with individuals of all abilities. Improv games help individuals to learn and connect while having fun in inclusive settings. Zip Zap Zop Enrichment promotes connection through enjoyable activities that build relationships, improves social skills and increases verbal and nonverbal communication.
We accomplish this by implementing our curriculum in school settings, community centers, therapy centers, and home environments. Zip Zap Zop Enrichment has focused specifically on working with kids on the autism spectrum and have tailored and adapted our approach to being able to have this population grow and learn while having fun.
We have also been able to develop our work to be used as a tool by providers in the field of education, special education, psychology, and more. Improv is not just for theater; it is used throughout all aspects of life.
One success both personal and professional involves my son Isaac. Isaac was participating in the game “Mumbo Jumbo” (a Zip Zap Zop Enrichment improv game). Isaac wanted to make another student laugh and tried multiple tactics. The student did not laugh, and Isaac started to observe what other students chose to do to make the student laugh. Isaac took another turn and altered his tactic to what he believed the student would find funny instead of what he found to be funny. This tactic worked, and the student laughed, Isaac started to understand the student’s sense of humor and perspective…which was a BIG “Aha!” moment. This particular example is a way we incorporate Social and Emotional Learning in fun and interactive way.
How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
In particular we have aligned ourselves with the field of Social and Emotional Learning. In the past 8 years over 18 states have adopted competencies in the area of Social Emotional Learning. The number of schools and districts that are seeing the value that Social and Emotional Learning is growing. The need to grow students’ abilities in social awareness, awareness, self-management, relationship skills and responsible decision making is increasing and schools need varied approaches to reach students. Zip Zap Zop Enrichment is part of that and hopes to grow to be able to help more students and train more professionals.
According to the Centers for Disease Control 1 in 59 children are diagnosed with autism. Awareness of autism, early intervention are key to helping individuals with autism lead healthy productive lives. We have been a part of of that. As the need to help kids with autism, create more awareness and inclusion increases we also see an area for our organization to be a part of this community and grow.
- Website: www.zipzapzopenrichment.org
- Instagram: @zipzapzopenrichment
- Facebook: @zipzapzopenrichment
Oscar Madrigal, Judy Julin, Jeremiah Watkins