Hazel Adams-Shango  
Founder, Advocate of ChoiceBeing Special NYC

For four years Hazel has been successfully advocating for parents of special needs children in NYC schools through her consultancy firm, Advocate of Choice—Being Special NYC. Her journey to entrepreneurship was fueled by her own experience navigating the system to provide the resources she needed for her three children and their diverse learning challenges who today are highly accomplished college graduates.

After completion of an Associate’s Degree in early childhood education, Hazel moved to Washington DC and worked for the federal government while receiving requests from the community to counsel parents of children with special needs. In 2000, she moved back to NYC with her three children, then aged 14, 8 and 3; and worked for the Department of Education.

While successfully researching and acquiring resources for her own children and completing her Master’s Degree in Community economic Development and additional degrees in areas of psychology; school psychology; and mental health counseling,  she witnessed the frustration of parents who, far less familiar with the overburden school system, weren’t able to acquire the programming, speech and language therapy, specialized classroom tools or referrals to private schools that could accommodate special needs. She knew it was her calling to become an advocate for parents. Her goal was to launch the only advisory service owned and operated by a non-government individual  providing highly affordable, confidential and customized services to empower parents in making informed decisions about public and charter accommodation of special and gifted students. After ten years of working and volunteering for the DOE, it was time to launch Advocate of Choice.

When asked how her fee-based service model is so attractive to even working-class parents, Hazel explained that her fees were a fraction of what special education attorneys charged so she can deliver on her affordability claim. For $1,500 she accompanies her clients to meetings with officials at the school, provides written communication with all entities involved, including requests for any assessment tests she deems necessary to properly diagnose the student. Clients can sign up for additional 24/7 consultation for
a period of 12 months for only $300.

Her services quickly expanded to cover advocacy for LGBT&Q children and those with invisible disabilities like epilepsy, diabetes and asthma. Her amazing and highly personalized outcomes have included preferential seating in the classroom, availability of asthma pumps in accordance to federal laws, providing braille versions of tests and even extending the time allotted for
test-taking.

Advocate of Choice has proven to be an essential resource for Hazel’s clients. From the very beginning she has made a difference: The parents of a student classified by the school district as emotionally disabled came to her for help. Hazel suspected autism which would have opened a different resource path for the student. She was successful in getting the district to pay for a private neuropsychological evaluation which indeed diagnosed the autism spectrum disorder and the student was granted private school placement in Westchester County. Today, he is speaking, reading and socially active—none of which he did in the public-school setting.

 

Hazel learned of WVF through an incubator at Lehman College. She needed equipment for her office including a smart phone, new computer and printer; and the resources to create and deliver her first webinar. She also hired IT students from Lehman to design a landing platform for her e-learning modules she is set to release early 2018. “There I was with this great idea and no funding to get started. I’m grateful to the Women’s Venture Fund for seeing my potential.”

What’s next for Hazel? She envisions expanding her services in other cities in the Northeast; and then nationwide through virtual resources. Her advice to entrepreneurs: “Find a niche, create a unique product or build a specialized service to multiply your chances of succeeding as an entrepreneur. Then learn from your trials and errors.”