We always love hearing about mamas who have a passion to help others. One such mama is Sydney Holland who recently founded the Sydney D. Holland Foundation, an organization that provides scholarships to improve the lives of at-risk youth and support the arts. Additionally, she’s the mom of a high-functioning four-year-old autistic daughter, as well as 16 month old twin sons, who is a big advocate for early autism testing with a focus on bringing the proper services and resources to underprivileged children and their families. Check out more about this inspiring mama in our latest interview:
Tell us about the Sydney D. Holland Foundation. How did it come about?
Giving back has always been important to me. My mom is a social worker, always volunteered, always invited anyone without a place (including many of her college students) to join our Thanksgiving dinners, and always taught us to give back. I’ve always loved art and creative pursuits, so I founded the Sydney Holland Foundation in 2012 with the mission to help those in need through education based programming. We’ve been able to contribute to organizations like A Place Called Home, which helps at-risk teens, Outdoor Outreach which helps provide outdoor education to kids, Music Cares, the Friendly House, and the UCLA Can Clinic, which provides help for people on the autism spectrum. As a mother, I am especially committed to helping families and kids, as it is our duty to help those less fortunate.
How do you balance your life as a mom with your the work you do at the Foundation?
It is not easy! I am very grateful to have a family that is helpful with my children. I also have a great support team and a great partner. I only attend a few functions per week and usually come home early. I eat healthy, exercise four times a week (my favorite classes are Box Union and Soul Cycle). I also try to sleep 8 hours a night (which doesn’t usually happen with three kids under age four). Lastly, I don’t drink and I am blessed with a lot of energy. When all else fails, sugar-free lattes come in handy!
You daughter has autism but is high functioning. Tell us how early autism testing helped your family.
My daughter is on the spectrum. She is very high functioning, due to early intervention. When she was diagnosed at age two, we got her involved with the Jasper program at UCLA, to a speech therapist five times a week, in occupational therapy and to work with a behaviorist. We also got her into the ECHIP program at UCLA which was a game changer for us. They work one-on-one with kids to help them with basic skills in a really compassionate and structured environment. I am committed to helping families who are unable to afford early autism screening by underwriting the costs of testing at UCLA’s CAN clinic. And I am also always willing to take a call or talk to anyone about my own journey, so we can help them with their own path.
What have you learned about autism for your experience?
The key learning is having early intervention. The minute you get a diagnosis is when you must start getting them the services they need. For my own daughter, we are really on top of monitoring her progress and providing her with the necessary support to develop. We still do occupational therapy twice a week, speech classes, and music classes. At home, we stick to a pretty structured routine, and give her lots of love and freedom to be who she is. She’s become quite the art and music fan as well, and loves singing.
We heard that you’re a big art collector – how did you get into art?
Art has been one of my biggest passions, even as a young child. I loved acting in plays as a child and I took local art classes from as early as I can remember. My mom always took me to Balboa Park where we’d wander around the art museums. In my mid 30s, I started collecting, with my first piece being a Marilyn Minter photography. From there, I just completely immersed myself in art, I love studio visits with local artists, and am very involved with museums like the Hammer Museum, MOCA and the ICALA Museum. My latest paintings are from Wes Lang and Mary Corse. I mostly like collecting contemporary art and photography.
What are some of your non-negotiables as a working mom?
Family comes first. I make sure I am able to pick them up and drop them off at school at least three days a week, attend all important school functions, have dinner with them almost every night, and I try to tuck them all in every night and be there when they wake first thing with a kiss and the words I love you.
What are some of your goals for the year?
My biggest goals are to continue to be there first for family, to make sure everyone is healthy and thriving, and to continue to be of service to others.
What advice would you give to a mama who wants to get involved in charity work but feels that she doesn’t have the time, or even know how to start?
Being involved can come in many shapes and forms, so even if you can pitch in for a few hours and help stuff envelopes or make a connection to someone who can help, it will make a huge difference. Charities are usually understaffed and under-resourced, so any help is always appreciative. You can’t put a price on how good it feels to give.
3 pearls of wisdom
Cherish every moment. They grow up fast.
Be flexible, and be present for your kids. They love undivided attention.
If something goes wrong, don’t confuse temporary for permanent.