EKO's Mission is to provide social and educational enrichment to individuals with special needs, their families and educators in a safe, inclusive and supportive environment
The Exceptional Kids Organization (EKO) is a public charitable 509(a)(2) and Not-for-Profit 501(c)(3) organization incorporated by the State of California. We serve over 500 individuals with development or physical disabilities in the South Bay area by providing educational and social support our children need.
We are dedicated now more than ever to create additional opportunities for young people and to support their families by offering forums presented by professionals in areas critical to parent/guardian knowledge.
Quick Facts About EKO
We have served the Los Angeles Special Needs community since 2000
We've hosted over 300 events since our founding
Every year we award up to $10,000 in classroom grants.
Our volunteers combine for over 1,000 hours of service annually
In 1999 our founder, Beth Muraida, determined that her son’s special education class was not served as the regular education classes were. Beth, along with special education teacher. Tom Cash joined together to close this gap. Parents, teachers, and community members joined Beth and Tom in their mission which led to creation of the Imperial PTO. This gave the group the ability to plan more activities such as monthly themed dances and a prom event at the Hacienda Hotel in El Segundo with over 100 teens and family members in attendance.
As more community members joined in support of this wonderful cause, a Board was formed in 2000, and the organization was incorporated as the EKPTO (Exceptional Kids Parent Teacher Organization) aka EKO.
Over the years the EKO has grown to supporting over 500 special needs individuals and their families and caregivers through monthly activities and family education. Additionally, we support special education teachers throughout the entire Southwest Special Education Local Planning Area (SELPA) by providing annual teacher grants of $300 and individual student scholarships for qualified graduating students.
Betty has an adult son with autism. Her experience started by volunteering at his elementary school. She later began a parent program for fundraising at Lawndale High School where parents of special needs students assisted in fundraising so the students could attend functions outside of high school, including sleep overs at the Science Center and the Aquarium of Long Beach. While her son was still in high school, she enrolled him at El Camino college where he completed college math courses at the junior college level.
In 2005, I met a young man who had a suite of issues, with four distinct diagnoses. Over time, this young man taught me through his behavior of the pure goodness within him – no agendas, just what you saw. Several years later, I attended an EKO dance. I couldn’t stop smiling. It was the most joy in one room I had ever seen: all the kids there seemed to be the same, with every one of them full of joy and totally accepting of every other person around them. Obviously, many knew each other and had developed close bonds. I have had many proud moments in my life, but when these young people, or their parents, come up to me and thank me for what we do, its surreal to realize what we can accomplish. I am fully dedicated to this organization and its growth and outreach.
It all started almost 15 years ago with a phone call. A friend asked if I would like to volunteer to help at a Special Needs student prom. Being free that night I said yes. After seeing the pure joy on the kids faces as they partied the night away I was hooked on helping. I have been involved ever since with this wonderful organization who sponsored that evening. My wife Etta and I have been very blessed in raising three extraordinary young men, and I wanted to give back to those less fortunate. After a lengthy career in real estate in the South Bay I am newly retired, and now have even more time to help the students. With my sales background, I found that my most valuable donation to the group is in helping them with the fundraising. Over the years I have helped put on many exciting and successful benefit evenings that support our group, and am looking forward to many more.
I am a retired special education teacher. I worked with the special needs population in the South Bay for over 13 years. Over that time I heard a lot about the dances and prom from other educators as well as parents. I was intrigued and after attending a dance I became a believer. Seeing my students so happy and enjoying themselves just hanging out with their friends like every other person their age was very special. A few years later I joined the board to help support the work they were doing. Since retiring the dances have given me the opportunity to stay in contact with many of the families I worked with over the years.
In 2022 I heard there was a prom for kids and adults with disabilities and that they were looking for volunteers, so I signed up to volunteer, and was blown away. It was such an impressive event, and all in attendance radiated pure joy. I couldn’t wait to come back. In 2023 I volunteered for the prom again, and realized this was not something I wanted to do only once year. I am so grateful to have found the EKO and am honored to serve as the board’s secretary. Thank you for this opportunity!
I witnessed, through the growth of a friend’s son, the powerful effect that EKO can have enhancing the joy and social development of individuals with special needs. Contributing, even a little, is truly a worthwhile endeavor.
Jean is a retired art teacher and manager of museum gift shops. I started volunteering at EKO 3 years ago when I saw it listed in my church bulletin that they needed volunteers. I help at all the dances, the Prom, and the Talent Show. I served one year as the Vice President of EKO & am now a board member. I am interested in helping these kids because I have a 17 year old special ability niece that lives in Delaware & participates in the Special Olympics. Since I cannot be with her, I can be with these great kids.
Sandi is a third generation California native and grew up in the Playa del Rey area. She earned her BA and MA degrees from USC and taught for 38 years in Westchester. She was also a teacher and coordinator for special education in LAUSD. Sandi has two grown children and attends Journey of Faith Church in Manhattan Beach. Her main hobbies are sports, playing cards and socializing. Sandi is an energetic fundraiser and has been volunteering for the EKO for three years.
I attended my first EKO dance in 2003 when my special needs son was a freshman in high school. I loved watching my son and seeing the joy that he and the other attendees displayed as they enjoyed their friends, the music, dancing, laughing and simply doing what all teens and young adults want to do, hang out with their peers. By the next dance I was hooked I asked if I could help out and before I knew it, I was on the Board. Through the years I’ve watch our kids grow into young adults, I’ve developed life long friendships with parents and caregivers and welcomed new kids and their families into our group.
What bonds me to the EKO is the love and joy I feel from the dancers, their parents, the volunteers and the dedication and hard work of the EKO Board. I am proud and honored to be affiliated with the EKO and hope to be working with this group for many more years to come.
Adam has been attending EKO dances and activities since the very beginning. Adam loves dancing and music and spending time with friends. He has served as Prom King. Adam also enjoys equestrian therapy.
For about 10 years, I have gone to EKO activities like the monthly dances, proms, family fun days, and talent shows. I have many friends, and we all like the EKO activities. For people with disabilities like me, it is hard to find things to do. EKO is EXCEPTIONAL. The EKO Board wants to help people with special needs. So when I was asked to be the first student representative last year, I was very excited. The EKO Board wants to hear my creative ideas. I love being a student representative so that I can help the EKO Board plan activities for me and my friends.
Matthew began attending EKO dances when he was 14 years old. Since that time he has been an enthusiastic participant and volunteer at most EKO activities. He has also helped with presentations to groups such as Kiwanis to spread awareness of the EKO throughout the community.
Our son loves to attend the monthly dances held by EKO, especially the June Prom. Our son is our gold. We loan our gold to those we trust. Those that will teach him to be a better individual, and more responsible in the community. Our son has grown with EKO. EKO is to be trusted for your special needs individual.
Dominguez Family — San Pedro, CA
It has been a rewarding experience working events for the EKPTO in the past five years. The time and effort I have put in is always eclipsed by the good feelings I take out.
Jim S. — Volunteer
When Sean attends the EKO dances I know he will be there with many of his friends and other peers that he is familiar with. I have great comfort knowing that Sean will enjoy an evening out while socializing, dancing and having a snack in a very fun, well chaperoned and safe environment. We are so fortunate to have the EKO in our area!
EKO is a God send! As a parent of a special needs child it is difficult to find SoCal events that are appropriate and fun for our kids. I remember attending my first EKO dance and feeling apprehensive that “how could these kids have fun” and “no one will be dancing”… I was pleasantly surprised to see the entire crowd of kids jumping and dancing with excitement. You should see the rendition of “YMCA” that they do!
Kevin L. — Parent
We have been involved with EKO for a long time. Our special needs son has blossomed with the support of many programs, specifically EKO. Drake started attending dances ten years ago – how time flies. We always attended the dances with him, but in the last few years he has asked us not to. While this is disheartening – on the flip side, that’s a huge step forward – he’s maturing. EKO has also supported the parents by holding parent information sessions during the dances. The best information for our community has always come from other parents. Our journey has been blessed with others helping us and now us helping others.
Stephanie B. — Drake's Mom
He went from a socially awkward teenager to a more socially perceptive and understanding young man. It is quite amazing to watch these kids interact, cheer each other on, socialize (!), sing, dance and just have fun. The EKO organization has so many loyal, longstanding, wonderful volunteers who support these well-organized, festive functions.