Military Financial Wellness With Freddie Mac

Set any New Year’s Resolutions to help build and maintain better credit? We can help!  Take advantage of our webinar series with Easterseals and Freddie Mac – build and maintain better credit, and prepare for successful long-term home ownership! paull roberts 2

Did you know that Veterans are more likely to have credit card challenges? We meet countless Veterans and military families facing difficult situations, which is why we’ve created more resources and options for military members looking to achieve financial wellness. Check out our video series below!

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Coming Full Circle – Volunteer to Staff Member

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Katherine von Haefen is a long-time United Way Greater Houston staff person.  She was at United Way when I was in high school, and she was in charge of the Kids Way Program then.  Kids Way was most definitely the thing that taught me to love volunteering in high school, and really instilled in me the idea of lifelong volunteerism.  Fast forward to today, and Katherine’s high school aged daughter, Alison, volunteered for Camp Buckaroo for the first time this summer.  Alison had a wonderful time and is now thinking about making working with people with disabilities her career, as many of our amazing teen volunteers do.  She’s already reached back out to Kenzie Richard, Easter Seals Camp Program Coordinator, to ask about volunteering during the school year!  It’s neat to think that Katherine was around when I discovered my love for volunteering, and now I’m around when her daughter’s making the same discovery – totally coming full circle.

Christine Ellery, Program Director Easter Seals Greater Houston.

*Easter Seals Greater Houston is proud to have been a partner of United Way GH since the days of it being called The Community Chest… a very long time! UWGH has enabled ESGH to serve so many more clients – thousands and thousands – through their and their donors support allowing us to ensure family stability, create growth, independence, and more.

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How ECI Changed Brianna’s Life

Brianna was 17 months old when she had her first Easter Seals Early Childhood Intervention evaluation.  Mom had made the referral as she had concerns with stiffness, lack of use of the left hand, and Brianna not walking.  During the evaluation, Brianna was inquisitive, yet determined.  She wanted to do things her way and she was not about to let the ECI team tell her what to and she made sure the ECI team knew this.  During the initial evaluation, the Early Childhood Intervention team noticed that Brianna was using her right side more than her left side and asked mom about Brianna’s medical history.  According to mom, pregnancy and labor were uncomplicated and her pediatrician had never expressed any concerns. 2019 ECI SW picBrianna qualified based on delays in several areas of development, but primarily motor functions.  Due to the ECI team’s concern with Brianna using her right side more than the left, she was referred to a neurologist and it was then that Brianna was diagnosed with hemiparesis.  At first, mom did not fully understand the diagnosis, but the ECI team made sure to provide her with information that she was able to understand.  As the therapists and EIS worked with Brianna, they quickly realized that Brianna was bright and very determined.  The ECI providers were constantly building on Brianna’s strengths in order to get her to meet new goals and mom was happy with the progress Brianna was making.  Mom always made sure she never missed a session, even when she was pregnant with her second child, and if she was not able to present for Brianna’s sessions, she made sure step dad was present.  Fast forward to Brianna graduating from ECI at age 3.  Brianna is walking, talking, following directions, and pointing to pictures, body parts, colors, and shapes.  During Brianna’s last session, mom expressed her gratitude for all her ECI service providers Priscilla Lewis, Alejandra Torres, Lindsay Wild, Christy Lewis, Judy Rodriguez, and Lillie Medellin.  Mom expressed how grateful she was to ECI as she had learned a lot during the time she was present for the therapy sessions.  She further stated that when Brianna was initially diagnosed with hemiparesis, she faulted herself and felt guilty for Brianna having been diagnosed, but with the help of all her ECI team, she quickly learned it was not her fault and she learned the many ways she could help Brianna.  Mom also stated she felt supported throughout Brianna’s participation in ECI and had it not been for ECI, they might have never gotten a diagnosis for Brianna which would have meant that Brianna would not have made the progress she made while in ECI.   Brianna is now happily participating in a PPCD program with Alief ISD and we are sure she is just as determined as she was during her ECI participation.  

Easter Seals Greater Houston, SouthWest ECI Team

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Oh how the Time Flys

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Oh, the mixed feelings. The proud “mama bear” feeling. The ecstatic “look at them go!” feeling. The sad “they’re leaving” feeling. All of ‘em. I’ve got all of ‘em.

For the past six years, I’ve been working with at risk youth with disabilities in the Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program at Easter Seals Greater Houston. The goal is to prepare them for life after high school while also making sure they feel the support and heed the guidance that aims to keep them out of the juvenile justice system and aiming instead at college and work. As you might imagine – working with teenagers is equal parts fun and *enter face-palm emoji here*. While we work on resume building, interviewing skills, and career exploration, they are also testing, and subsequently, pushing boundaries every chance they get. I’ve learned to navigate the energetic mischievousness and get as much done as possible, while still begging a handful of class clowns to “sit down”, “fill this out please”, and “please stop throwing erasers at his head”. I can’t complain too much, though. Most of the time I’m laughing as I say it because they truly are some of the funniest kids I have ever met.

For the last three years, I have had the same group of students at KIPP Northeast College Prep. Since day one, when they were all feeling me out and seeing if they actually liked me at all, they still made me laugh. There’s the one who can do any sound effect in the book and always has videos of his plays in the past weekend’s football game to show me, the one who prefers to walk around barefoot, the one whose smile is actually legitimately contagious. They all walk up and hug me when I walk into their classroom each week – and not superficial hugs, either. I mean big, crack-your-back bear hugs. The fact is, though, it’s time for some of them to move on; my five seniors. I’ve prepped them for this since their sophomore year, but it crept up on me a lot faster than I would have liked.

Today in class, all five of them told me that they had been accepted to several colleges. This big, scary transition from high school was starting out pretty wonderfully and they were excited to share the news. Again, those mixed feelings. I am so proud of them and I’m so sad to watch them go. When I started at Easter Seals, I knew this program would probably be pretty life changing but I honest to God didn’t expect it to have such an effect on me, too.

I’m so lucky to be a part of something so amazing and to get to spend my time with such talented, kind, intelligent young people. Watching them figure out their goals, work toward them, and achieve them is really incredible. My heart is full.

I still have a few months to prepare myself in an attempt to hold in tears as they walk across the stage at graduation. But that’s nothing a big bear hug can’t fix. Congratulations to the soon to be high school graduates of the class of 2020! Watching you on your journey to college has been a blessing. Don’t forget to visit. I’ll have candy.

Love, “Miss Jacquie”.

Jacquie Privitera, Easter Seals Greater Houston, RAMP Coordinator/ Transition Coordinator 

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Big Gifts and Little Gifts According to Our Will

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My name is Will Ellery.  I am 8 years old and I go to Parker Elementary.  My mom works at Easter Seals.  Sometimes I get to go to camp with her.  When I do, if everyone has gone first and had all the turns they want at the activities, then sometimes I get to go too.  I’ve never been able to do the ropes course because I always get scared.  One time I put on the harness and that was all I could do.  Another time I climbed up the ladder to get on the giant swing, but then I just climbed back down the ladder.  One time I started climbing the rock wall, but then I came back down after halfway because I didn’t feel safe.

Before Thanksgiving I got to go to the Veterans and family camp.  I met my friend, Ms. La’Tori, there.  She was there by herself because her baby is sick.  She is in the NICU at the hospital.  I was in the NICU too when I was a baby so that’s something we have in common.  Ms. La’Tori said she was going up the rock wall by herself, but she was going to wait for everybody else.  I told her I wasn’t allowed to go until last, and only if there was enough time.  She asked me if I had climbed the rock wall before, and I told her my stories about getting scared.  She said, “Well, why don’t we try going together?”

So we stood and waited together.  Sometimes I would get butterflies in my stomach.Will and La'Tori 2  I asked Ms. La’Tori if she was sure we could go together.  She said yes.  I asked her if she would stay with me and not go too fast.  She said yes to that too.  Some of the big older boys were going up the wall fast like Spiderman!

When it was our turn I went on the left side and Ms. La’Tori went on the right side.  She smiled real big and asked if I was ready.  I said yes and we started climbing.  Ms. La’Tori stayed right next to me.  Sometimes I even went a little faster than her!  When I had trouble on the hard parts she asked me if I was okay.  She tried to help me by pointing to rocks I could put my hands and feet on.Will and La'Tori 3

I made it to the top first!  When I got to the top I cheered for Ms. La’Tori so she could make it to the top too.  I was hoping we could go down the zipline together, but there was a line of people on her side.  I thought I would be scared to go down the zipline because I wasn’t going with Ms. La’Tori.  But you know what?  Once I got all the way to the top, nothing was scary anymore!  It’s like I just had to climb the wall once and then I got brave.

Since I went down the zipline first, I got to watch Ms. La’Tori from the ground.  I guessed she was probably scared up there.  So I yelled real loud that she didn’t need to worry and that it was going to be so much fun.  She went down the zipline a really brave way – backwards!

I’m really glad I met Ms. La’Tori at camp.  She helped me do something I never got to do before!

Note from Will’s mom (Christine Ellery, Easter Seals Program Director): Some of the greatest blessings of working at Easter Seals have been the experiences and interactions with people my kids have had.  From a young age, my kids have met people of all ages and all abilities and disabilities, and as Easter Seals has expanded its Veterans Program, my kids have met amazing Veterans and Veteran families.  All these people have helped to shape my kids and their capacity for kindness and compassion.

About Will’s story above…  One thing worth mentioning is La’Tori is an Air Force Veteran, so probably not as afraid of heights as Will guessed!  I loved and appreciated how capable and brave La’Tori made Will feel, from the times she let him climb a little faster than her, to her taking in all his words (um, screams) of ziplining advice and no-fear from below.  She made him feel so confident.  And I hope being at Veterans and family camp made La’Tori feel confident.  As a mom whose baby was also in the NICU, I know there are so many questions and so much to be anxious about; it’s hard to feel confident.  But watching La’Tori with Will, it’s so easy to see what a great mom she is.  I’m so excited La’Tori’s sweet baby girl gets to come home soon!    

Christine Ellery, Easter Seals Program Director  ; Will Ellery, Lifelong Easter Seals Houston Volunteer and Kenzie Richard, Easter Seals Program Coordinator

 

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Our BHP Community Quarterback Finalist

Congratulations Christian! You are a RockStar! So proud that you were chosen as a BHP Community Quarterback finalist! All finalists were recognized Sunday, December 8th at the Houston Texans game and ESGH will receive a $5000 donation as a result of Christian’s long-standing work with our Camp Program.

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Christian has been volunteering with Easter Seals Greater Houston’s camp programs for over a decade. Starting when he was 17 years old, Christian started as a volunteer at Camp Smiles, a week-long overnight camp that serves children with cerebral palsy. For years, Christian served as the one on one counselor for Kamal, a non-verbal camper who adored the support and friendship Christian gave him. Over the years, Kamal and Christian became life-long friends, and they still make time to celebrate graduations and big birthdays together. In recent years, Christian has taken on the role of head counselor, meaning he is in charge of an entire cabin of campers and volunteers for the week of camp. Christian is an incredible leader, both in the most serious and silliest aspects of ensuring a safe and enriching camp experience.

Christian is an integral part of the Camp Smiles community. Campers and volunteers alike adore him, and he is a trusted and remembered part of everyone’s camp experience. Not only has he impacted the lives of hundreds of campers, Christian, now a teacher, has also started recruiting his students to volunteer for camp. Christian is the perfect role model for the new volunteers’ first year at camp. The energy and light-hearted spirit Christian brings to camp is infectious; his desire to bond with each camper and counselor radiates, setting a standard of friendship within the cabin. They all became like brothers, creating a group bond that wouldn’t be possible without Christian. One of his students even earned the award of “best new counselor” at the end of camp, for his concerted effort to bond with his camper and make his week unforgettable. This success was the most certainly a result of Christian’s decade-long dedication to building stronger communities.

The most admirable aspect of Christian’s volunteerism is how effortless his hard work comes across, though his success as a camp leader comes from years of experience and dedication. From jokes, to encouragement, to tears at the end of camp, Christian is intentional about supporting each camper and volunteer in his cabin. Christian’s ability to see each camper as just another kid, despite any disability, allows him to build a community of inclusion around him. In the truest version of leading by example, the volunteers Christians brought to Camp Smiles caught onto this environment of inclusion starting on day one.  Not only did he teach this new generation of young men the basics of caregiving, Christian undoubtedly instilled in them the privilege and honor of serving others.

Christine Ellery, Easter Seals Greater Houston, Program Director

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I am More than my Disability

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We are working with Comcast Cable on their new eye gaze remote control for the TV which Time magazine says is one of the best inventions of 2019! Comcast Xfinity X1 Eye Control is one of TIME’s Best Inventions of 2019 We are very excited that our Easter Seals Greater Houston client, Alexis, was able to join us to help with the demo. Alexis’ unique way of communicating enables her to use her eyes as her mouse to navigate her on-screen keyboard and other pages of information on her tablet. AND makes her the perfect person to demonstrate the new EYE CONTROL remote for TV from Comcast! For more information on the Eye C9ontrol remote please contact Comcast! Read more about Alexis and her story below!

Alexis is a twenty-three-year-old young adult that has a physical disability known as Cerebral Palsy or (CP) which affects her muscle control of her upper and lower body extremities. She uses a wheelchair for mobility and is non-verbal. Her mother states that ” Alexis has a very sharp mind” and often described by others as a very talented young lady with such an awesome personality, a great sense of humor and is known for her beautiful contagious smile that will light up an entire room.

Alexis currently utilizes a Microsoft Pro Surface Tablet which is a Windows Base computer with the capability of eye-tracking technology to meet her communication needs. The eye-tracking technology also has a camera built-in with infrared lighting that tracks and follows the use of the retinas of her eyes as she navigates her computer (tablet) and her on-screen keyboard.  Alexis’ unique way of communicating enables her to use her eyes as her mouse to navigate her on-screen keyboard and other pages of information on her tablet. QUY_6916.JPG

To help get a better understanding of what it means to Alexis to have access to this type of advanced technology it has not only given her independence and ”  a voice” to independently communicate her own thoughts, feelings, wants, needs,  likes and dislikes, but it has also given her the ability to carry on an efficient conversation with family, friends, and individuals as she looks /dwells on a specific letter, word or phrase by just the use of eye gaze. The computer then immediately makes the information readily available to be typed and seen on her screen and has the capability to put her tablet into a voice output mode similar to (text to speech) to generate a voice to speak/ read aloud Alexis’ word , sentence, and/ or any other information that she has composed. This advanced type of assistive technology also continues to help support Alexis with the necessary tools she needs to continue to strengthen her self -advocacy skills. She is also able to text, email and access the internet. She is known by her family as the ” Queen of Amazon ” as she browses and makes purchases independently and always seems to have something saved in ” her cart”.

Alexis enjoys her leisurely time attending and participating in a wide variety of community events with her family and friends. She loves going on road trips, to parks,  The Rodeo, movies, the Mall, watching Netflix, Hulu, is always up for a good read and spending time with her yellow lab “Jasmine” at various dog events and visiting various dog parks.

Alexis wants to reach out to the community with a friendly reminder that her disability doesn’t define who she is … she doesn’t want people to identify her as ” the young lady with a disability “, ” the girl with Cerebral Palsy ” or ” the girl in the wheelchair”. She would like to be known by everyone as Alexis first and foremost. Alexis really appreciates when individuals see past her wheelchair and her disability and recognize her for her unique abilities instead of focusing on her disability.

Despite the daily challenges and barriers that Alexis faces she has many similar goals, dreams, and aspirations as her able-bodied peers. Alexis was educated alongside her able-bodied peers while attending public school from elementary thru her high school years. As her High School peers were doing the ” volunteer thing” she was given those same opportunities, she volunteered in the summer and really enjoyed giving back to her community. Alexis was able to develop new friendships and enlarge her friendship circle as well as gain new work-related skills while volunteering, which she hopes to be able to reach.  Her current goal is working really hard on things that will enable her to carry over those work-related skills along with her technology skills to possibly gain employment soon with a local business in her community.  She really feels that when given the proper training and supports and implementing her unique technology skills that she can be an asset to local business ‘.

Alexis wants to send a ” shout out” to everyone out in the community and if you happen to see Alexis when your “out and about ”  please take a moment to stop by and introduce yourself! She is really looking forward to meeting you and would love to chat!

Alexis Mendoza, Easter Seals Greater Houston, Client and Alexis’ Mom

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