Super Stegemann Sister Volunteer for 17 years Together

Camp sisters blog

Shelby
Hello! My name is Shelby and I am a graduate student in a physical therapy program at the University of New England. I have been volunteering at ESGH  Camp Smiles for seven wonderful years. I love camp because it is truly a place that looks past disability and provides an awesome experience for some really cool kids. One of my favorite memories was with my camper Claire, who has a beloved stuffed Olaf (the snowman from Frozen). The whole week we were together, we brainstormed ways to include Olaf in all the activities, from dressing him up for the dance to having him shoot an arrow in archery! Every summer at camp is a great experience and I am so grateful for the wonderful friends and awesome memories I’ve made along the way.

shelby

Sierra
Hello! My name is Sierra Stegemann. I am a masters student at the University of Texas at San Antonio studying to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. I have been volunteering with Camp Smiles for six wonderful years. I have gotten to be a cabin leader, work as the Easter Seals intern, and have an amazing opportunity to be the counselor to my camper, Jackson, for the past three years. Camp is something that I look forward to all year long! My favorite part of camp has been getting to see my Jackson grow and building an awesome friendship with him. This past summer was especially important to me. Jackson is nonverbal and many people can be intimidated by him and are not sure how to interact with us, especially since we are always on the go! This summer our cabin really came together and learned different ways to communicate with him and created an inclusive environment that we hadn’t always had in years past. My favorite memory is everyone in the cabin learning his song that always made him smile and having a group jam session. Memories like that keep me returning to camp! It is always a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the “real world” and it will forever be my happy place.

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Abby
Hello all! My name is Shay. For the last 3 years, Camp Smiles has been the highlight of my summer. I was first introduced to this amazing camp by my 2 older sisters, Shelby and Sierra. My first year, I was asked to come to camp the day before it was going to start. I was nervous about the last-minute request, but I agreed to join my sisters for what they promised would be a life-changing week. And they were right! Every year at Smiles is special. This summer was special to me because I had the pleasure of being the counselor to my pal, Nathan, who I have known for 3 years. It was wonderful to be a part of his first camp adventure- from seeing him go canoeing and fishing for the first time, to being covered in face paint laughing and cheering at the pep rally. My favorite thing about Camp Smiles is the community. I always say that I wish the real world were more like camp- inclusive, judgment-free, and full of smiles!

abby
Emma
My name is Emma and I have volunteered at Camp Smiles for two years. My sisters have been volunteering at camp for some time now and I am so happy that I get to experience it with them. My favorite thing about camp is the atmosphere. Everyone is always so happy to be there and everyone is there for the same purpose: to have a great time. Camp is the one place I can be myself and know that nobody will judge me, and I know the campers feel the same way. I have been a counselor to Zoë for the past two summers and it has been awesome to witness her growth from the first summer I was her counselor to this summer. She went from barely speaking to me to speaking loud and clear, and it was amazing to see that transition in her. One of my favorite camp memories was after this year’s graduation ceremony. Zoë and I were both very emotional because she was graduating, but after I gave my speech, Zoë said my name for the first time and told me that I was her best friend. I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to be at camp for 2 years, and I can’t wait for the many years to come.

emma

Abby, Emma, Sierra, and Shelby: Easter Seals Greater Houston, Camp Smiles Volunteers

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Have You Ever Heard of “Ear Reading”?

Last August, I was excited to become the Program Coordinator for BridgingApps, one of the many programs of Easter Seals Greater Houston.  Before joining the BridgingApps team, I worked as a special education teacher in a variety of classrooms including resource, co-teach, inclusion, and adaptive behavior settings.  As a former special education teacher, helping students with disabilities and their families remains close to my heart.  Being a part of the BridgingApps team has allowed me to find and share creative ways of using technology to improve all students’ learning opportunities with my fellow educators. AmyLou_Podcast_mode

As school starts up again, I wanted to share a bit about a term you may have heard lately- “Ear Reading”.

What in the world is “ear reading”?  You have probably done it, but did not realize or know how helpful it can be for people of all abilities.  Remember reading aloud as a child?  Ever listen to an audiobook?  Educators used to be taught that all children have to learn to “eye read” and maybe even inadvertently given the impression that students who were unable to do so weren’t as smart as their peers. boy with book

Dyslexia specialists and interventionists, however, have known otherwise for years!

According to their website, the International Dyslexia Association defines ear reading as a process where “rather than the written words being taken in through the eyes and processed in the brain, the verbal words are heard through the ears and then processed in the brain.”

So, how can this help in the classroom and what does it have to do with technology?  I have seen first-hand the positive effects that read-alouds have on comprehension, predicting, and many other necessary reading skills.  Technology has allowed us to have the power to essentially provide an appropriate level read-aloud for every child in the class (or at least for the number of electronic devices- tablets, laptops, etc. available in the classroom).  It also allows those students who may not have been able to fully participate in a group discussion of a book due to their lower reading level to listen to that book and have meaningful discussions about it.

Listen to the Podcast here!

Hoopla Podcast Feature

Below are a few of the apps for ear reading that you can find in our app search tool at https://search.bridgingapps.org/dashboard:

Audiobooks.com (free app for iOs and Android, free trial period and then $14.95 per month- 1 book per month)
Kids A to Z – free to download, but requires a subscription to use
Audible – free to download, but requires a subscription to listen to books

Sign in using library card:
Hoopla
Overdrive
Libby, by Overdrive

Services that your students might be eligible dependent on their diagnosis:
BARD Mobile (eligible patrons of the NLS- National Library Service, can borrow audio and braille books to use along with a braille reader on an iPad)
Bookshare:  Web-based service that is free for US students with qualifying diagnoses and offered as a subscription for others.
Voice Dream Reader app can be used to access Bookshare service

The apps below allow users to take pictures of books, documents, etc. using their device and then have it read to them:
Avaz Reader – currently $29.99 to download the app
Speechify – free

Ear Reading

Amy Fuchs, Easter Seals Greater HoustonBridgingApps Program Coordinator

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Samantha’s Communication Device gets an Update!

Last Spring, Sam transitioned from using a limited auditory scanning device to a device with unlimited app-based software using auditory scanning to communicate!samantha 1

Many of the parents who have come to Easter Seals Greater Houstons’  The Caroline School have done so out of a desire to find a more individualized education for their child – a school that would focus on the whole child, their physical, social, and cognitive development.

That’s exactly what Samantha’s family found. Sam began at The Caroline School a year ago and since has embarked on many educational changes. She worked on her physical skills by using her stander in the classroom and engaging in yoga stretches with support. She focused on her social skills by using both non-verbal gestures (smiles and singing), as well as her new communication device to share love and joy with her friends and teachers. Working on the physical and social aspects of learning, perfectly positioned Sam to grow her cognitive skill set as well! She used her new communication device to engage in lessons and home-to-school connection questions and activities. For example, she completed an “All About Me” project to share with the class.

Sam’s collective team of teachers, parents, ESGH therapists and nurses are so proud of her hard work! We can’t wait to begin her Senior year here at The Caroline School! It will surely be the best year yet.samantha 2

Tabitha Hernandez, Easter Seals Greater Houston, The Caroline School Director

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They Grow Up So Fast

“He is talking more and more every single day!  He’s gotten a lot of boo boos and I always kiss him where he got hurt and say “all better Jakey”.  He now kisses me and says, “all better mommy”.  He’s definitely growing up!  Andrea had a cap and gown for his ESGH  ECI graduation.  I just wanted to thank you again for all your help!!  Jacob and I truly appreciate it tremendously!!” Screenshot_20190618-124740_Messages

-Jacobs Mom

Easter Seals ECI Infant Development program is parent-driven and focuses on enhancing the development of children ages birth to 36 months with developmental delays or disabilities. It is our goal to give families the tools they need to make a significant impact on the development of their children.

We provide families with certified or licensed professionals who come into the child’s natural environment, as a part of the routine where the child learns, plays and lives, and use their skills to help in the progression of reaching the child’s developmental milestones. At the same time the therapists are modeling and teaching the parent/caregiver the skills needed to work by themselves with the child. We believe that parents/caregivers are the most important influences in a child’s life and should be an active player in their child’s development.

Every child who qualifies for the program will be assigned a service coordinator who will coordinate all the individualized services for the child in addition to being the main point of contact for the family. Other services provided may include physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, developmental services, nutrition services, respite services, and assistive technology assistance. If there is a concern about vision or hearing, we will make referrals to the appropriate location to see that your child’s needs are being met.

Sharon Mott, Easter Seals Greater Houston,  Transition and Outreach Coordinator, ECI Infant Program

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The Debt We Owe Our Heros

Veterans are not a monolith. They possess a variety of talents and skills and needs after the epic storm that crashed and stalled over Houston in Aug of 2017.  Hurricane Harvey was a call to action and many Veterans responded valiantly putting themselves in harm’s way once again to assist their own families, their neighbors, and the community-at-large. 

They borrowed John-boats and utilized high clearance vehicles, expertly jimmying equipment for high water rescue. They guided the confused and grief-stricken with clear and simple instructions to pack a survival bag and abandon things that could not be transported to higher ground. They stood up distribution warehouses and procured supplies from a generous nation and efficiency and effectively pushed water bottles, diapers, and sanitation supplies to where they were needed most in this flooded city.

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 They rendered physical and psychological first aid with compassionate and comforting expertise. They applied training, insisted on teamwork, established chains of command and networked with over-saturated emergency response systems. They warned us of the various toxic exposures in water-born illnesses, insect carried diseases and predicted the rapid growth of mold between brick and sheetrock. When they faced obstacles, they engaged in creative problem solving to invent new ways to overcome.

Technology-assisted them including Easter Seals Greater Houston’s BridgingApps program. Facebook and Instagram, walked talkie apps, even Pinterest crowdsourced ideas and speed help around a city that knew we had to help ourselves, just as we knew we depended upon each other for our literal survival. Websites were born that matched people who needed help mucking and gutting with volunteers ready to get to work clearing a path to recovery. As mountains of debris piled on curbsides, rotting in the blazing sun, the next phase of the disaster began. Once the urgency subsided, and the adrenaline supply was exhausted, aspects of community-wide post-traumatic stress became evident. 

And our Veterans suffered from familiar foes of fatigue and survivor’s guilt, hypervigilance and insomnia, nightmares and relationship turmoil, numbness and self-neglect. They were triggered by the ever-present helicopter traffic that reminded them of the sounds of war. They were triggered by cramped sleeping quarters in large rooms filled with cots and chaos.  As the immediate aftermath of the disaster waxed, Veterans of the Storm named Harvey eventually went home to their own personal disasters, that were very real whether or not their own houses were damaged by the slowly receding muddy waters that had engulfed the city. 

We owe a debt of thanks to the heroes that walk among us in civilian dress. Veterans hide in plain sight but still carry the weight of duty and profound responsibility to serve and protect this nation.  We owe them more than simple gratitude.  

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ESGH was and is proud to be at the forefront with them through Harvey and our Harvey Recovery work thanks to our community, Save The Children, The Mayor’s Fund, Americares, Freddie Mac, Simmons Foundation and so many more. (https://www.eastersealshouston.org/Programs/harvey-heroes.html) AND we are proud to be able to continue offering our veterans programs and services to our current and retired military – through our #TexasVeteransandFamilyAlliance, our #mentalhealth program and so much more as well as continuing in our efforts for Harvey Housing recovery.

Amy Harkins, Easter Seals Greater Houston, Veterans Program and Harvey Recovery, Psychologist

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There’s No Place Like Home

Moore 2

Over 3 years ago, Heather  packed up her 2 young daughters Zoe then 6 weeks old and Riley 2, left an abusive relationship and everything that didn’t fit in her car and began a search for a home to raise her family.  After living in a succession of marginal rental situations – at one point living out of her car, Heather and her two young daughters moved in to their 3-bedroom home, close to family and work, and in the preferred school district.

It had not been easy, but Heather was determined and was quick to point out that it could not have been possible without the support of a team of housing professionals.

In January, she submitted an application to a housing counselor with Easter Seals Greater Houston for $14,500 of down payment assistance through the Montgomery County HOME Fund program and was approved.

With the down payment assured, she began working with Terry with Storehouse Mortgage to qualify for the mortgage loan.  Their budget was tight as she began paying down debt and building assets, but as Heather remarked, both Riley and Zoe understood that finding a permanent home was important and they all came together as a family to make it happen.

Heather began working with her realtor, Mike with Realty Solutions to find a property suitable for her family, proving to be a challenge.  Homes in her price range of $135,000 – 185,000   are the fastest to sell, and home-buyers like Heather even with committed financing must compete with cash buyers purchasing properties within the same day of listing.  Over the next several months, Mike presented multiple offers on homes with no success.  Finally in March Heather’s contract on a home was accepted, beating out eight other offers made the same day of listing. She would move from a ‘trailer’ home in an unsafe neighborhood for a home in a beautiful family-friendly neighborhood, with a mortgage payment $200+ less than her rent payment.  She pointed out that even her utility bills in the new home have been $200+ less.

The transition from renter to homeowner for families like Heather’s could not be possible without the support of  Easter Seals Greater Houston and their Financial Literacy, Home Buyers Education, FinTech and Case Management programming.

Moore 1On the local level, housing professionals such as lenders and realtors like Terry and Mike, and the Easter Seals HUD-certified housing counselors work to ensure that families like Heather’s secure sustainable mortgage products with all the financial support available. County agencies such as Montgomery County Community Development provide a number of programs such as the down payment assistance to help home-buyers purchase their first home.

On the community level,  non-profit coalitions such as United Way Greater Houston THRIVE continue to support housing counseling programs such as Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Housing Initiative.

On the macro level, NSEs such as our partner, Freddie Mac  help people in the military, veteran and care-giving communities, as well as those with disabilities, obtain affordable housing through renting or buying a home. They also constantly search for innovative ways to support affordable housing opportunities, such as their webinar series and other online resources.

It has been quite a journey for Heather and her daughters, but as she looks around her home, you can see the pride in her eyes at what they have accomplished. Now she would be proud for her children to invite friends over for sleepovers, and they can walk safely to the neighborhood park for birthday parties.

As Heather looked around her home filled with toys and the backyard filled with swings and wading pool, she remarked, “This feels like home.”

 

Katy Thorstenberg, Easter Seals Greater Houston, Housing Coordinator

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I am in the Caring Business

Caregiving-the activity or profession of regularly looking after a child or a person who is sick, elderly or disabled. There can be the feeling of fulfillment and happiness, it can also be overwhelming on a caregiver and could be mentally and physically exhausting. Being a Respite Family Coordinator for Easter Seals Greater Houston, this is what I hear every day through tears, sighs, laughter, joy and distress. I can’t help but feel the families’ pain and do what I do with love. I share their pain, fear and hurt. I can’t deny that this position has made me a better person, more compassionate and understanding to what we take for granted each and every day. I can sit here and ramble on about what a caregiver goes through, but what I need is for people to understand is that we do what we do…because we CARE. Not just anyone can do that and for that, I am grateful that I wake up knowing I did something to make someone else’s day just a little bit better.

When people ask me what I do? Screenshot_2019-07-02-09-17-22~2.png

I start with I ABSOLUTELY love what I do.

I try to bring awareness and motivate people to go out of their way to help those in need. Overall my organization, ESGH is about caring, my Respite program is caring. If all I have to do is show them that they are appreciated each and every day by offering our services, then I will go above and beyond. It is not just a job, I do it with lots of love and pride. To all the caregivers out there, may your heart be filled with joy, warmth and happiness.

“It’s not how much you do, it’s how much love you put in the doing.” –Mother Teresa

 

Respite Services provides relief options to parents who provide ongoing care of their family member who has a disability. Many parents of children and adults with disabilities have low incomes and cannot afford to hire providers to take time away from their children. Many people with disabilities require 24-hour, around-the-clock supervision, attention and care. This continuous demand becomes a tremendous drain on caregivers emotionally, physically and mentally-this care will remain constant as they grow older. Consequently, families of children with disabilities are at high risk for divorce, substance abuse and child abuse because of the continuing stress of caring for the child with disabilities. Respite care is an assistance program to parents, but just as importantly, is a prevention program aimed at stopping some of the social problems that can result from the tremendous demands made on families due to the disabilities of their child or the institutionalization of the family member with a disability.

Adriana Rico, Respite Family Coordinator, Easter Seals Greater Houston

 

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