The ROI of Mentorship

The following story was written by Carmen Phillips. Carmen is the Montgomery County Program Coordinator for Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program and High School High Tech.

January 2021 is the 19th annual National Mentoring Month and I can’t help but wonder where we might all be right now without the influence of a mentor.  Imagine, for a moment, a world without Apple Computers, Microsoft or Facebook; a world without Oprah Winfrey, Mother Teresa or even Marlon Brando as the Godfather.  This, my friends is a world without mentors.  Some of the most successful and brilliant minds of the last century had one thing in common.  They all had a mentor.

So, what does it mean to be a mentor?  According to world-renowned speaker and author Bob Proctor, “A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself and helps bring it out of you.”  I’m sure many of you can dig deep and think back to a time in your life when you looked up to someone for direction or guidance and approval.   Someone who changed the trajectory of your life.   A coach, a teacher or a boss perhaps.  Or perhaps, like many young people in America you had no one.   Well, you wouldn’t be alone.  More than 1 in 3 young people, an estimated 16 million, never had an adult mentor of any kind while they were growing up, according the national report The Mentoring Effect published in 2014.  This population includes an estimated 9 million at-risk youth who will reach age 19 without ever having a mentor, making them less likely to graduate high school,  go on to college and lead healthy productive lives.

Photo of young adults and mentors

For those 9 million at-risk youth, mentorship is a life-line.  It’s make or break and sadly in some cases, life or death.   It takes one caring adult to take interest and invest just a little bit of time into a young person’s life to forever change its course. Whether it’s a attending a football game, an occasional bowling night, a weekly text or just checking in on their report card, the smallest investment in a youth’s life results in some of the largest gains.  Not only for the youth, but for the mentor and the community in which they live.  In fact, according to a study cited by David Shapiro, President and CEO of MENTOR, every dollar invested in quality youth mentoring programs yields a $3 return in benefits to society at a minimum.  I think it’s safe to say that even Warren Buffet (who, by the way, mentored Microsoft mogul Bill Gates) would consider that a pretty darn good Return On Investment (ROI). 

The Mentoring Effect study also found that 76% of at-risk young adults who had a mentor aspire to enroll in and graduate college and 45% of all at-risk youth with a mentor are now enrolled in some form of postsecondary education. So what do the numbers tell us? That mentoring makes a difference; it improves outcomes, it increases graduation rates, it reduces the risk of drug and alcohol use, it builds healthy interpersonal relationships and fosters measurable success in our at-risk youth in America.  

So, what’s not to love about Mentoring?  If you are interested in helping change the trajectory of a young person’s life and want more information about donating your time, skills or dollars to our at-risk Youth Mentoring Programs here at Easter Seals Greater Houston visit our website at www.EasterSealsHouston.org or reach out to us at 713-838-9050.

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Santa and Veterans Team Deliver for Christmas

Thanks to Dr. Jennifer Wright and Tim Stroud from Easter Seals Greater Houston Veteran, Service Member, Military-Connected Family Program as well as a host of donors, one Houston Veteran slept in a REAL bed for the holidays. After connecting to the homeless Veteran, Dr. Wright reached out to others for help. As a frontline worker, Dr. Wright’s first action was to ensure the Veteran was in a safe place and had the right mental attitude. In the military, safe is an objective term. He was living in his car with his two dogs and since they are his emotional support animals, he would not go live in a shelter without them. 

This was all the information that Dr. Wright needed to know. She sprang into action and contacted her internal team and then the resources in their network. Since Easter Seals Greater Houston is funded under the Texas Veterans + Family Alliance Grant program from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, they work with over 250 local and regional Veteran Service Organizations. 

Within a few days, the Veteran was living in a home, had food, furniture, clothes, dishes and all the comforts of home. The Veteran now works at a “no kill” animal shelter and is very thankful for the case management and care from our TVFA Network. When the supplies were delivered, the Veteran remarked through teary eyes that this was the nicest bed he has ever slept in. Rest well warrior. 

The Veteran, Tim, smiling with his own room with his two dogs

It is our honor to support a Veteran and to foster just a little bit more of hope. The Veteran, Tim Bergdoll, gave us permission to share his story and indicated that this was the best Christmas ever!

“Being out of my car, sleeping in a warm bed, and watching Pico and Buddy enjoy their warm shower truly was a blessing.” Thank you, for your swift action! Thank you, TVFA for making this a happy-ending!

“On Christmas Eve, I was at peace knowing that this little crew was taken care of” says Tim.

Did you know that Easter Seals Greater Houston offers a wide range of programs and resources for Veterans, Service Members and Military-Connected Families? Learn more.

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Thank You Greater Houston Community Foundation!

Jessica W., a single mother, became a Easter Seals Greater Houston client after Hurricane Harvey.  She sought assistance after being flooded in the home she was renting.  We provided assistance and helped her get back on her feet.  About a year later, Jessica hit another rough patch; she was laid off from her job.  Jessica became a Food Scholarship Program participant to help ease food costs, and started working more closely with a financial coach.  Jessica found another job, and this time stayed with the program, working first to create a realistic budget, and then to build her credit.  Eventually, Jessica was able to get her credit where it needed to be to buy a home.  Then COVID-19 hit.  Jessica was unable to attend our first Homebuyer Education Classes and she took another financial hit.  Her dreams of buying a home were slipping away.  However, with COVID-19 Funding we were able to prevent Jessica from falling behind.  She was able to stay afloat and overcome the hardest financial impacts of COVID.  On September 30th, Jessica was able to close on a home for her and her son.  She is now saving money from what she was paying in rent.

Mother holding childing

We cannot thank the Greater Houston Community Foundation enough for its constant support of Easter Seals Greater Houston’s work and its role in the distribution of emergency funds after disasters.  We could not help families like Jessica’s stay afloat, away from crisis, and towards their dreams with GHCF’s partnership.  Thank you Greater Houston Community Foundation, and our amazing liaison, Stephanie Blair!

Learn more about Easter Seals Greater Houston’s broad resources and programs, including Emergency Assistance and Financial Education.

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Fitting Independence in the Budget

When Easter Seals Greater Houston Housing and Financial Coach Carmen Phillips first met “C”, she was transitioning out of homelessness and back into her first apartment.  Due to her disability and low wages, C has always needed a roommate in order to afford housing.  Unfortunately, depending on a roommate to fulfill their half of the obligations proved detrimental to C’s financial stability and left her homeless yet again.  After several months of homelessness, she eventually managed to find a new roommate she had met at the local shelter and they got a new apartment. Despite some of C’s objections about saving money, she and Carmen continued to work together to build up her savings account just in case she found herself in a similar position in the future.  Because she receives disability and works part-time, it was hard for her to rationalize why she needed so much money in her savings account, since her disability was guaranteed.  Well, fast-forward to COVID-19.  Unfortunately, C was laid off from her part-time job and the very same month, her disability benefits were suspended due to some type of error regarding her wages.  She was now stuck in an apartment lease with zero income.  Fortunately, she had her savings to fall back on until her disability benefits were re-instated.  Throughout the pandemic, with the help of her stimulus checks and her unemployment, C managed to pay her rent, pay off her credit cards and build her savings up to $17,000. 

However, shortly thereafter, C’s roommate left unexpectedly, leaving her stranded with a 2 bedroom apartment and bills to pay. Fortunately, she had her savings account and decided to make a drastic move.  She took a portion of her savings and purchased a 5th Wheel Travel Trailer in order to have a home of her own.  C now owns her own place, does not have to depend on a roommate to split housing costs, pays less renting her RV spot than her apartment and has drastically lowered her electric bill, all while retaining $5,000 in her savings account.  C hopes to eventually save up her cash and purchase a small lot in order to completely eliminate paying monthly rent to anyone.

Learn more about Easter Seals Greater Houston’s free resources for Financial Education, Homebuyer Education Services & Public Benefits. Our agency also has programs for Veterans, Service Members, and Military-Connected Families here.

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Hope

Maybe the quiet, the extra time with partners or children or the radical change in our lives made it happen, but 2020 gave us (if we decided to take it) a chance to look again at our jobs, our schools, our homes, our friends, family and all of the people we love.  There has been an almost unfathomable magnitude of loss of life, learning, liberty and livelihoods-I am not minimizing these at all.  However, this week, we received a huge reminder of the thousands of gifts of this year.

MacKenzie Scott, who is an author, mother and philanthropist, chose 384 charities – out of the more than 1.5 million US charities – for major gifts.  Ms. Scott consulted with hundreds of field experts, funders, and non-profit leaders and volunteers with decades of experience to pick the 384 beneficiaries. She said they leveraged the,  “…collective knowledge base in a collaboration that included hundreds of emails and phone interviews, and thousands of pages of data analysis on community needs, program outcomes, and each non-profit’s capacity to absorb and make effective use of funding.”   After their extensive due diligence, Ms. Scott gave Easter Seals Greater Houston its largest gift ever – $7 million dollars.  Our expectation is that we will be able to multiply the impact of her gift by using it, in part, as a challenge fund – asking other donors to help us truly leverage her gift to achieve our ambitious goals. 

We plan to use her gift in three ways:

  • Stabilize – as a reserve and operating funds to allow us to access more government funding (you incur the costs and get reimbursed a few months later-creating cash flow issues);
  • Strengthen – as a bridge to sustainability for our existing programs by funding ways to grow and take clients off of waiting lists for services; and
  • Grow – as a way to invest in promising new ways to deliver services and address emerging needs locally and invest in the Easter Seals affiliate network initiatives nationally.

I have huge respect for the non-profits working in the Houston area-there is amazing work being done, but I know that Easter Seals Greater Houston is special.  Just a few of the memorable gifts this year include:

  • a crumpled dollar mailed with a note of encouragement from an older donor;
  • our BridgingApps program which helped us and lots of others in the community transition to tele-services and made 75 videos to support families during the pandemic;
  • the employee who bought groceries for a client’s family to tide them over until we could get them more help;
  • our record-breaking virtual Walk With Me fundraiser which was supported with walkers from around the world;
  • our staff embracing tele-services by sharing what they learned and becoming a real lifeline for clients who felt completely isolated;
  • our Emergency Assistance Program which helped thousands of local families get through the toughest times;
  • the Veterans Team who stayed on call 24 hours a day because so many families were facing increasing financial and mental health challenges;
  • The hundreds of families who received financial coaching and the 38 low-income families who bought their first home with our help- one who said, “We have hope now.  We have hope for our children…”

Our mission statement is “Help. Hope. Answers.”  The gifts of this year have been extraordinary.  Ms. Scott’s transformational gift helps make us stronger, braver, and surer that we can keep doing the work that is so badly needed in our community.  You have truly allowed us to realize our mission-in the midst of the struggle and pain of 2020, there has been real beauty.

I love the way Ms. Scott ended her post about her gifts, “If you’re craving a way to use your time, voice, or money to help others at the end of this difficult year, I highly recommend a gift to one of the thousands of organizations doing remarkable work all across the country. Every one of them could benefit from more resources to share with the communities they’re serving. And the hope you feed with your gift is likely to feed your own.”   I do not have an adequate way to thank Ms. Scott, our staff or all of you who have supported us other than to tell you, we will try to honor your support and trust in us by serving veterans, service members, people with disabilities and their families with the care, integrity, passion and skill that they deserve.   

Elise Hough
CEO, Easter Seals Greater Houston

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A Team Your Child Can Trust and Love

As my son Shazil J. turns 3 years old and transitions out of Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) services for his special needs and into the school system, a few thoughts come to mind. Thank you is not enough as we prepare to say goodbye.

I would highly recommend ECI with Easter Seals Greater Houston. They have been there from bottle feedings to spoon feedings, from barely rolling to walking, and from sign language to spoken “I love yous.” ECI services are a gift you never knew you needed but are so grateful to have worked with. 

My special thanks goes out to Aliza Rodriquez for being the best and efficient case manager for my child’s therapy program. Aliza’s sole focus has been ensuring that we have an adaptable and personalized treatment plan that ensures my son’s success in school and in life. She has listened to my concerns and fears about transitioning to school.

Shazil’s therapists Lisa Rand And Cindy Tullier worked with him tirelessly and he achieved so much, reached milestones we didn’t know he could reach. They came to my house and provided him Occupational, Speech and Behavior Therapies. Thank you for pushing my son to be the best he could be and not giving up through the screaming and hitting. Also for giving me strategies to get my son to eat and helping me handle sensory issues. I am thankful for them for coming to my house and not judging me if it wasn’t spotless or tidy & being someone my son can trust and love.

Words cannot describe how grateful I am to have encountered you all. Thank you for your patience and your hard work and thank you for creating such a wonderful place that changes the lives of so many children. I will be forever grateful.

Sincerely,

Rumeza J.

Your baby’s health and development won’t wait for the COVID19 pandemic to end. The time from birth to age three is critical in your child’s physical and cognitive development.  To help make sure your baby is reaching their developmental milestones, you can complete this free Ages & Stages Questionnaire or check with your pediatrician if you have concerns.  Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Early Childhood Intervention is accepting referrals and offers tele-health as well as in-home services. Learn more!

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Celebrating Our Military Families and Their Successes

As Military Family Month, November, is coming to a close we continue to celebrate our families and their successes daily.   Having started our Veterans Services soon after we affiliated with Easter Seals in 2011 we began to understand the need and realized that our current programming would be off a huge asset and would translate easily. We initially started with service dogs and to date we have paired 25+ service dogs with veterans. Since then we have become the lead in VSO collaborative called Texas Veterans + Family Alliance serving thousands, we are especially proud of our counseling and mental health services open to not only Veterans and service members but also to family members. These are just a few of our most recent successes and we are truly honored to be in this space serving our military after they have served us. 

“F” is a female Veteran who has been in recovery for five years.  She has been attending AA meetings and has a sponsor she trusts and can turn to.  She has embraced the arts, especially dancing, as an escape.  Her fear is having a craving, because the people around her often talk about doing drugs and drinking.  She talked to her Easter Seals Greater Houston therapist about feeling exposed and vulnerable, so together they worked out plans for setting boundaries, and being mindful of her own feelings and of warning signs.  They also created a Crisis Response Plan, so that she has a plan of action for when a substance use crisis arises.

“H” is a Veteran who has worked all his life as a laborer, and that physical labor has caused degenerative spine disease.  Over the years as the pain worsened, he became addicted to meth.  H and his Easter Seals therapist are working together to navigate what he needs to do apply for disability and to stay clean.  Just recently, H discovered how much being in nature and working with nature helps him.  He has taken up rock collecting and rock polishing, and his meth use has decreased.

This story is about small steps.  Veteran “I” has misused alcohol for decades.  A week ago, he stopped for two days.  What caused the change?  He took a trip to see an old Marine friend, and saw in him a different way of living.  I told his Easter Seals therapist, “I work all day, drink all night, and then do it again the next day.  I realize now I don’t have to live this way.”

“D” is a female Veteran who has always drank and smoked.  Recently she got “the job”- the one she never felt like she’d ever get- and that one life change has increased her self-esteem tenfold.  D and her Easter Seals therapist have talked about how the job has made her feel so fulfilled, that she has realized she doesn’t need to drink and smoke anymore.

“L” is a Veteran and a single dad.  He has drank and smoked as long as he can remember, but after attending a retreat focused on mental health, he became motivated to find more purpose.  He and his Easter Seals therapist have been working to find ways for him to reconnect with his daughter.

“R” is a Veteran who has been in recovery for 23 years, and he faithfully meets with his Easter Seals therapist every two weeks.  R is knowledgeable about mental health, and he understands sobriety- most especially how fragile sobriety can be.  R has family with substance use issues, and they are living with his mother and not providing her with appropriate care.  R and his Easter Seals therapist have talked about how the stress weighs on him, and how he does not have to turn to substance.  R has taken up painting the interior of his house.  A task with a beginning and an end that he can control, and that he can see the result.

“M” is Veteran who drinks a lot.  As he said to his Easter Seals therapist, “If I’m not working, I’m drinking.”  M is participating in PE or Prolonged Exposure, a specific type of cognitive behavioral therapy that teaches individuals to gradually approach trauma-related memories, feelings and situations.  PE has helped M deal with his PTSD, and he recently reported to his therapist that he is drinking only on weekends, and no longer throughout the evening after work each weekday.     

Congratulations to you all! Learn more and get involved!   

Services to Veterans, Military and their family members FY 2020 to date:

357 Adult Veterans or family members are receiving mental health supports.

38 Adult Veterans or family members received I&R supports.

93 Children of Veterans are receiving mental health supports.

7 Children of Veterans received I&R supports.

201 Adult Veterans or family members are receiving individual counseling.

166 Adult Veterans or family members reported substance use concerns.

40 Children of Veterans are receiving individual counseling.

5 Children of Veterans reported substance use concerns.

Easter Seals Greater Houston is proudly serving current Service members, Veterans and their families in Harris and all surrounding counties.Our reach can extend to those throughout the state who are interested in tele-mental health services. Our mission is to assist military-connected families in building the lives they want during and after the military to meet their needs around reintegration, stability, wellness, and growth. Our goal is not to duplicate services offered in the community, but rather be an easy point of entry for finding and connecting with needed resources. Learn more here and contact us at 346.330.3859 or Veterans@eastersealshouston.org to get plugged into Service Members, Veterans and Military-Connected Family Services.

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Transition and Employment in the Pandemic

2020 has been anything but usual for the adolescents and adults Easter Seals Greater Houston serves and it has certainly been different for our staff. We have learned to provide services remotely and to help both job seekers and employers adapt to the changing circumstances in which people work and supervise the people who work in their companies.

In March, COVID-19 halted in-person services for high school students in our summer program which, after a two month hiatus, returned as remote services. Our staff, Robert Aranda, Ron Taylor, and Jacquie Privitera, had to figure out how to make lessons interesting and engaging for the students while meeting the requirements of the Texas Workforce Commission, the sponsors of the program. Our students and staff designed a commercial for a network consulting firm and then presented that commercial to a panel of judges from local corporations. All of this was done remotely, including a job performed, for pay, by one of our students for the networking company, Sepulveda Technology Consultants.

Job seekers, and the companies that employ them, have also had to adapt to the challenges of COVID-19. Early in the pandemic, a group of young men with autism, who were completing internships in the IT Department for Chevron, had to adjust to working from home. Despite the stereotype of persons with autism preferring solitude, these men had a difficult time adjusting to not being with their supervisors and coworkers. Their Employment Specialist, Robert Aranda, had to switch from providing face to face services to making contact only by telephone. After many sessions between Robert and the employees and supervisors, all four of the interns were offered permanent positions at Chevron. They still hold their positions and are successfully working remotely today.

For some workers, going to work in an office or warehouse is not possible because of medical issues or mental illness. Ron Taylor, one of our Employment Specialists, worked remotely for several months with a person with severe back pain, searching for the right opportunity. They found a position with Walgreens that let her work from home. Ron worked with our partners at Texas Workforce Solutions to procure a chair and desk that would support her back and let her work. As her personal computer was not suitable for her job, Ron arranged for a donated computer to be made available until she can purchase her own laptop. She is now working from home, processing orders for Walgreens and is on her way to having the funds to purchase her own computer.

Robert Williams, Easter Seals Greater Houston,
Program Director – Employment/Transition Services

Easter Seals Greater Houston provides Transition Services for youth ages 16-27 with autism and mental health conditions. Services include transition evaluation and planning, social skills training, family and community resources and goals which reflect the youth’s realizable aspirations in areas of education or work, peer supports, job placement, job coaching and supported employment. Learn more.

High School/High Tech is a community-based partnership of parents, educators, rehabilitation professionals and business representatives working together to encourage students with disabilities to explore the fields of science, engineering and technology. High School/High Tech also offers a mentoring program called RAMP – Ready to Achieve Mentor Program. Learn more.

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Letter from the Heart

To our friends at Easter Seals Greater Houston, I would like to thank you for the support you have given to our family as well as to many other families like ours. Your great contribution to many families like ours is extremely helpful, we are very grateful for the support that the Easter Seals Respite Program has given and this makes our life and work easier with our children and other families in special need. Respite Blog Careigiver for November spanish translation

Your work is not simply an office job but a way to be good human beings and in the same way, it will be rewarded with the best payment that they could accrue which is the blessing of God. You are the ones who who give hope to every person who labors with disability and makes things possible and others to relax, breathe and sit down with the support they need.

Hoping that these few but grateful words will come to your hearts, I am very grateful to them, that God will continue to bless them.

-Valentin, Easter Seals Respite Client

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. For more information click here. This important program is largely possible because of the generosity of our community, please consider donating today.

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Pursuing Hope

The following was written by Dr. Cristy Gamez, the Program Coordinator for Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Veterans, Service Member and Military-Connected Family Program.

I met a female Navy Veteran in 2017. At the time, she was a divorced mother of two and unemployed, living off her savings. She barely left the house given how unsafe she felt away from home. We started meeting weekly and she related an incident in the Navy that resulted in PTSD. We worked on her symptoms of PTSD using Prolonged Exposure and Accelerated Resolution Therapy, which was helpful with her depression. I won’t go into any more details about the therapy because I want to tell you about how life can change.

In the beginning, there were moments of hope that broke through the darkness of the depression and the ever-present paranoia and hypervigilance of PTSD. Eventually, the hope was real enough that she took steps to create the life she wanted. She filed and was awarded service-connection for PTSD. This meant she worried a little less about being homeless and losing her children. The service-connection opened up the chance to go to school and, hopefully, get a job. She spoke to vocational rehabilitation and found a science field she was interested in studying. She had wanted to study science since childhood. Her hope grew stronger. Maybe she could have the life she wanted. COVID hit and classes went on-line.  With the economic shutdown, she worried about whether there would be job opportunities after graduation.  As her savings depleted, her worry grew and hope sank. Her fear about the infringement on her rights because of the pandemic, worries about climate change, political unrest, and racial tension caused a resurgence of the paranoia, hypervigilance, insomnia, and isolation. She stayed engaged in therapy. This helped her identify things to do to help her be a little less stressed and address her fears. She started a garden and she became skilled at canning. Her self-sufficiency caused hope to resurface.

Sherry attended Easter Seals Greater Houston’s First Light Family Camp

Here we are at the end of September 2020 and things are so different. She started a job this week in her new career field, she is selling her house, and moving to a smaller city. Her dreams are coming true and she wants you to know yours can too.   

Dr. Cristy Gamez, Program Coordinator for Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Veterans, Service Member and Military-Connected Family Program

The Veterans, Service Member and Military-Connected Family Program is made possible by The 1687 Foundation,  BlueCross BlueShield of Texas, Employees Community Fund of Boeing Houston, Tom and Hetty Ball Foundation, The Christus Foundation, CVS Health, Houston Automobile Dealers Association, The Frees Foundation, The George Foundation, John O’Shea Foundation, The Strake Foundation, Texas Veterans Commission, WithMerci Foundation, and ESGH Youth Action Council. Special thanks for your generous support!

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