The Unexpected Journey

“When Bellemere was first born, as excited parents welcoming our second child, we never would have imagined the journey we would be faced with upon her arrival. After a month in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, countless specialists and doctors visits, we finally learned we were blessed with a child who has CHARGE syndrome. Bellemere was first born ECI extra pic.docxWith time, we found out Bellemere was deaf, her physical strength would be delayed and she is a silent aspirator which means she could take no food or liquid by mouth due to choking risks. Bellemere had a MickeyTube placed so she could get her nutrition through a tube in her stomach.

Our family was introduced to Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) program  after one of many hospital stays. Aliza was our case manager and she guided us along the way. With the help of Anita (physical therapist), Britni (Early Intervention Specialist), Elena (Occupational Therapist), and Brenda (Speech Therapist), we were taken through the next steps in Belle’s journey until she turned 3 years old. These therapists came to our house weekly to work with us which was crucial in limiting her exposure to germs. With their help, guidance and patience, Bellemere has mastered crawling, cruising on her feet while holding on to things, and walking with the assistance of a walker. She is also now able to feed herself pureed foods (something we never thought we would see her do), communicate using sign language, use her fingers to grasp small objects and many other skills that are necessary for her daily life. Also after discovering that Belle was deaf, our Easter Seals ECI case manager connected us with AI services, which supplied us with a deaf education teacher who also came to our home to work with us.

Not only was this amazing group of ladies able to help us with Bellemere’s development, they also helped prepare us for transitioning to the school district by her 3rd birthday. We will forever be grateful to ECI and these therapists who came into our home to help our sweet Bellemere succeed. I highly encourage any parent to contact ECI if they feel their child needs any assistance with their development. Thank you ECI of Easter Seals!!”

Krishna Hernandez, mother of Bellemere

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Recovering Together

Camp Discovery – named by putting the words Disaster and Recovery together – served families affected by Harvey and participating in counseling services through our Harvey Case Management Program.  It was a wonderful weekend retreat!  The families participated in typical camp activities like archery, horseback riding, nature, and a ropes course, as well as “team huddles” – mental health-focused break-out sessions for parents, teens, big kids, and little kids.

Harvey blog 3.JPGCamp Discovery was just one mental health support service made possible by the grants from Americares, Save the Children, and the Houston Harvey Relief Fund.  Through these grants, our team of case managers, mental health clinicians, financial stability coaches, and technology experts – impacted over 3000 families affected by Hurricane Harvey.

In late October a team of Easter Seals staff and volunteers hosted and facilitated a camp for families impacted by Hurricane Harvey at Camp For All.  Since then we have continued to serve people with disabilities and veterans through Harvey recovery and are proud to be a recipient of continued funding from The Mayor’s Fund and Enterprise / Heart so that we can continue in our efforts through housing assistance now. The experiences and memories made were more than words can describe. I will try my best to express what I witnessed and the successes I saw. Most of the families that attended our Camp Discovery shared that this was their first time having an experience like this, all together as a family unit, away from electronics, and in tune with the elements. Many shared that they were able to try things that they had never done before such as fishing, canoeing, zip-lining, horseback riding, and being able to interact and learn about new animals.harvey blog

There was awe and surprise from the very beginning.  When one family saw the retreat that would be their home for the weekend, one boy said, “This is the nicest place we’ve ever stayed!”  And the shyness of the families with each other dissipated very quickly.  By the close of the first night, just hours after having met, they were dancing together and enjoying s’mores around the campfire.

We had several little ones try out the tall rock climbing wall to later zip-line down. Two of our participants got “stuck” near the top of their goal and were ready to give up. Tears were shed and panic set in a bit as the goal to reach the top seemed unachievable and scary so high up from the ground. One mother became concerned but with support from the mental health team was able to turn her panic into words of encouragement. The mother, alongside the other campers, cheered on Jeffery and provided guidance on stabilizing his footing so that he could pull himself up to the ledge. Jeffery was successful and enthusiastically moved on to the next challenge- zip-lining back down.

One of our younger campers also struggled near the top of his rock wall experience, but he had climbed the wall alongside his mother and she was able to provide one on one support in the moment. The support staff watched in amazement at this mother’s immediate instinct to provide reassurance and support to our brave camper while also allowing him to do all the work to get himself up.

harvey blog 2Most of the weekend, I heard parents express how amazed they were about their children and their brave efforts to try out new things and face some of their fears.

The families shared how they surprised themselves with courage and willingness to try new things.

Many of the mothers commented that a win and success for the weekend was not having to cook while also enjoying all the activities with the family.

One mom, whose house had to be totally gutted, said that they had not put up any pictures yet.  She said the frames of family photos given at camp were going to be the very first frames they put up.

Another family reminded us that the camp experience brought back similar experiences from Harvey such as staying in a different place, eating food that was not “our own”, and adjusting to a different routine, but that camp opened the space to rewrite that story and make new fun memories with the family.

Erica Toskovich, LMFT, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Mental Health Program, Easter Seals Greater Houston 

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A Camp that Changed a Life

Hi All,

My name is Amanda Carter and I am a 2008 alumni of Easter Seals Greater Houston Camp Smiles Overnight Camp. I started attending Camp Smiles held at Camp For All in Brenham in the summer of 2001 after having attended Easter Seals Houston’s Camp Buckaroo day camp. After a little case of homesickness, I grew to love going to camp and the people I met while there. My favorite activity was the photography class I took every year it was offered where I became heavily involved in my current hobby of severe weather photography. I am still friends on Facebook with all of my camp “buddies,” without whom I could not have had nearly as much fun and laughed quite as hard. I also keep in touch with several of my fellow campers and they have become a great source of mentorship in regard to learning how to live independently.amanda

I landed in Lubbock with the help of my parents and full time staff of personal care attendants after earning my Psychology degree at University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas. Going to Texas Tech has always been a huge dream and having an opportunity to go there to get my law degree was practically nerdy nirvana. Going to law school requires a huge emotional support system; going to law school from a power wheelchair requires an army. There were many challenges, including hiring and firing many attendants, calling Mom and Dad to fill those attendants gaps, and calling friends and sorority sisters to cry about those dreaded classes, that were part of that journey. To my relief I made it to May of 2018 and became the fourth generation in my family to graduate as a Red Raider.

Since that time, I’ve landed at Matthew Harris Law in Lubbock after passing the July 2018 Bar Exam. I am currently practicing Family Law but I simultaneously maintain an interest in Special Needs Wills and Trusts and generally helping those like me find their path towards financial and physical independence. MHL has made a donation in my honor to Easter Seals of Greater Houston and that is so special! We collectively strive to present a model of employer-employee relations as it relates to working with community of people with disabilities. I have felt so welcomed in the firm where I started as an intern. Now as an attorney, I have learned so much about the law and myself through the accommodation and acceptance of my coworkers. Being successful starts with who you surround yourself with and, more importantly, how you define it. Only your definition matters. I am so excited to see where your definition takes you! Guns Up!

Sincerely,

Amanda E. Carter, Esq.

Attorney at Law

matthew law

www.MatthewHarrisLaw.com

 

          

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Finding the Perfect Fit

Four years of college flew by before I even knew what hit me. There I was, a month or two away from graduating and still had no idea where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do or where I would fit in as a Recreational Therapist. Coming from a small border town, I knew that there was so much to explore in life and the options were endless but I had no idea where to start. I frantically looked for jobs close to home but every lead I found seemed to discourage me more and more each time. Finally, I threw in the towel and asked my academic supervisor to point me in the right direction. With a list of names and interview times in hand, I headed six hours away to Houston.

After a few interviews and internship position offers, I had twice as much confusion and disappointment because I knew that I had not found where I was supposed to be just yet. young adlut intern blogI showed up to my last interview with Easter Seals Greater Houston expecting to have the same experience, but had no idea what truly was in store for me. After sitting in an interview with my current supervisor, Ashley Nichols, for around two hours, I had finally found the perfect internship experience and wholeheartedly knew that I had found my place with the Easter Seals Greater Houston Adult Services Program.

The options for personal and professional growth that were placed in front of me here at Easter Seals is exactly what I had given up hope in looking for at other agencies. Being able to shadow Ashley, who is a master networking guru, has been a priceless experience in itself because I had the opportunity be connected with various people in the community. She taught me how to build professional relationships and to seize opportunities when you have them. Aside from that, Ashley provided outstanding guidance that has helped me grow tremendously as an individual and a professional. Through Adult Programming, I had the perfect experience in regards to recreational therapy in the aspect that I was able to work within multiple populations, which is almost unheard of as an intern. In the office, I was constantly surrounded by support, opportunities and some of the most invaluable people I have ever met. I had moved six hours away and was a little scared, yet I was never alone. I always had someone who made sure that I was adjusting okay to such a large change in life. To work in an environment where everyone is so warm and supportive of each other’s ideas and individual growth is sadly unusual in a workplace and in my opinion, is what makes the Easter Seals Greater Houston special to so many people. I know that no matter where I go or what I do in the years to come, the memories and people I have met through the Easter Seals has shaped who I am and will never fade out.

Morgan Stidham, Easter Seals Greater Houston, Adult Services

For more information on our Adult Services Program – Click Here

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No More Waiting for Help

The following post was written by the parent of an Early Childhood Intervention Infant Program client.

This is a testimonial on behalf of my son, who has been working with Tina, our ECI speech language pathologist at Easter Seals Greater Houston.               playtimeI cannot recommend her enough! My son was on the cusp of turning 2 years old and had only two words his vocabulary. I work in the field of special education as an assessment professional (however not in speech) and knew he was delayed. I was frustrated and distraught as a parent knowing that he needed help and not being able to get it for him. We went through surgery to put tubes in, and were put off by doctors for what seemed like forever waiting for the surgery, waiting to see if that corrected the problem, waiting on audiology appointments, etc. before I was finally able to get the referral to Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) Infant Development program.

Once Lawson was evaluated, Tina made sure to expedite his first session so she could see what “we were up against.” She has worked diligently to ensure we were able to get all of our sessions, and has been an incredible team player going to daycare and in our home so that we could ensure Lawson was generalizing his skills across all settings. In a manner of 2 months, Lawson is already trying to link together 2-3 words into phrases, is trying to communicate more, and is becoming less frustrated. While we have a lot of work left to go (as he still cannot say a lot and is far from intelligible), we would not even be where we are without Tina.

In addition, I work full time and cannot always be there for his speech sessions, Tina is an amazing teammate in that she will text me or call me after sessions to update me on his progress. While I may work, I care dearly about my son and want to know everything going on, she takes all the time I need to be involved and know what skills to work on during the interim periods between sessions. I could not sing her praises enough!

 

Lawson’s mom, Client Family, ESGH Infant Program/Liberty County

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ULTRAFICO- A New Credit Scoring Model

Easter Seals Greater Houston is proud to offer our housing, financial literacy and down payment assistance programs. hoyo-staff-and-family-close-up                                                           The program has closed on over 120 houses in the past ten year with no defaults ever.  Our staff pride themselves on their knowledge, educational programs, THRIVE access, their ability to tap into city/county funds and resulting success rates. Information that affects your FICO score is always important and Katy Thorstenberg, Program Coordinator with the Easter Seals Greater Houston Financial Literacy and Housing Initiative,  gets the method behind the madness as she explains here.

Move over, old FICO – there is a new credit-scoring model in town. ULTRAFICO is being rolled out and will soon be an option for lenders to use in assessing credit risk of their would-be borrowers. After reading through the changes and trying to figure out the ‘this affects-me how’ piece, one revision pops out.  With the consumer’s consent, the ULTRAFICO model would allow the lender to actually take a one-time peak into the applicant’s bank accounts.  The lender would be able to see how you manage your cash flow; i.e., do you maintain a comfortable balance in your accounts, or do you show a periodic bouncing of checks or overdrafts?

If you have established a history of responsible cash management over time, you will benefit from higher scores.  If you don’t, you won’t.  You might ask if ULTRAFICO will be a game changer when it comes to world of credit/lending.  After all, the present FICO scores already reflect how you pay your bills – on time – late, or never – and are scored accordingly.  The answer is not a big boost to many of us who have been around awhile building a credit history through loans, credit cards and general living.  However, to those who have not yet enjoyed credit card spending and taking on an assortment of loans from personal to car to lines of credit, ULTRAFICO may add points to those individuals, dubbed “credit invisibles”, now another name for millennials. In a CBS news  report by David Shellenberger, senior director of credit scores and predictive analysis at FICO cited “40% of applicants would see an upward shift of 20 points or more in their credit score”.  Of course, scores might track downward as well.  Invisible or not, at the end of the day, you just cannot get away from the fact that DEBT and how you manage it matters.

Written by Kathy Thorstenberg, Program Coordinator of Easter Seals Greater Houston Financial Literacy and Housing Initiative

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Every Journey Begins with a First Step

Getting their first job is one of the biggest steps young persons make in their journey to adulthood. Recently, four young persons with disabilities made this step with the assistance of the Transition and Employment program at Easter Seals Greater Houston. Jason, Christopher, George, and Helmer came to Easter Seals Greater Houston by different paths, but they were all looking for the same thing, help with that big step toward employment and independence. HSHT MID 2017-05

Their paths to employment were different; George found a job two days after our Transition Program staff met him, the others took several weeks to several months to find the right fit in a job. Along the way they all found out what they are capable of doing and how hard they are willing to work to be successful. Their employers – Kroger, What-a-Burger, Dollar Tree and Food Town all report that they are very happy with their new employees. George even has customers asking for him when they shop at his store. Helmer’s employer is asking us if we have more people like him for them to hire.

All of us have had our first job. Some of those jobs we remember fondly, others not so fondly. But, we all learned valuable lessons that we carried with us to our next jobs. These four are learning those lessons now and will use that knowledge to continue to grow as they move forward in their careers.

Every journey begins with a first step. The Easter Seals Transition and Employment program can help make those steps lead to meaningful growth and a bright future.

Robert Williams, Director, Transition Program, Easter Seals Greater Houston

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