“Abby, (also known to her fans as lode runner red) you’ve been in my cabin before, but this was the first time I had the honor to be your buddy. I was already excited for camp but the moment I saw you when you arrived you embraced me with the biggest hug and the brightest smile not even a mask could hide. In that moment my heart was full and I knew this was going to be an amazing weekend both of us would never forget.
We went on countless missions as lode runner red and her trusty side kick lode runner blue finding all the force fields around camp and unlocking them with our handy wrist bands, along with many other side quests. You continuously color the world with your creativity and bring joy to everyone you come across. You truly do not meet a stranger and you greet everyone with kindness. The world needs more lode runners like you. As you level up out of camp you will continue to amaze everyone around you because you are, as you told me to describe you: cute, adorable and great at digging holes. I can’t wait to see what your future holds, just this weekend you blew me away with how brave and enthusiastic you were. You welcomed every challenge with a smile and you were the first one to volunteer for each activity. You even held a bearded dragon for the first time and immediately declared that you definitely need one at home. Your fearless personality truly inspires me, and I know you can do anything you put your mind to. I’m so proud of you and I feel incredibly lucky that I have seen you blossom into the amazing person you are over the past years. Thank you for being my camp buddy this weekend but more importantly thank you for being my best lode runner friend for life. I love you!”
“Once my daughter, Harper, was diagnosed with Autism I knew we needed help! When we first met with Easter Seals Greater Houston’sEarly Childhood Intervention Infant Program my child could not communicate. Harper would scream, throw fits, and have meltdowns as she could not tell us what her wants or needs were. She could not and would not point or show us what she wanted. She was also an extremely picky eater, refusing to try any new foods. Experiencing anything new was overwhelming for Harper. She was withdrawn and preferred to play on her own than with the family. I never heard her say mama or experienced those awesome baby/toddler kisses and reading books together.
After Ashley and Jessica from Easter SealsECI Program started working with her I began to see positive changes in Harper. She started signing which resulted in less meltdowns and fits in our house. As time went on, she started to allow her siblings to play with her and she would laugh with them instead of screaming and taking off. She started tolerating new textures and touching things and exploring in her environment. Though she remained cautious this was a huge accomplishment!
This amazing little girl has continued to improve. Even though she still is not talking verbally she can communicate what she wants to us by pointing and taking us to where she wants to be (often to the freezer for her popsicles and to turn on her favorite toy). She plays with her siblings (they are ages 16, 14 and 9) and we even hear belly laughs now and again, something I previously took for granted. I got my first kiss from her at 2 1/2. She is happy to see me when I come home. I now know without a doubt she knows I am her momma and I know that sounds crazy, but I was unsure as she didn’t react me.
This is just a summary of how far she has come. Everyday is a new day with a child with Autism and not always sunshine and rainbows. She will always have her harder days, but the tools and help we received as a family has really improved our ability to better support Harper. I honestly would never be able to put in words how happy I am with Jessica, Ashley and the entire Easter SealsECI crew. They set Harper up with a great foundation for her to continue to grow and prosper in her new chapters on this journey through life.” -Harper’s Mom
“Abbey Rav, where to even start. I’ve been struggling for a little while now to know where to even begin with this speech. First and foremost, its insane to me that we’re actually standing here today and that you are now graduating camp. Seriously, where did the time go? I swear it was just yesterday that I met you and your wonderful family at Camp Smiles orientation. Speaking of Camp Smiles orientation, something that I think sums you up well is this little story. We’re gonna throw it back to summer 2018, you showed up to orientation with long hair and arrived at camp 14 days later with a new haircut. One that your mom made sure to inform me, you cut yourself… If this doesn’t sum you up, I don’t know what does. Just like your hair, you like to keep life exciting and that is something I love about you. I hope you never ever lose that light within you that allows you to love others and love life so much.
Talk about loving life… Do you remember the first night of camp our very first year? It was a carnival in the pavilion and you ate 5 servings of cotton candy. I honestly have no idea how I ever got you to fall asleep that night, but I think I sat on your bed telling you the same bedtime stories about Timmy the Mouse that my dad used to tell me when I was little. Pretty sure that night must’ve been when you decided camp is the place for you, and I honestly think that same night is when I decided this is the place for me. As a lot of people know, this place holds a very special place in my heart. At this point, loving camp has become a personality trait of mine. However, an important thing to note is that my reason for loving this place so much is the campers. You being the very first camper that created that love for me. Abbey Rav you will always be “my camper” even long after you graduate today.
Our time as buddies looked a little different than most pairings around here go, but I can say I wouldn’t have traded our friendship over the last four years for the world. In 2018, I was your buddy. In 2019, I was the intern, so we were at camp together, but I wasn’t in your cabin. In 2020, well, we all know what happened in 2020. In 2021, I had the privilege of cabin leading your family as Camp For All staff during Smiles Family Camp. And now, here we are full circle, buddies once again! I think it’s pretty cool that we’ve experienced camp together in so many ways but here we are, right back where we started. I want you to know that even though you are graduating today, I will always be here for you, and I hope that you are in my life for so many years to come.
You have grown into such a helpful, kind, and joyful person and I am so blessed that you are a part of my life. The three adjectives I just listed are not something I take lightly, so I want to expand a little bit on each. Helpful. If you know Abbey, you know she is always looking for ways to help. Whether that is holding the door open for your cabin or walking up another volunteer and asking if there’s any way you can help out or simply offering to take other’s trays at the end of a meal. Know that your actions do not go unnoticed. Kind. Abbey is kind to everyone she meets. Always asking if others are okay and checking in on her fellow campers is something Abbey does without ever being asked. A true heart of gold in this respect. Lastly, joyful. Abbey, you sincerely radiate so much light and joy in literally all that you do. Your smile and laugh are both contagious and you never fail to brighten my day. I am so proud of how much you’ve grown and I cannot wait to continue to watch you grow.
Last night, Abbey and I were talking at dinner and she was telling me that she tried out another camp a few years ago, but it wasn’t for her. She said she didn’t fit in at said other camp and I quote, “This place is where I fit in. It’s good for me. I maybe even wanna be a counselor one day.” Personally, I like this aspiration a whole lot. Keep dreaming big and finding the places and people that are good for you sweet Abbey. I know that there is so much left in store for you and I cannot wait to see what your future holds. I love you!”
The holidays are often a wonderful time for social gatherings and delicious meals. We often enjoy sitting down with family and friends and indulging in some of our favorite home-cooked meals. For the child with feeding difficulties, this may be even harder as the child is expected to eat foods they only see once a year, engage with family members who may be unaware of their feeding challenges, and eat in a new, unfamiliar setting.
One way families can help their child is to limit and minimize changes. It is important to feed your child on their same schedule and not wait for the holiday meal. You can offer them at least one of their preferred foods at the meal so they can be participate in the experience. Families can also prepare their child in advance by talking to them about expectations and what they will experience on that day.
To learn more about helping your child with feeding challenges, the Children’s Therapy Program at Easter Seals Greater Houston offers a variety of feeding therapies including SOS Therapy (Sequential-Oral-Sensory). The SOS approach focuses on not only what you can see happening with your child (not eating, gaining weight, spitting out food, etc.), but also what you cannot see happening within organ systems, muscles, sensory processing, learning, behavior and cognition, development, nutrition, and environment.
Last month I had the amazing opportunity of volunteering with Easter Seals Greater Houston at Camp M.O.S.T.! The camp is a weekend long retreat for teens with disabilities to socialize, gain confidence and be comfortable just the way they are. Over the course of a weekend I was able to build meaningful connections with the teens in my cabin as we shared our interests and unique experiences with each other. Because of the smaller size of the group we were all able to share meals together and spend more time talking with each other in between activities! It was a great chance to set down the phone for a weekend and be present. I found my time at Camp M.O.S.T. to be empowering and uplifting, but most importantly really fun! I am looking forward to the Fall Camp Smiles in November!
I have to give credit to my discovery of Easter Seals Greater Houston and this exceptional program to my sister Dr. Margaret Markham, who volunteered at Camp Smiles from 2000-2007, my brother-in-law Dr. Travis Markham, who volunteered at Camp Smiles from 2000-2008, and my brother Michael Ryan, who volunteered at Camp Smiles from 2002-2009. Upon moving to Houston for college my siblings encouraged me to get involved with Easter Seals Greater Houston and themselves have stayed active through donations. As a family we believe that Easter Seals Greater Houston is an incredible organization that touches close to our hearts! -Mary Kate Ryan
“Fátima es una niña con espina bífida, aún recuerdo cuando los doctores me daban un diagnóstico muy desalentador, pero gracias a Dios conocí el programa de Easter Seals Greater HoustonECI. Ellos llegaron para ayudar a Fátima con las terapias. Ahora ella a logrado muchos obstáculos que le han puesto. No encuentro palabras para agradecer mi satisfacción a Sarah y Ashlea por la ayuda que me han brindado. Ahora Fátima es una niña muy feliz a su corta edad y espero que sus terapias le ayuden en un futuro a caminar por si sola.”
“Fátima is a girl with Spina Bifida. I still remember when the doctors gave me a very discouraging diagnosis, but thank God I learned about the Easter Seals Greater HoustonECI program. They came to help Fátima with the therapies. Now she has overcome many obstacles that have been placed on her. I can’t find the words to thank Sarah and Ashlea for the help they have given me. Now Fátima is a very happy girl at her young age and I hope that her therapies will help her to walk on her own in the future.”
“Respite Care has been a godsend for my family! I have six boys, three of which are triplets with autism. To say that the amount of work they create for me is overwhelming would be an understatement! Between personal hygiene needs, special diet needs, and special education needs, there just never seems to be enough time to get anything done. With Easter Seals Greater Houston’sRespite Program my life has become manageable! I am able to take care of my children during the week, and on Saturdays I bring in a caregiver who lets me take care of everything but them! I finally have time to get my house in order, cook some healthy meals, and yes believe it or not- have an hour or two of me time! During the pandemic this was especially helpful! Having the triplets at home 24/7 was beyond stressful and trying to get them to complete their online academic responsibilities was pretty much impossible! So to have a break one day a week from everything was literally a small piece of Heaven! I am extremely grateful to Easter Seals Greater Houston and their Respite Program for providing my family and I with this monthly relief and I pray they are able to continue to offer this assistance to many families in the future!”
While there are countless ways that my job is fulfilling, sometimes, there are stories that really take the cake. My job is to help youth gain the skills they need to become successful members of their communities. Success will, of course, look different for each of them as they plan their futures and set their own goals. If I have been successful at my own job, they will all have the confidence and support to pursue whatever “success” looks like to them.
I’ve learned over the last seven years that there is often a lot of potential hiding behind a seemingly quiet student. Norma Puente is my favorite example of this. When I first started working with her at Margaret Long Wisdom High School, she largely kept to herself but would always participate when it was asked of her. Her sweet demeanor and the kindness she always showed to her classmates (and her ability to avoid joining in when all the students around her started to get rowdy) lead me to invite her to our annual Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program Conference in Washington D.C. that summer. Never having been on a plane, she was equal parts excited and nervous, but ultimately so proud of being considered for the opportunity and representing Houston.
When we arrived in D.C., there were students from RAMP sites around the country and without a hint of nerves or trepidation, they all became fast friends. I’ve heard so many stories over the years from these students that making friends was hard for them, but at this conference, you’d absolutely never know it. There is an immediate sense of camaraderie and any walls that they had up fall with breakneck fervor. I’ve never left this annual conference without crying at least once. These kids are truly inspiring…and putting them all together in one room? It’s something to behold.
Part of being invited to the conference is that each student has to deliver a presentation about their future career goals or projects they’ve worked on at their respective RAMP sites that school year. Norma chose to present on Criminology which would soon be her college major. The previously reserved student lit up with apparent passion when she got to talk about her future. She would be the first member of her family to go to college. She would help people who needed her. She would make something of herself – and she couldn’t wait to do any of it.
Norma was then given the opportunity to join local students at the Teen and Police Service Academy; an important and amazing partnership between the Houston Police Department and the University of Houston Clear Lake designed for at-risk youth and police officer mentors. She said it made her feel like a leader and made her confident in speaking in front of groups all while giving her more insight into the future she was carefully preparing for herself. The next summer, I asked her to return to Washington D.C. with me. She was the leader of the pack; guiding all the students who attended and offering encouragement to nervous students giving their presentations for the first time. During a long silence where a student couldn’t bring himself to speak from fear, she stood up, told us all to cheer him on, and got us all clapping. After that, he gave a great presentation. And I really looked at Norma in awe.
She graduated high school in 2019 and has gotten right to work since then. She is working at Care Optical where she deals with prescriptions and sealing glasses and she is enrolled at Houston Community College in their Criminology Program – yep, the first one in her family to go to college. When she graduates, she plans to attend the police academy and go for her Bachelor’s degree in Criminology.
I keep in touch with Norma and when I recently asked her if she thinks RAMP helped her, she responded:
“RAMP helped me in so many ways. This program helped me get on track with my career path and to think ahead to the future. It helped me to grow and allowed me to come out of my bubble and interact with other people with no problem. It made me a leader and because of this program I can say I have grown as a person and am doing better. It made me want to keep up with my studies and to become someone.”
Our biggest in-person program of the summer was Smiles Family Camp: a camp for children with cerebral palsy ages 6-15 and their families! We hosted this camp during the first week of July at Camp For All; it was wonderful to see the whole families get involved in all the unique activities Camp For All has to offer: fishing, canoeing, horseback riding, zip lining, karaoke, and so much more! This program was an awesome way to continue hosting summer recreation, while still remaining socially distanced from other families! Watch Rikki & Nico’s testimony about the impact Easter Seals Camps have had on their family!
Another in-person program we hosted was Respite Camp: a morning respite program for children with disabilities ages 6-14! BIG THANKS to The Caroline School for sharing their wonderful and accessible facilities with us; we were able to host this program when school was not in session! Campers were paired 1:1 with a volunteer, who acted as their buddy and helped lead them through activities like arts & crafts, science experiments, and a fan favorite—scavenger hunt! Our campers were so happy to see their old camp buds again, and receive individualized attention from our caring volunteers. We wrapped up the summer with a talent show and award ceremony, a tradition from our usual day camp, Camp Buckaroo!
We also hosted a virtual summer camp program, so campers could still have fun summer programming if they weren’t ready to come back in-person yet! For this program, we partnered with Project Sunshine, another awesome non-profit organization in the Houston area! Project Sunshine brought their friendly and welcoming volunteers to lead our campers through online trivia games, at-home scavenger hunts, and so much more. We met every other Friday throughout the summer!
I’m so thankful for our joyous campers and hard-working volunteers that attended our programs this summer. Thanks to our incredible supporters The Carter Family, In Memory of Sam Davison, The Dull Family, Enrico and Sandra di Portanova Charitable Foundation, The George Foundation, The Moody Endowment, Prosperity Bank, Heather & Mike Simpson, Texas Children’s Hospital, United Way of Greater Houston, and The WithMerci Foundation for making Camp possible! We look forward to seeing you all this fall for more fun & games with Easter Seals Greater Houston’sCamp and Recreation Programs!