70 years ago – we started in Montrose in an old house at 1415 California (the new and improved home of Legacy) as the school for children with cerebral palsy before the laws changed to allow children with disabilities into the independent school system. That law changed in 1975, and as a result we became a therapeutic treatment center. One of my favorite people in the world – Katherine “Ronnie” Kenner, went to the school in the 1950’s and still remains close with us today. Her stories and antics then and now delight me and suffice it to say she was our very first “Ambassador” thanks to the kindness of well-known Houston Chronicle writer Andy Anderson, many of the entertainers (pictured Ronnie and Eddie Arnold and Dinah Shore) from the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo and the much missed Shamrock Hotel.
When I started 17 years ago, we saw our clients in the Infant Program/ Early Intervention in our offices. Parents and caregivers sat in our lobby and waited for their children and as a result got to know the other parents, traded information, gave each other pep talks and created a network. We – the staff – got to know the families as a whole, remember when children took their 1st step, said their 1st word or graduated – cap and gown included – at 36 months! Back then we also had Respite Services, Buckaroo day camp and our Adult Program.
Laws changed and our therapists had to start seeing clients in their own “natural setting” – that meant driving to their home, school, or even a local church to see clients. It has its benefits – moms and dads can learn how to help their child with therapy in their natural setting – translated that means they should be able to replicate what the therapist is teaching them and continue on a daily basis – for a much better outcome. I see the benefits – but it also makes me sad…first and foremost we didn’t see kids in the office, get to know the families, our staff in the office shrank from at that time 30 to about 3….(gets kind of lonely in an echoing 1950’s cinder block school building) and our trampolines and larger equipment now went un-used. So downsizing was a must. Now we are lucky enough to be in a building centrally located in Bellaire with five outreach offices.
So the last 10 years have been incredibly busy, major shares of ups and downs, Enron, Katrina, Ike, and Rita along the way….more than a learning curve… and despite the downs, ESGH has managed to grow every year…the number of clients we serve is always on the rise, their needs are always more desperate, the gaps always seemingly huge…but at the same time – an incredibly dedicated staff, incredible supporters and volunteers, and great new programs along the way to help fill those gaps, help many out of desperation and actually see change in our community. Camp is bigger and stronger with more kids served, more weeks offered; Play Therapy and our Toy Tech Program went from serving 10 to 800! Home Of Your Own has been there to see over 170 closings on homes – families in the community, saving money, contributing back and not one of them has been in default; High School High Tech is in four different school districts, served close to 400 teenagers last year and versus the national drop-out rate of close to 50% for teens with disabilities, our is an incredible 1%! 2011 we served 5,500 families 0r over 20,000 individuals.
3 years ago, we opened the Children’s Therapy Program (up to 15 yrs) with physical, occupational and speech therapy in our clinic – so children and their families started coming back to the office, we know all their names again, celebrate in their achievements and consider them part of our family. About the same time we re-established the Caroline School with the amazing help of Board VP, Elizabeth DeLuca,…more kiddos and school again! Since then we have brought in Social Motion Skills and BridgingApps – both cutting edge programs that we are proud to include in the spectrum of services we offer. With the census showing 1 in 5 with a disability combined with the aging of the baby boomers…we must continue to be able to serve more and through more innovative cost saving programs.
So as I sit in my office today, as we prepare to move into larger space for both the Caroline School and Children’s Therapy, I am amazed. Amazed at where we were and where we are, amazed that I can tell you the names of pretty much any child that comes in, amazed that their moms and dads come to me and tell me – “I work at Randalls Food Market now, I am so proud to be working for a national sponsor” or “we just raised $3,000 cash for our Walk With Me team…and we think we can do more!” We have now been officially Easter Seals Greater Houston for a 1 ½ years and one of our favorite pictures which is the cover of our brochure is a vintage black and white picture of the house at 1415 California, nurse with seamed stockings on and a “We sell Easter Seals here sign at the door”. So while the seamed stockings are out of the picture (thank goodness)…..1415 California is alive and well at 4500 Bissonnet – with children running and playing up and down hallways again, Caroline School students will be starting school in a month in their new and improved space, stronger families are being made, stronger children are growing up and Easter Seals is in the forefront.
Kelly Klein, Development Director, ESGH