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The SMART Road To Assistive Tech for ALL

In 2010, I was working at an educational non-profit when I helped to start a support group of parents and therapists where we shared information on how smartphones and touch tablets could help children with disabilities improve developmental skills. I was interested in how technology could help my youngest son Vincent, who at the age of 6 had the fine motor skills of an 18 month old. I knew that he would never write with a pen and paper, but I also knew that technology could play a big role in his early education and throughout his life.

Vincent had tried joysticks and other technology prior to the tablet to write and communicate, but he needed hand over hand assistance to operate them. However, with the iPad he was able to navigate independently. What a boost to his confidence and an ease to his frustration!

Other parents and therapists had similar thoughts but, because this mobile technology was so new, we spent hours exploring possibilities of which apps were the most helpful for our kids. We were overwhelmed by the sheer number of apps available, so we set out to find a way to make searching easier for parents and professionals. That support group and quest for solutions turned into BridgingApps, a website and program of Easter Seals Greater Houston.

Becoming part of Easter Seals Greater Houston has been a blessing in the most profound way for this program and for our family. With the help of Easter Seals’ leadership and vision to help the program grow as quickly as possible, we have been able to make great strides in its’ development and reach. In 2014, BridgingApps won the Verizon Powerful Answers Award for Education that came with a $700,000 prize.  Our website is filled with resources for people of all ages and abilities – parents, caregivers, therapists, doctors and people with disabilities – looking for the right apps to fit their needs.

We now have three assistive technology labs (Thanks to The George Foundation and ATT&T) in the Houston area and satellite support groups in Austin, the Rio Grande Valley and Fort Worth, Texas.  In 2016, we gave more than 55 presentations and trainings in Houston and around the country. Our website enjoys 9,000 registered users from 187 countries, 7,000 monthly visitors, a podcast segment, an online course, a regular column in a digital magazine, and 3,500 apps in our database. We are excited to explore new ways in which mobile technology can assist young adults with special health care needs, older adults, and seniors through collaborative projects with Texas Children’s Hospital, TIRR Memorial Hermann, Amerigroup/Anthem, UnitedHealthcare, and others.

As a veteran of the US Army, I am thrilled and honored this year to be working on a project that provides services and mental health supports to veterans and their families by using technology. Through a generous grant from TV+FA, we are able to provide technology training in different formats to veterans and their family members.  This spring we have already provided 10 Veterans Access Cafes in locations around Houston to demonstrate how smartphones can be used as a mental health support with apps like Calm, Swirlicity, and Stay Quit Coach. We continue to add content each week to www.bridgingapps.org/veteransresource  to share information on apps and other technologies that benefit veterans and their families.

Cristen Reat, Easter Seals Greater Houston, BridgingApps Founder

 

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Little Steps Big Success with Easter Seals Houston Early Childhood Intervention Program

chelsea linn pic 2Written by a client’s adoptive mother.

‘It was Thanksgiving eve 2014 that I received a call from my husband wanting to know if I was still interested in adopting a baby, my heart sank. My husband and I only had one daughter and she was now 19.  We had always said one day we would try to adopt but had not pursued it, so I was very much surprised by the phone call.

My husband went on to explain that a very distant relative of his had reached out to him to see if maybe we could take a family member’s newborn, if not they were taking her to the local fire station.  We had until midnight to get there (Dallas), and well my response was an immediate YES!!!!  I left work, went straight home and we had a family meeting to ensure our 19-year-old was on board, AND her response was “what are you waiting on… GO”!penguin playing pic

We brought Jordan home that night she was 6 weeks old.  We immediately noticed that she wasn’t crying very much and that she was moving her head and arms very little. I took her to the doctor and they told me she wasn’t moving or crying because she had been left in a car seat or swing for long periods of time and had very little interactions with her parents. The doctor told me babies cry because they need something, but if no one responds eventually they stop crying. It really hit me hard now how much she had been neglected. I contacted the CPS agent in Dallas and she explained what all had happened, she told me that Jordan had been born with 4 drugs in her system and that was why they had an open case, I had a home interview and the file was closed with CPS.

monkey communication pocI had heard about #MakeTheFirstFiveCount and their on-line Ages and Stages Questionnaire.  I filled out an Easter Seals referral form and Jordan was evaluated by Easter Seals Greater Houston‘s Early Childhood Intervention Program (ECI) and on January 28, 2015 she was diagnosed with a NON-categorical four-month delay and she started Physical Therapy & Occupational Therapy with the Liberty County Easter Seals staff.cheetah moving pic

Ms. Leanne Armel, an amazing therapist that has been with Easter Seals Greater Houston for over fifteen years, started working with Jordan intensely, and she told me this wasn’t going to be easy and for me to stay strong…This was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, as her mom my first instinct is to protect her from hurting (she had been through so much already). Every time Ms. Leanne saw me she would always reassure me this was for the best and always gave me early intervention caregiver’s techniques to do at home & in the classroom as well while not doing therapy.

Nov 2015 Infant program blog pic3 by Sharon MottA few months into it Ms. Leanne told me not to give up but to be thinking about talking her to the doctor to see if she would benefit from surgery. I was so scared and unsure as to what to do?? Ms. Leanne was so comforting and really listened to me without judging, she understood how hard it was to see Jordan crying during the sessions, but I prayed every day for God to lead guide and direct all decisions.  January we had our second IFSP (Individual Family Service Plan) meeting and Jordan graduated out of the program and was ahead of schedule in most milestones!! Can you believe we were discussing surgery one year ago!!  Now she will be school ready! and we are equipped with more knowledge and resources moving forward!

Sears Family,  Easter Seals Greater Houston Early Childhood Intervention Program Clients

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Mapping White Noise

With one keystroke, we can now connect with seemingly unlimited information sources through our apps, but parsing through those sites and separating real knowledge from the distraction of background static of white noise is not easy.

With over 1.6 million downloadable apps from the Apple store alone, it is safe to say that there is an app designed to fill in every corner of your life.

Do you want to measure the exact chemical breakdown of your perspiration on any given day? Got it.

Do you want to track your pulse rate and calorie expended during your last aerobic workout?  No problem.  In fact, one fitness app tells you when to drink water AND when to invest in newer foot gear.

There is even an app that randomly pulls frames from your posts through multiple social media sites and flashes on your screen to remind you how happy you were in times past.  Disclaimer here – you must have actually lived the experiences and posted the snapshot to your friends in order to be able to relive such happy moments.  Unfortunately, the algorithm to turn a sad post into a happy one does not exist yet.

In the financial space, you will find an even more intimidating range of apps that promise to track spending, create budgets, design investment plans, trace every dollar on its way in and out of multiple accounts in real time, and ply us with superior money management tips to keep us out of harm’s way.

With so much information at our fingertips, why is it still so difficult to make good financial decisions?  Perhaps, sheer weight of information has become the problem.

Bank On Montgomery County (BOMC) brings together non-profit organizations and financial institutions with knowledgeable staff that will connect you with those banking products and financial education classes tailored to your family needs.  Do you need to open a bank account or start a savings plan?  Are you dealing with student debt or a disappearing retirement account?  Are you looking for an affordable mortgage and perhaps are eligible for one of the many down payment assistance programs to finance your first home?   Our BOMC partners across the county are here to provide you the map and tools to reach your financial goals.

Easter Seals Greater Houston is so excited to be the lead agency working with the Bank On initiative through Mont County United Way and others. For more information about Bank On, click here.

www.eastersealshouston.org
www.bankonmc.org

Katy Thorstenberg, Home of Your Own Program, Easter Seals Greater Houston

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Time for a Financial Wellness Checkup?

Ahhhh – yes, it must be summer.  Rodeo crews have hitched up their trailers and gone home, art festivals and crawdad 2014 home ownerfeasts spill outside, , allergies and….TAX Returns.    As we mull over our 1040s and contemplate how best to make some positive changes, a number of remedies come to mind.

For the mosquitoes and allergy thing, there is the convenient corner drugstore, but for that IRS love-letter called our tax returns which clearly shows how much we spend and how little we save, there is no such easy solution; however, it can be a not-so-subtle wake-up call to ask ourselves what kind of money management plan we follow.

That old baseball sage, Yogi Berra, famously said, “When you get to a fork in the road, take it”.  When it comes to a social media, free-spirit quality kind of thing, that philosophy works rather well.   However, the ‘fork’ plan, which is actually the NO PLAN path, or what I call the bumper-car strategy to life, is probably not going to help you build those financial resources so important in creating a firewall between you and that ugly ‘D’ word – DEBT.  Did you know that you should not be spending more than 30% of your monthly income on your housing expense?  Did you know that at any one time, your family should have at least 3 – 6 months of funds set-aside to help you survive those unexpected, unpleasant, and really unfortunate events that happen all too frequently? You might ask….how much exactly is 3- 6 months reserves in $$$$$$?  A very good question which leads to the next best question, do we even know how much we spend on a monthly basis, or, bottom-line, do we have a household budget?  By that I mean a real budget based on real income, not future hoped-for windfalls, AND including fixed debt, variable debt, and monthly savings towards our dream goals – a house, a not-pre-owned car, or the inevitable retirement.

If you would like to  take a financial wellness check-up, the Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Housing Initiative staff is here to help.  Financial coaches work with families to reduce debt and build credit and resources. HUD-certified Homebuyer Education is provided, and down payment assistance for first-time homebuyers is available for Montgomery County.  For whatever your income and whatever your goals may be, a sound financial plan is your first step.  So when you get to that fork in the road, ask yourself… Does this fork take me where I want to go?

Katy Thorstenberg, LMSW, Easter Seals Greater Houston

Many thanks to United Way Greater Houston, United Way Montgomery County, & Woodforest Bank and the many other collaborators we work with, to make this possible!

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Celebrating Milestones with the Caroline School at Easter Seals

students 1The Caroline School is in its fourth year at Easter Seals Greater Houston!  We are continuing to grow and expand our thank youprograms and opportunities for our students to show how fabulous they are!  This coming May, The Caroline School students will perform their first ever music and dance recital.  Thanks to the generous time and dedication from Sarah of Shine Dance and Kalenn of Rhythm of Life Music Therapy our students will be moving and shaking showing off their amazing abilities through dance and music therapy.  I am so proud of all the students!  They have practiced and worked hard to meet the fine motor, gross motor and attention to task challenge set before them.

As the school year is coming to an end I would like to thank all The Caroline School staff for their hard work and students 4dedication to the students this school year.  We are able to provide a quality education in a loving and safe environment and build our students up to meet the expectations set academically.  I could not do this alone and I am blessed and thankful for each of our teachers!

students 2The mother of one of our students, a young boy who went from verbal to a non-verbal state in public schools wrote this after five months at the Caroline School, “I wanted to send all of you a note to thank you for everything you have done for Michael this past year.  Today he had his appointment at the Meyer Center with his developmental pediatrician and for the first time in the seven years I have taken him, Michael progressed a full developmental year within a chronological year in all areas (expressive and receptive language, gross motor, visual perception etc). Mark and I are so proud of him and so grateful for everything you are doing each day to make this possible.”

Melissa Hueske (Larson), The Caroline School, Easter Seals Greater Houston

students 5Want to support the school and scholarships for children with disabilities who would not be able to access services without your support? Check out our upcoming Coach Gene Stallings event benefiting the Operating Endowment Campaign!

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New Young Adult Program!

My name is Ashley Davis. I am the new Assistant Program Coordinator for the Young Adult LEAD (Life Enrichment for ashley pic 1Adults with Disabilities) Program at Easter Seals Greater Houston.

A little about me- although I was born in California,  I tend to call myself a Texan since I moved to Texas when I was 4 years old.  Recently, San Marcos, TX was my home as I was finishing my degree in Recreation Administration at Texas State University. My parents live in both Dallas and Fort Worth so I have lived in five wonderful cities that Texas has to offer. Houston has quickly become one of my favorite cities as the diversity here is incomparable. I am happy to say that I have been working with people with different abilities for ten years. This all began as I was an aid in the special needs classroom in 8th grade. It was then that I fell in love with working with this population. In high school, I helped to found an organization that helped students with and without special needs to form friendships in a safe environment. The past five summers have been consumed with camp as I have worked for Camp Summit, in Argyle, TX, and Camp For All, in Burton, TX.

ashley pic 2I cannot wait to get March started as we have will have had one month of our newest program up and running. My goal is to help this program grow into its fullest potential by planning it  full of educational and fun events for our young adults. We want to see this help our young adults grow, learn and have fun!  Please email me at ADavis@eastersealshouston.org or call me at 713-838-9050 if you are interested or want more information about the program, volunteering with the program or any other info!

Ashley Davis,  Assistant Program Coordinator, Young Adult Program, Easter Seals Greater Houston.

 

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Electronics Recycling Company Partners with Non-Profit Organization to Create Jobs for People with Disabilities

CompuCycle and Easter Seals Greater Houston Join Together for Sustainability Initiative

HOUSTON, TX – (January 29, 2015) – CompuCycle, Houston’s premier electronics recycling company and Easter Seals Greater Houston, the local non-profit organization benefitting individuals in the Greater Houston area living with disabilities, have partnered to provide sustainable employment opportunities and computer proficiency training to citizens with disabilities. jonathan's 2nd paycheck 2

Since this initiative started, CompuCycle has been collecting, auditing and processing all donated products in order to fund a long-term employment program. Through a generous grant from the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, Easter Seals Greater Houston has been able to take their partnership with CompuCycle to the next level with a full-time employee and job coach on site. With less than four months of training through Easter Seals Transition Services, CompuCycle made a full-time hire of Jonathan.

Jonathan started receiving Transition Services at Easter Seals in June of 2014 after graduating from Westside High School. Shortly after joining the transition program, he was offered an internship at CompuCycle, which turned into a full-time job. Jonathan now works as a wire cutter. He cuts wires from computer power supply cords, computer batteries, cell phone batteries, network connection cords, coaxial cables and phone jacks. He then sorts the components cut from the cables into specified bins. Jonathan also performs other duties like disassembling computer fans and removing scrap metal from cell phone and laptop circuits.

Easter Seals Greater Houston CEO, Elise Hough, was thrilled to find a partner in CompuCycle. “Our clients have a difficult time finding employment, and often, an even harder time maintaining these jobs. What’s most exciting for us is that through comprehensive training, our clients will have job skills that aren’t only applicable to their work at CompuCycle, but for the rest of their lives.”

“CompuCycle greatly enjoys working with Easter Seals; the program is truly a win-win for everyone,” said Kelly Hess, President of CompuCycle.  “Corporations can responsibly dispose of equipment that they no longer need, or don’t know what to do with, using CompuCycle, a certified company, to safely refurbish the equipment. Through dropping off these goods with us, these businesses are also simultaneously donating to a terrific initiative, and helping to create jobs for people with disabilities.”

CompuCycle is a R2:2013, OSHAS 18001 and ISO 14001:2004 certified, responsible electronics recycling company providing safe, secure and certified recycling and data destruction to Houstonians.  Easter Seals Greater Houston offers a range of services to infants, adults, and families with disabilities, including employment preparedness and training. For a list of accepted products, please visit the CompuCycle website.

For more information about Easter Seals Greater Houston and its Transition Services, please visit www.eastersealshouston.org or contact Robert Williams at 832-834-4170 or rwilliams@eastersealshouston.org.

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