Tag Archives: Disability Together

Making a Difference One Dollar at a Time

For the past seven years, Entergy Texas customer Melissa Delgado of Conroe has participated in Entergy’s Super Tax Day events to get her taxes done for free. It is one of many events held as part of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program – a program sponsored in part by Entergy.

At roughly $300 per year, Delgado has saved more than $2,100 – money she would have had to pay to a tax preparation company. That savings, along with what she gets back on her taxes through the Earned Income Tax Credit, really adds up for her family.

“We found out about this program from a couple at our church seven years ago, and we’ve been coming ever since,” she said. “We were paying so much money. It was such a blessing and still is.”

Delgado and her family plan to use their tax refund to pay for health insurance.

Meanwhile, a young woman named Ashley returned to get her taxes done for a second year – a year after tax volunteer Carmen Phillips with Easter Seals Houston‘s Housing and Financial Literacy Program gave her a packet of financial education materials that taught her how to create a budget and track her expenses.

“After last year’s event we spoke a couple times via phone, but I did not hear from her again until she walked up to my table,” explained Phillips, who works for Easter Seals of Greater Houston. “She immediately recognized me and told us that because of that packet and our discussions in 2017, she worked hard all year sticking to her budget worksheets and tracking her spending – so much so that she was able to purchase her first home!

“I have to say I was both speechless and blown away by her sincerity and candor,” she said. “I was so pleased to learn that the brief education and information received through a Super Tax Day event could have such a profound effect on a client!”

Since 2011, Entergy has been sponsoring VITA sites in all five of its operating companies – Entergy Texas, Entergy Louisiana, Entergy New Orleans, Entergy Arkansas and Entergy Mississippi. Of more than 111,125 tax returns filed, customers have gotten back near $200 million in refunds.

In Texas alone, more than 8,200 tax returns have been filed, with customers getting back more than $11.5 million in refunds.

Pictured above: Entergy Texas President and CEO Sallie Rainer (left) visits with Senior Customer Service Specialist Paula Odom of Entergy Texas Public Affairs and Entergy customer Melissa Delgado.

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Family and Therapists Team Up

The following post was written by the parent of an Early Childhood Intervention Infant Program client who receives services in the Brazos Valley.

DSC_0023We’d like to explain what Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Brazos Valley Early Childhood Intervention Infant Program has meant to us, our lives, and more than anything, our daughter. Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Early Childhood Intervention Infant Program has transformed the behavior of our daughter in a positive manner through the weekly therapy sessions. Easter Seals Greater Houston’s ECI Infant Program came into our lives to help us and have been the perfect tool to help our daughter with speech/language & behavior therapy.

When our daughter turned 2 years of age, her pediatrician led us to Easter Seals Greater Houston because there was a delay in in her speech. Easter Seals’ ECI Infant Program staff members came and ran a full evaluation and afterwards we started the therapy sessions with no clue how incredibly helpful they would be to our child. As the months passed on we noticed great changes in our daughter’s speech/language and in her behavior. Before the therapy sessions she hardly paid attention, but by making this a key area of focus we have seen great, positive improvements in this area and others. We started to work hand in hand with the therapists in our parental role. All the dedicated time was well worth all the positive changes we see in our daughter today. The Brazos Valley ECI Infant Program therapists have not only helped us with the problem areas, but understand why and how they came to be, all the while treating us with respect. We are appreciative as parents for not only the treatments, but the care and effort to reach all goals with her. As of today, our daughter’s vocabulary has increased substantially, she makes basic sentences, pays (more) attention, has calmed down overall, and our entire family has noticed the progress that our daughter has made since she began working with our therapists.

We appreciate Easter Seals Greater Houston from the bottom of our heart, the beautiful work and care for all the families with whom you work with, starting with ours. The Brazos Valley ECI Infant Program staff have gone above and beyond for the well-being of our daughter. Thanks to Easter Seals our lives have changed for the better.

Sincerely,

Marquez Nevarez Family, Brazos Valley Early Childhood Intervention Infant Program family, Easter Seals Greater Houston

Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Early Childhood Intervention Infant Program has expanded and is now available in 12 counties. If you have concerns or questions about your child’s development, please call 713.838.9050, ext. 385 and request a free developmental assessment.

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Nothing “Dull” About Camp

Easter Seals Greater Houston hosts several camps throughout the Greater Houston area and at Camp For All in Burton, Texas every summer. These camps serve children with disabilities, some of which are medically fragile, and their siblings. The days are filled with inclusive, accessible activities that all the children and volunteers enjoy. The following was written by one of our amazing 2018 summer camp interns.

ConleeHi my name is Conlee Dull and I go to Memorial High School. This will be my 5th year volunteering with Easter Seals Greater Houston specifically their summer Camps and Recreation Program. I think by far one of my favorite memories from camp is the first time I ever gave a camper an award. Just to see the smile light up on their face and how proud their family was honestly made everything I did with my camper even more rewarding. Through volunteering I have learned that people with disabilities are the same as any other kids and they just want to have a good time without being judged just as any other kid would. Through volunteering with Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Camp and Recreation Program I have really developed a passion of working with people with special needs and I can’t wait to see how much it grows this summer when I intern!

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Conlee Dull, Summer Camps and Recreation Intern, Easter Seals Greater Houston

 

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On The Road To Recovery from Harvey

We asked one of our Harvey Case Managers, Chad, to write some thoughts down…mostly because he is clearly insightful and always has some “good nuggets” about the process of intake, referral, coordination, mental health etc leading to the road to recovery from Harvey…

And in case you ever wondered “what does a case manager do”?  Case Management “is a collaborative process of assessment, planning, facilitation, care coordination, evaluation, and advocacy for options and services to meet an individual’s and family’s comprehensive health needs through communication and available resources to promote quality, cost-effective outcomes.” Basically they are the detectives or super sleuths, if you will, of the social service world….and are genius at finding resources, that most cannot.

Most people don’t realize how many individuals are still affected by Harvey. These people are struggling every day with trying to make ends meet after losing everything and getting denied by everyone for assistance.

It’s getting harder to find clothes. One client was given pants 10 sizes too big. He gave them to a friend who could wear them at least.

I had a client the other day tell me she has been calling everyone and no one wants to approve her for any help. Some are denying her because she’s on someone else’s list …so she must go remove herself from that organization and reapply to the current one she’s trying to get help from.

I have a client who is living in a mold infested apartment. Her child has bad asthma and takes breathing treatments. Her stove shocks her when she tries to cook something.

When I call people, they are so thankful someone called them back and can provide some assistance. Most people say they haven’t been able to get anyone to call them back in months and have tried just about every major organization.

None of the FEMA adjusters seem to know what they are doing. They are mostly new hires and are learning as they go. One woman has had her house repaired by FEMA, but the repairs weren’t done properly and the house is worse than when they started.

I’m getting a lot of people who just need help replacing clothes and the small things you and I take for granted.

Everyone that I can provide direct client assistance to is thankful no matter how little it is.

I can’t count the number of people who have cried on the phone when they tell me their story and how thankful they are that I can help them. I also can’t begin to describe how amazing is feels when I’m able to provide these Harvey victims with some of the help they desperately need.

And the knowledge that we are helping families everyday rebuild their lives is the reward. Check out some Thank You‘s here!

Chad Finch, Case Manager, Easter Seals Greater Houston, Harvey Recovery Program
Need help – Harvey@eastersealshouston.org

 

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Harvey Recovery Thank Yous!

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Anchors Aweigh Campers

IMG_1272Ahoy from Camp MOST (Miles of Smiles for Teens)! This past weekend, Easter Seals Greater Houston hosted Camp MOST– a weekend retreat for young adults with cerebral palsy and other neurological disorders. Our theme this spring was Anchors Aweigh- we had nautical decorations, activities, and snacks! With 14 amazing campers and 17 amazing counselors we set sail for a fun filled weekend!

IMG_1175On Friday, the campers docked at Camp For All around dinner time. That night, we had an awesome Amazing Race activity and then a campfire complete with s’mores, skits, and some campfire songs. On both Saturday and Sunday Camp MOST hit some rough waters- it rained off and on both days. Despite the rain, our camp had the MOST fun! We got to participate in canoes, fishing, photography, archery, paintball, ZIPLINING, and most of all our amazing Jam Sessions.

In our Jam Sessions, we talked about awesome topics related to transition into young adulthood, and what that looks like as a teen with a disability. In the first Jam Session we discussed how independence doesn’t mean doing it all alone. Topics included learning to speak up and self-advocate during IEP meetings and college advising meetings. Later in the day campers were asked to “Set Your Course!” and each shared what they want and what they need to do to achieve this goal.

Each camper ended the weekend with fantastic memories, new friends, and a plan to set their course in order to achieve their dreams! All aboard for success!

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“I want to figure out where I am in life and who I truly am. Step 1: Don’t listen to the negative talk/self-talk”

Mackenzie Richard, Camp Coordinator, Easter Seals Greater Houston

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Resilient

Gaby1We are a small, young family working and playing hard in Kingwood, Texas. My name is Chris and I’m the dashing and brilliant stay-at-home Dad. My wife is Elisa, the exotic and  mysterious bread winner of the family, and together we have two daughters – Hannah, a five-year-old Wonder Woman and two-year-old Gabriella (Gaby), the thrill-seeking comic of the family.

Gaby was born on November 10, 2015, shortly after we moved to the suburbs of Kingwood from the city of Houston. We felt confident about the delivery since this was Elisa’s second time, and I had plans to take a short break from my career to help get us all settled and then find a new job a few months later. Those expectations changed when the delivery did not go as planned, and Gaby was immediately put on a ventilator as soon as she arrived. I remember she was blue and not breathing. Come to find out she had swallowed muconium on her way out and the fluid was stuck in her lungs. Eventually she started to breathe and move around, but spent the better part of a week in the NICU as a result.

During her time in the NICU the doctors discovered Gaby4a small heart defect. Gaby has a few valves that are thickened and while the thick valves are not causing her any immediate problems, over many months they did lead the doctors down a path to a genetic diagnosis of Kabuki Syndrome.

Turns out, the reason Gaby swallowed meconium is that she has hypertonia. Her muscles, while they can develop and get stronger like any of ours, are naturally weak and hyper flexible. Gaby did not have the muscular control of her mouth or throat to prevent herself from swallowing fluid during delivery. Over time the hypertonia has lead to delays in walking, eating, and for a while, even having a bowel movement on her own. As an infant she needed assistance in every little area of life that we take for granted, because she wasn’t strong enough to do these things on her own. Gaby also had severe reflux, and not only was she not strong enough to swallow, but what formula did go down came right back up in a very violent, retching episode. Eventually she was given a G tube, which allowed us to use a pump to slowly drip formula directly into her stomach, bypassing her mouth and throat completely. Even after the G tube surgery and with the pump, Gaby threw up, screaming and crying, 5-6 times a day for nine months. She didn’t sleep. We didn’t sleep. We just held her and rocked her as she screamed in pain.

As the weeks went on, colobomas were found in both of her eyes resulting in low vision and an immediate diagnosis of legal blindness. Knowing Kabuki can produce hearing loss as well, we tested her ears and found that she has mild to moderate loss in both ears, requiring hearing aids. The combination of vision and hearing loss lead to sensory issues, such as getting overwhelmed in loud, new spaces or feeling uncomfortable touching certain textures.

For months it seemed we found a new challenge to face each week. We lived in the hospital and at doctor appointments. We were scared. We were exhausted. We were not prepared for this.

On top of helping Gaby, we were all of a sudden forced into a situation where we had to take a hard look at our insurance, the surrounding school system, any and every option available to us through the city, state, non-profits, family, friends and whatever else. Through this process – what I call the “business side” of all this – we discovered Easter Seals Greater Houston‘s Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) Program and requested an evaluation.

None of us are prepared for the feelings that come with Gaby3a scenario like this. Just a few months before Gaby was born I had bought a drum kit and was hoping to open my own retail store. Now, overnight, I was having to second guess and completely reevaluate emotions, thoughts, plans and habits that were second nature to me over the previous 35 years. The most difficult obstacle to overcome was accepting what Gaby had and what she was facing enough to do the things that I knew she needed. One of those things was an Early Childhood Intervention evaluation –  probably the first time I had to accept she needed long term help. It was honestly scary.

As nervous and vulnerable as I felt we were at the time, our evaluation was the best thing that could have happened to us. Both Easter Seals therapists were so knowledgeable and understanding of our situation. Even though Kabuki Syndrome is a specific challenge to deal with, these therapists knew so much about the bigger picture – the anger, the sadness, the confusion and, at times, hopelessness. These are experiences that every parent of a child with special needs goes through no matter the diagnosis.

Given Gaby’s situation at the time we were quickly scooped up into the ECI Program and recommended a handful of therapies to begin with, including Physical (Leanne Armel), Occupational (Jessica Valdez/Jackie Wooten), and Speech (Ashly Wiebelt). Eventually we would add an Early Intervention Specialist (Ysabel Luna) when Gaby was a little older. We were also provided an incredible Case Manager (Melodie McDonald) that helped us complete any forms or paperwork, recommended assistance programs that could be available to us at the city and state level, and was also a wealth of knowledge for resources in our immediate community.

Gaby thrived with the support and expertise of the Easter Seals team. The therapists came to our house. We did not have to sit in a small room waiting for them like we did with the doctors. The therapists were flexible and understanding with our schedule, they were prepared for each appointment and most importantly, each and every one of them genuinely cared about all four of us. Honestly, in the beginning, sometimes I just used them as a shoulder to cry on.

The first thing that the Easter Seals specialists told us was that they were not there to do the therapy for us, but to teach Elisa and I how to do it. I appreciated that so much, because the ECI team understood that there is no doctor in our house when Gaby’s G-button falls out. There is no nutritionist in Gaby’s room at 3:00 a.m. when she’s just thrown up all of her food, and there is no physical therapist on standby next door to come teach Gaby how to sit up by herself everyday. That was our job now. Like it or not, as hard as life had been recently, we had to become Gaby’s nurse, doctor and therapist. That was our job as her parents. We had to get with it, and we had to start right away.

Based on our physical therapist’s advice and teaching, we worked every day with Gaby on simple exercises that began with the goal of having her roll over. Eventually she sat up on her own and today, at two years old, she walks. Our speech therapist taught us about strengthening Gaby’s mouth so she could begin to form words and eat food. She introduced Gaby to specific sounds and words to help her communicate. Today Gaby can speak 6-8 words clearly and is picking up sign language very quickly. Our occupational therapist worked for months on tasks as simple as pointing a finger, and today Gaby can sit in a chair, flip through a book and remove pieces of a puzzle. Every baby needs teaching and nurturing to grow, but for a baby with special needs that is naturally going to be delayed they need specific attention given to the little things.

Gaby2Lastly, Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Early Childhood Intervention Program helped us learn how to communicate. We had to develop a way to communicate with Gaby despite delays or physical setbacks. We had to learn how to explain Gaby’s life to her sister Hannah in a way that Hannah felt included and encouraged. We had to learn how to talk to other parents, teachers and even strangers about Gaby in a healthy way, to let them know Gaby is just as strong, smart, and resilient as any other two-year-old. Recently we attended the 4th Annual Kabuki Gathering in San Antonio and met families from our area and their children with Kabuki Syndrome. Without the confidence that ECI has given us to take this new life head on, I do not know if I would have gone. However, it turned out to be one of the best weekends of my life, not mention for Gaby and the rest of our family. Rare conditions like Gaby’s and special needs of all types are so difficult to manage in the beginning, and borderline impossible to do alone. Thanks to Easter Seals’ ECI we never had to be alone and Gaby’s life has been changed forever.

Chris, Early Childhood Intervention Program Parent, Easter Seals Greater Houston

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