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Letter from the Heart

To our friends at Easter Seals Greater Houston, I would like to thank you for the support you have given to our family as well as to many other families like ours. Your great contribution to many families like ours is extremely helpful, we are very grateful for the support that the Easter Seals Respite Program has given and this makes our life and work easier with our children and other families in special need. Respite Blog Careigiver for November spanish translation

Your work is not simply an office job but a way to be good human beings and in the same way, it will be rewarded with the best payment that they could accrue which is the blessing of God. You are the ones who who give hope to every person who labors with disability and makes things possible and others to relax, breathe and sit down with the support they need.

Hoping that these few but grateful words will come to your hearts, I am very grateful to them, that God will continue to bless them.

-Valentin, Easter Seals Respite Client

Respite Services provides relief options to parents who provide ongoing care of their family member who has a disability. Many parents of children and adults with disabilities have low incomes and cannot afford to hire providers to take time away from their children. Many people with disabilities require 24-hour, around-the-clock supervision, attention and care. This continuous demand becomes a tremendous drain on caregivers emotionally, physically and mentally-this care will remain constant as they grow older. Consequently, families of children with disabilities are at high risk for divorce, substance abuse and child abuse because of the continuing stress of caring for the child with disabilities. Respite care is an assistance program to parents, but just as importantly, is a prevention program aimed at stopping some of the social problems that can result from the tremendous demands made on families due to the disabilities of their child or the institutionalization of the family member with a disability. For more information click here. This important program is largely possible because of the generosity of our community, please consider donating today.

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The Wonders of Early Childhood Intervention

To the Easter Seals ECI Infant Program – the Woodlands team. Way to go Jeannie, Lisa, and Nicola!

Our experience with Easter Seals Early Childhood Intervention Program was a very positive one. From the very beginning (our daycare suggested we reach out when my son was about 11 months old). little boyAustin’s initial evaluation was a lot to take in, but they explained everything they were doing (and more importantly, WHY), and what the process would look like to begin services and what we should expect (this all before we ever had a diagnosis too)… over the past two years, I have relied heavily on Jeannie and Lisa’s guidance on best practices for us to be using with Austin at home, helpful toys/exercises/etc., and celebrated almost every milestone with us along the way. Easter Seals ECI Staff have been more than flexible with my often hectic work schedule (even when I sometimes forget to call and let them know Austin wouldn’t be at daycare for whatever doc appointment/illness/trip 🤦🏻‍♀️), and I loved getting feedback/photos/progress updates from Lisa after Occupational Therapy sessions. I, of course, wish they could have worked with Austin even more than what was available, but ECI has provided an incredible foundation for Austin’s development and future success. Thank you doesn’t seem like enough in this case and I’m quite sad that it’s come to an end.

Austins Mom – Easter Seals ECI Client

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Celebrating Warrior Princess Ava

Ava spent the first 63 days of her life in the NICU, as a little heart warrior, fighting for her life. Today, Ava is an adorable little princess, delighting everyone with her sweet smile. This story is a celebration of her victory over those first battles, and the battles she continues to face.

At five months pregnant, Ava’s mom, Mikki, learned Ava had a congenital heart defect (CHD).  Two weeks later, Mikki found that the heart condition was much more severe than initially thought.  When taking a class about her daughter’s upcoming stay in the NICU, Mikki’s water broke.  She spent the next 32 days in the hospital, on bedrest, until Ava was born at 33 weeks.  The cause of her heart defect was determined at about one week old. Ava was diagnosed with 22.q.11 chromosome deletion (DiGeorge Syndrome), “the most common, uncommon syndrome”.  Ava struggled with feeding and sleeping issues, as she fought to gain enough weight to have her first heart surgery at one month old.  Ava continued to deal with feeding and sleeping concerns, trying to gain weight, for another month after her surgery.  At 2 months old, Ava was discharged to go home.  Staff from the hospital gave her mom a pamphlet about ECI (Early Childhood Intervention), which Mikki dismissed at first.

Ava’s first few months at home were a difficult physical and mental adjustment for her whole family.  An autoimmune condition was revealed, which meant Ava was not strong enough to receive immunizations, and needed to be separated from her 3-year-old sister. Her pediatrician also followed up on the hospital’s suggestion, and recommended ECI. At six months old, Easter Seals Greater Houston started providing ECI services.  Ava received PT (Physical Therapy), OT (Occupational Therapy), SST (Specialized Skills Training), and Case Management. Nutrition was added for two months due to Ava needing to gain weight for a second surgery, which Ava was able to have at 8 months old.  Even though the surgery was considered “a full repair”, she will need more surgeries when she’s older, as her heart grows, for maintenance and additional repairs.  According to her mom, after the second surgery, “we came home with a new baby”. Ava had more energy, and overcame her eating and sleeping struggles. With her new-found energy and ECI’s therapy sessions, “everything fell into place”.

Ava started to crawl at one year old and mom states, “she was the fastest crawling baby I ever saw in my life”. She walked at 25 months old and developed her hand (fine motor) skills. Aided by SMOs (Supra-malleolar orthosis), which give her stability needed as a late walker, Ava now runs!  Ava communicates by pointing, showing what she wants, and using about 30 signs. “Ava has no problem getting her needs known. She’s following her own road, doing milestones in the right progression.” In the fall, Ava will attend the PPCD class with Montgomery ISD, and continue to receive PT and OT services, as well as adding Speech Therapy services from Easter Seals ECI Program.

When asked about how Easter Seals Early Childhood Intervention helped, Mikki reported: “I didn’t know what to do before ECI.  They guided me through her condition and what needed to be done first.  Every therapy was building on what needed to happen next.  ECI also encouraged her big sister to participate.  The therapists gave ideas on how to incorporate the two girls to do daily activities together, and how to make one-on-one time with her big sister.  I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Her mom added: “Thinking that Ava would need therapy was hard for me to accept, but God gave me this child, and it was my job to give her what she needed to be successful.  Ava’s an amazing, sweet little girl, who has taught me so much.  They call heart babies ‘heart warriors’ because they fight battles they don’t even know they have to fight.”  Ava truly is, the perfect combination of warrior and princess.

It has now been four months of #StayAtHome.  That is around the same amount of time your baby/toddler reaches new milestones. Are you keeping a checklist? Are you watching for the next great milestone reached?  Your baby, who might have been five months at the start of #StayAtHome, now at nine months should be standing while holding on, can get into sitting position, sits without support, pulls to stand and crawls.  

Learn more about our Make The First Five Count Campaign and how to ensure your child is meeting their milestones.

Easter Seals Greater Houston’s ECI Program is still providing all services via tele-therapy including evaluations. Call Alicia at 713.838.9050 ext. 385 to schedule a free evaluation and to check on your child’s milestones.

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Internships Build Resumes and Priceless Friendships

Every year Easter Seals Greater Houston hires two interns to help run our amazing summer camps. This year we hired Lindsay and Maddie who are tasked with helping make sure our first ever virtual camps run smoothly. Read how the campers inspire these two hard working young women!

Hi everyone!

Camp Intern 1My name is Lindsay.  This summer marks my fifth summer being involved with Easter Seals Greater Houston and my second summer as a Camp Intern!  I began volunteering with Easter Seals summer of 2016, simply to get service hours.  Little did I know at the time how much Easter Seals would transform my life.  Interning last summer was hands down one of the best summers of my life.  I learned so much and made the most amazing connections with those around me.  In the fall, I’m headed to Texas A&M University to study Allied Health.  Easter Seals has provided me with an amazing career trajectory as I hope to be either a speech pathologist or physical therapist in the future.  Time will tell which one of these paths I choose to take!

Camp Intern 2While being stuck in quarantine, one of the things I have missed the most is camp.  Even though this summer is going to look different than most, I know it will be a great one! The thing I’m most excited about is reuniting with all the amazing campers I met last summer!  The friendships I have formed with so many campers are the reason why I keep coming back.  The children I have met at camp have shaped me into the person I am today, and I am forever thankful. One of my favorite stories is an interaction I had with a camper named Angel.  I met Angel at Camp Smiles last summer.  Throughout the week at camp, I got to know Angel and became friends with him.  At the end of the week, Angel told me camp was one of the best weeks of his life and that he was so excited to come back next year but only if I was there! It was such a small statement, but it meant so much.  I cannot wait for another summer full of little moments like this.

-Lindsay Veech

Hello Easter Seals readers!

camp Intern 4My name is Maddie, I’m 19, and I’ve lived in Houston my whole life! I just finished my freshman year at Texas A&M University, where I’m studying Environmental Science. At Texas A&M, I’m involved in my sorority Kappa Alpha Theta and Aggie ACHIEVEMates. I first started volunteering with Easter Seals Greater Houston through my chapter of National Charity League. I’m very passionate about Easter Seals and serving those with disabilities. I’ve been to both Camp Smiles and Camp Buckaroo! One ofmy favorite camp memories is Karate Day with my buddy Christian at Camp Buckaroo, he is a pro at karate-chopping! I’m so excited to be a summer camps intern this year. I can’t wait to learn more about Easter Seals and hang out with the most awesome campers!

Camp Intern 3

-Maddie Farrell

Learn more about our Camps and Recreation Programs and volunteering opportunities today!

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Pilot Program for Service Dogs… gone virtual..not to the dogs

My name is Bryan Cream and I am an Army Veteran who served eight years as a Chaplain Assistant. During my time, I served in many great units but I was lucky enough to serve my two tours in Afghanistan with the 101st Airborne Division. During Deployment, I do not recall any one specific event that caused damage to me physically. Overtime, my body deteriorated due to nothing more than I can explain as wear and tear. After eight years of climbing the ranks to E-6 or Staff Sergeant, I was Medically Discharged because my body had failed me. The next five years were very tough for me to accept my new life in the Civilian world.

As a Chaplain Assistant, I was responsible for ensuring the Soldiers and their families spiritual needs were met and that they maintained a level of mental strength and preparedness. Now, I am perceived as a Disabled Veteran and not able help myself. Through time and a lot of effort, I was able to accept and handle the mental impact of it all but now I am left with physical limitations that will certainly get worse with time.

Over the years, I dreamed of having a service dog to help me navigate life with the challenges that I am facing, but I never wanted to take a place from a Veteran that had Combat related injuries. Shortly after buying our first home, we found a beautiful Black Lab who we fell in love with and named her Lucie. We had her for about two months before I saw an ad from Easter Seals advertising their great program that offered a path to a Service Dog for Disabled Veterans. Not only did it offer training for Lucie but for myself as well.

The Easter Seals Pilot Service Dog Training Program has obviously gone virtual given the pandemic we are experiencing.  I am only halfway through this 10-week course; I am already seeing drastic changes and impressive results. Lucie has gone from a hyperactive puppy with a few basic commands to a 5-month-old puppy who I am able to trust in public.

The commands she is able to recognize and execute are sit, laydown, stay, wait, left, right, up, down and off. She is able to walk alongside a shopping cart in a public store without any issues. She is able to stay in the down position while I am twenty feet away for an extended period with multiple distractions.

Beyond the commands, I have learned to notice the small details and to listen to my dog. Building a bond with Lucie to make sure she knows where my next step or turn is. Allie (Easter Seals’ Trainer via My Service Dog) has been by Lucie, and my side throughout this course. Helping me see the small successes with Lucie and myself. She has taught me how to be patient with Lucie and most importantly, patient with myself through this training opportunity. Although, she is not quite a full-time service dog, I have faith that she will be there before too long. I look forward to working with Lucie some more and have her fully trained to be my companion in my any challenges I have to face.

Retired Staff Sergeant, Bryan Cream, Easter Seals Greater Houston Client

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Connecting within the Veteran & Senior Communities During CoVid, Part 2 Therapist Focus/Mental Health

We interviewed our Easter Seals Greater Houston Veterans Services clinical therapy team, Dr. Cristy Gamez, Dr. Amy Harkins, Susana Lewandowski LMFT, and Erica Toskovich LMFT, to learn about the challenges COVID-19 has brought to clients, particularly Veterans and seniors, seeking mental health supports.

 What are the challenges of COVID-19 on Veterans and seniors? 

Isolation is a key symptom of PTSD.  Approaching, rather than avoiding people and crowds and shopping centers is one of the main interventions used in therapy to reduce isolation in Veterans with PTSD.  Right now, we can’t use this validated behavioral approach.  We are actually telling people who isolate to stay at home, trust less, and be afraid of invisible “wee-beasties”.  Adapting therapy approaches to the current reality is a challenge.

Veteran clients who have struggled to keep themselves and their families safe during normal times are stretched to be even more hyper-vigilant, alert, on guard.  They are alert to the illness as well as to social implications of the illness – they know what desperate people will do to survive.  It’s normal for Veterans to “turn worry into action” – but that action can be positive or negative.

For some seniors, it feels too late/too hard to move to telehealth. Many have tech but don’t know how to use it. It’s hard to coach when you can’t see what they see. Saying “just click on the link I sent you” doesn’t work when someone has a visual impairment, and when a person with a hearing impairment can’t read my lips or see my visual cues, therapy doesn’t work.

For both populations, issues with using telehealth include lack of privacy, problems with connection like feedback or delays, increased demands because of work or kids at home, and newfound financial anxieties.

How do we know telehealth is good?

Technology in general has so many positives.  Phones and computers allow people to talk and see others, and to utilize apps that help get basic needs met, help calm, and facilitate sleep.  Mental health apps like Calm are very useful.  Clients often share screen shots of step trackers – to show how they are moving more.  Some clients like to use a mood tracker – to gauge patterns and trends in their mood.  Sleep stories are a great resource to help client fall asleep.  Some wearable technologies can track sleep.  I had a client put the Crisis Response Plan for suicide prevention as his screensaver – that’s a great idea.

We have data showing that telehealth is good.  Just this week we saw 25% more people than we saw last week.  We had our lowest ever percent of no-shows (7%), which is very low.  Oftentimes telehealth, which allows clients to be in a space they are already comfortable in, also allows for “the work” to get started quicker during a session.  We have seen that telehealth clients are more proactive, compliant, and responsible.

What more could technology do? 

We will need ways to alert people in case of an emergency built into the devices/platforms we use.  We need HIPAA compliant virtual group meeting platforms, ways to interact with kids virtually that allows for play, and therapeutic virtual games for all ages for single and multiplayer.  We need secure platforms that are HIPAA complaint, can maintain EHR, have tele-health capabilities, are cost effective, easily customizable, and that allow for intra- and inter-agency communication.

And, pie in the sky, we need all of the above in a format that doesn’t overwhelm our clients.  There is a steep learning curve.  The more simple and intuitive the interface the better.

We also wonder how technology could… help with hygiene promotion… improve trust and confidence with the health care system… increase access to accurate information and education about all sudden crises.  Technology is and can change the face of how we provide all services, including mental health.

Overall we are incredibly proud of our mental health team and the word they have done and continue to during the CoVid19 Pandemic. We are equally as proud of our clients!
Christine Ellery, Program Director, Veterans Services, Texas Veterans + Family Alliance, Easter Seals Greater Houston

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Connecting Within the Veteran Community, Part 1: Client Focus

Easter Seals Greater Houston has done a wide variety of things for me. I am grateful for everything you all have done.  Before meeting with ESGH, I had done very little to connect to the Veterans community and the Veterans services that I am able to access because of my time in the Army.Veterans May

It has been a combination of effort from my mental health therapist, Amy Harkins, Jennifer Wright from the Service Dog Program and a few others who have helped me get tickets to concerts and other events.  I had an amazing time at the VetsAid concert.  I loved going to the Zoo for Walk With Me and I look forward to going again this year.  I even got connected to Give Vets a Smile at UT Dental and got some much-needed work done.  I plan to follow up with THRIVE (Easter Seals Financial Education Program) to keep working on my financial situation with Jenny Martinez.  I am thankful to be connected to the Veteran Food Pantry.  I tend to isolate so these activities mean the world to me.

I have the sense that there are puppet masters in the background at ESGH that are helping me out in ways that I don’t even really know about.  I have appreciated everything Jennifer Wright has done to keep the process going to get a service dog.  I do worry about some of the details of getting a service dog, but overall, I am very hopeful that having a service dog will help me explore and enjoy life to the fullest.  Having a dog will allow me to do things that I don’t do now.  A dog will open a door that I keep closed.  And a Service Dog will be a much-needed friend.  Jennifer has not given up on helping me get a service dog and I am so grateful that she has been persistent, on track, and motivated.  If she had given up, I would have given up a long time ago.

I know that talking (via Telehealth) to my therapist Amy has really helped me do things that I would not have done otherwise.  Talking has helped me to think about what I want to do.  I want to explore and see things in Houston.  Actually, one of the most helpful things we have done is meet in person.Veterans May 2  It was a very big step for me to start using Metro Lift so that I can meet in person.  Getting familiar with Metro Lift has opened up many opportunities for me.  Still, it is helpful that I can meet with my therapist by video when something gets off track.  Having you all in my corner has been my saving grace. 

 

Sincerely,

James Kittrell

Army Veteran

 

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High School High Tech Spotlight on Cali

Today we want to spotlight Cali, a high school senior from Willis High School who is finishing her senior year online and working nearly full time at Tractor Supply Company. Cali also makes time to participate remotely in our Easter Seals Greater Houston High School High Tech Program weekly chats and lessons despite her busy schedule.  Cali,  joined HSHT as a sophomore and was extremely nervous about her first mock interview day.  She had never had a job before nor had she ever applied for or interviewed for one.  As part of our curriculum, we teach students how to properly complete a job application, how to dress, how to write a resume and how to successfully ace their job interviews. 

“The past two years in the program helped me a lot,” Cali said. She aced her first job interview and has been employed with Tractor Supply Company for the past 9 months and is working hard to become a Team Lead after graduation.   As a high school senior, Cali has also taken on a leadership role within her HSHT campus group, walking around the room assisting underclassmen complete their job applications, resumes and even research careers.   At last months meeting, she came running into the room proudly waving her senior pictures, shouting “Miss, Miss! I never thought I would ever see this day!   I never thought I would graduate high school! ”

We are so very proud of our Cali Girl for all her hard work and dedication to school, her employer and to her community.  Cali is also part of the Willis HS Marching Band, FFA and raises and shows heifers through 4H.

Carmen Phillips, Montgomery County Program Coordinator, High School High Tech, Easter Seals Greater Houston

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Kanan and His Amazing #ECI Team!

I am the mother of a precious one year old, Kanan Moore. Kanan suffered an oxygen brain injury last year in August, and was released from Texas Children’s Hospital the following October. We were blessed with Easter SealsEarly Childhood Intervention services and I could not ask for a better therapy plan, our team of staff was awesome in every way. It started with an evaluation to see if Kanan would qualify for services. The two Early Intervention Specialist that came were so nice and respectful, they made me feel my child was in the best hands. A week later therapy services started with Mrs. Charisse, a PT and she is the best. I knew thCanan ECIen that my son was in the best hands. After two months, Mrs. Shama and occupational therapy were added to Kanan’s schedule; and she is equally amazing. Two weeks later – speech therapy started with Ms. Bridget. We have the best therapy team a mother could ask for – they are the best support group and love my son. I can see it as they work with him. Everything that the ladies teach me I apply it with my son.

The things that the doctor said that my son would never do – Mrs. Charisse, Mrs. Sharma, Ms. Bridget and Kanan proved them wrong. Easter Seals Greater Houston is the best organization that anyone would be lucky to be a part of and I thank you for sending me such amazing and talented staff to work with my son. I tell them every day how awesome they are! They’re not only here for my son, they are here for me as well. I couldn’t ask for a better support system. As I am writing this I am shedding tears because I didn’t think my son would speak words and now he is up to five words. I did not think my son would stand and he’s now standing, crawling and we’re also working on walking. His left hand was non-mobile/non-responsive but since working with Mrs. Shama my son is now using his left hand to eat bacon! The Easter Seals Infant/ECI Program is the best program that there is and I thank you every day. We look forward to every visit, whether in person or via #Telehealth!

Thank you, Belen, Kanan’s mommy

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An Update from our CEO

We are Here (Virtually) For You

Therapist and her baby with headphones on

Learning Tele-Health!

Easter Seals of Greater Houston is here for you during this difficult time and because you are among our most valuable supporters, we want to assure you that we are here to help. With the Coronavirus (CoVid19) situation changing every day, our concerns are amplified with fears of how our community will be impacted. In all of our decades of serving military families, people with disabilities and vulnerable members of our community-we have become experts in what it takes to beat the odds. Over a month ago, we began adapting our services to keep our staff and clients safe while continuing to provide as many services as possible through tele-health and virtual meet-ups. Click here to see how we continue to support our clients and their families. We have compiled as many resources as possible on Covid19 and are keeping it as up to date as possible. Use BridgingApps.org, our award winning tech technology program, for an amazing amount of on-line resources and ways to stay connected and follow them on Facebook to see new ideas, and resources daily.

Like all families, businesses and charities, Easter Seals Greater Houston has already been hit really hard by the pandemic, by the government mandated benefits and even with huge aid being put in place by Congress, our agency is not eligible for many of the government supports. We expect even more health and financial damage before this is over. With that said, we are steadfast in our commitment to our clients, who need us now more than ever and we are committed to doing whatever we can to protect our employees, serve our clients and come out of this stronger than ever.   Our mission statement is, “Help. Hope. Answers.” The amazing, incomparable and unconquerable Easter Seals family will fulfill that mission of providing help, hope and answers to some of our most vulnerable neighbors during this difficult time and we are grateful to you for standing by us so that we have the resources to serve them.

Speaking of virtually.. We have also moved our Walk With Me Houston event scheduled for April 25th to #WWMVirtually as well. Please consider supporting us through the event. It will be a great way for you, your family, friends, co-workers and other social groups to interact, support the community, “do good” – great home school lesson, stay active safely and more! Follow our Facebook page for our Walk With Me Virtual Sign Up Happy Hour. Last but not least, we so appreciate our current sponsors and their continued effort and support!

If you don’t have the time to commit to walking virtually (and believe me we all understand) then please consider making a gift today to support Easter Seals Greater Houston and our programs, services, clients and their families. We depend on your stewardship and support.

Be well,

Elise Hough, CEO, Easter Seals of Greater Houston

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