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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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Walk With Me…Virtually: Walk, Stroll or Roll the Block!

Out of an abundance of caution and care for our clients, teams, sponsors, friends and family walkers and rollers, we’ve made the decision to reroute Walk With Me 2020 to a virtual event. 

This year, we invite you to: Walk With Me…Virtually: Walk, Stroll or Roll the Block!

How it works: We encourage you to register (if you haven’t already) and walk, stroll or roll around your own block daily, weekly and/or on the event day between now and April 25th. Of course, your safety comes first, but we also know that taking in a little bit of sunshine can help all of us during this difficult time!

As you walk, stroll or roll your block, be sure to take photos or videos…or even live stream your experience and use the hashtag #WWMVirtually and tag @EasterSealsGreaterHouston then encourage your friends and family to do the same to help support your (or their own) fundraising efforts.

Last year, 4,000 Houstonians were in attendance. With our virtual walk, we KNOW you can help us beat that!

Every “virtual” step you take helps connect veterans, children and adults with all types of disabilities to the services they desperately need.

How to register to walk, stroll or roll around your block!
*If you have already registered as a walker, you are automatically considered a virtual walker (or stroller or roller!). As such, you do not need to re-register.
*All we need is your help with spreading the word about Walk With Me…Virtually!
*If you’re new to our Walk With Me community, register as a virtual walker here!

How to encourage your friends to continue to help you in your virtual fundraising efforts:

  • As you walk, stroll or roll your block, be sure to take photos or videos…or even live stream your experience and use the hashtag #WWMVirtually and tag @EasterSealsGreaterHouston to encourage your friends and family to do the same to help support your fundraising efforts. You can even create a Facebook fundraiser to make it that much easier!
  • Ask friends and family to join your virtual team, create their own teams and challenge their peer networks (Scout troops, Mother’s Day Out, faith communities, volunteer groups and more) to do the same!
  • Click here for an updated email you can send to your friends and family to encourage continued donations to your virtual walker page!

Donate NOW to help us continue our life-changing work!

COVID-19 has hit Easter Seals and its clients, employees and fundraising efforts hard so we need your support in helping us reach our $1 million goal NOW MORE THAN EVER BEFORE. Your commitment will help ensure that Easter Seals can continue its mission of providing services for thousands of Houstonians living with all types of disabilities each year.

Donate to a walker to support Easter Seals Greater Houston today!

We look forward to virtually walking, strolling or rolling the block with you!

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ESGH Group Activities Statement (COVID-19)

2020 CoVid Cancellation

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March 3, 2020 · 8:20 am

Together We Did It!

First, as a family we’d like to say a big thank you to the Easter Seals Early Childhood Intervention program team that has been part of the process over the almost 3 years working with our twins, Noah and Roman. Together WE DID IT! WE are doing it! They are achieving so much and catching up to developmental milestones. It’s been wonderful to see them thriving and meeting goals.ECI blog for february pic 3

Noah and Roman were born at 30 weeks unexpectedly. As a parent that can be a scary thing not knowing the outcome of your babies. I did not have the opportunity to see, nor hold my babies once they were both delivered and they stayed in the NICU for about 2 months and received therapy services thru the hospital. Luckily, we were referred to Easter Seals ECI for the opportunity to have continued care for our little guys. Thru ECI we have been given more of the tools necessary to help our boys develop and grow.

Our service coordinator, Roshanda, has been very helpful in educating us about options we have for different services thru Easter Seals and ECI and making sure needs have been met. She always has open communication with me and answers questions or concerns we may have. Roshanda is very pleasant to work with and I feel like she genuinely cares.

The twins both started physical therapy with Melissa. It was a bittersweet moment being discharged from Easter Seals Houston’s PT services BUT it was a blessing they reached all their goals and physical developmental milestones! Thank you Melissa!

The boys have been receiving Easter Seals Houston’s occupational therapy services with Gumaro. We thank you Gumaro for getting the boys on track.  Always having patience with them during the good days and the bad days.

Speech Therapy through Easter Seals is so much fun for Noah and Roman most of the time(if they’re in a good mood) the vocabulary has gone from grunts and crying to pointing, using single words, 2 and even some 3 word phrases. They definitely like to show off that they can communicate with mom and the family now. Thank you Tate! Also thank you to Michelle during SLP sessions with Noah when he had a tongue tie. You were so helpful to us. You introduced him with his 1st favorite book “Never Touch a Dragon” which he still loves.

The twins also receive SST (Specialized Skills Training) with Lakeisha. They have so much fun with all the therapists, but they really enjoy Lakeisha. They don’t even realize she’s working with them and think it is play time the whole session! ECI blog for february pic 2

You all have watched our little guys have their best days and worst days. Thank you to the team of everyone who has helped us, help them, along the way thus far! These little guys have come a long way and the support and services thru Easter Seals ECI I truly feel like has gotten them on track to where they are now!

Thank you so much!

-Noah, Roman and Family

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The Staff that Works Magic

Our Easter Seals staff is amazing! We are so proud of the work they do daily.  This is regarding a client in many of our programs that has Down syndrome, vision impairment and is on the autism spectrum. His mother also happens to be our BridgingApps Program Director.

“I have recently started working with Vincent on his knee,  He has had a subluxed patella four times, and the last one being the worst.  When I evaluated Vincent, he was very shy and didn’t want to participate or engage in physical therapy. CTP 1st Vincent pic 1 We did the evaluation in the hall outside of the PT gym, because that was as close as we could get him at the time.  I talked to him, reassured him, and made fun games out of the evaluation.  We finally got him in the gym to work on the mat.  Mom was concerned about him lying on the floor because this is not something he willingly does at home, but I was able to make a fun game out of it, and mom participated as well.  Now the whole family is doing Vincent’s home exercise program! I have only just begun working with Vincent, and we are going at his pace for therapy.  He now calls me Ms. Streisand, and I just roll with it because kids can call me anything they want to if it will get them to work, play, and have fun!”

Watch this super cute video of Vincent in therapy!

Missy Dafler, PT, DPT, C/NDT, CKTP

Physical Therapist, Easter Seals Children’s Therapy Program

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First Light and The Wish Float

What an incredible 4th First Light Family Camp we had! And the lessons, encouragement, and realizations keep coming.  The families are there because they are first and foremost a military family. We are proud that we can be of support to them through Easter Seals  Veterans Services, but more importantly, we are honored by the work they have done for our Country and the work they are doing for their families now.  We were also really excited to have donors who wanted to ensure that all the children attending received a new bike. Who knew it would lead to some incredible revelations. Untitled

“First light is hopeful, beautiful, but it is also when you are at your most vulnerable.”

One family of four who attended with two children both of whom have disabilities, learned a new lesson.  “Wow a bike!  You think I can learn how to ride it?”   Apparently, the children were never taught to ride… plenty of reasons, mostly protecting them – but the truth is it was just one more thing that made the children feel different adding to the list of disability, divorce, and military.   One of the children after taking the first turn on learning to ride said, “This is going to make me feel really good.”

Another mom of a family attending reflected on her childhood memories of what a bike meant to her as a child, bottom line – freedom.  “I think about my kids and the childhood they’re having now.  They are not having the “normal” childhood I had.  Maybe these bikes are going to help us ALL feel free again.”

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“The Wish Float, when something spiritual becomes real.”

 

 

The Wish Float, a tradition at First Light it, is an emotional event, after a day of mental health focused break-out sessions, nighttime with the family and new friends, stars out, our flag lit up and campfire going. Everyone is asked to send out their wishes and hopes in a note with a candle into the darkness.

One family, enjoying the night realized one young adult child was off to the side on their own.  Everyone assumed normal teen stuff.   Turns out, a younger child with a disability from another family, being emotional, had reached out to the closest person for comfort, their young adult. And it turns out, that is all it took, the touch of a child for this family member to realize that they always needed to be there for their family, not just for the weekend, but for life. First Light

Upon seeing the picture – Mom said, “I remember loving this moment! I felt like things were going to be truly o.k. with my kids.”

And that is what this Easter Seals Veteran Family Camp is all about.  Being okay with yourself, and being present for your family.

Christine Ellery, Easter Seals Greater Houston, Program Director; Kenzie Richard Easter Seals Greater Houston, Program Coordinator

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