Tag Archives: family support

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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Happy Birthday! via Facebook!

$3,762…. That’s a nice chunk of change…For Easter Seals Greater Houston that means a child with a neurological disorder and a volunteer get to go to Camp Smiles, our overnight camp, on scholarship. It might be that child has never been to camp, and their parents couldn’t afford it. It might be that child has gotten to go before, but this year because of Harvey, money was just too tight. Whatever the case made be…  that gift means they do get to go; and I can guarantee that child’s and their buddy/volunteer’s lives will be forever changed for the better.

Or a child with a disability that needs therapy…insurance doesn’t cover it all or tough times have happened and a family has lost their insurance… you wouldn’t want to have to ever say…we can’t afford PT or speech for our child….we don’t have the money right now… That same chunk of change at Easter Seals…means they do receive therapy.

And we could list so many other life changing programs and services that thousands are able to take advantage of through Easter Seals because we have sponsors, donors, volunteers, staff, parents, clients, friends, friends’ of friends and more – who give back and allow us to continue in our mission.

So who donated the $3,762…. So many people we don’t even know and that have never met Easter Seals or our programs before, or who have watched from afar a friend’s child and some people who have benefited from our services or their child did.

How is that possible?….it’s birthday money from Facebook!.    You know the tune…”They say it’s your birthday…it’s my birthday to yeah!”  With the Facebook App…It really can be your birthday and our birthday too…YEAH!

And we think it’s amazing! When it first launched, we had people use it; and, yes they raised funds. This year, it has taken-off.   The $3762 is from 2018 – only 5 months and 10 birthdays.  So the next time you think, I really want to support “ABC” Charity (hopefully it’s Easter Seals Houston – wink) but I can’t because I don’t really have funds to donate and neither does anyone else I know.

Remember this, …WRONG. You can – and whether its’ your birthday or a drive or an event like our Walk With Me, you can do it. One dollar, five dollars, ten dollars at a time and it adds up to something life changing just like the $3762.   So give it a try on your next birthday and watch what happens!

We will give you an update in another 6 months to see what our birthdays have accomplished together!  Instructions – Login to your page on FB, click the fundraisers button on the left side of your page, click on the green button that says “raise money” for FB’s step by step instructions – its easy…try it!

Kelly Klein
Development Director
Easter Seals Greater Houston

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Harvey Recovery Thank Yous!

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Making The First Five Count Through Early Intervention Services

Ella:

Ella has been enrolled in the Easter Seals Greater Houston ECI/Infant Program for about 6 months. Per one of the therapists on her Infant Program team –  visits started with tantrums, then evolved into stoic silence. Mom swore she said about 10-15 words, but the team never heard them the first month or so. Now, this lovely chatter box has a vocabulary that is growing every day. Ella is combining words to make 2-4 word sentences on her own, and parrots everything she hears. She is able to sit and attend to learning and play activities for 30+ minutes without getting distracted, and has some of the most creative pretend play we have seen.

 Mica:

We have been utilizing the services of the ECI/Infant Program at Easter Seals of Greater Houston over the past year for our son Mica, who was diagnosed at birth with Trisomy 21.   Mica’s progress has been wonderful so far, thanks to the team of dedicated therapists at Easter Seals.  Mica’s physical therapist Charisse as well as his nutritionist Thein have been instrumental in his growth and development.  His occupational therapist Christy as well as speech his therapist Bridget are working on improving his skills. My wife and I are very pleased with the team’s dedicated and professional approach in dealing with Mica.  For anyone with a child with a disability in the Houston area, we highly recommend the ECI/Infant Program Easter Seals as they do a wonderful job.

 The Dawkins Family:

“Thanks to Easter Seals Greater Houston’s ECI Program and wonderful staff our son, Cavani, went from no communication at all, to using words and sign language to express his needs to us. Easter Seal’s knowledgeable therapists helped our child, and our family, transition from in home therapy to a public school that meet our child’s needs. We truly can not say enough good things about Easter Seals and their ECI/Infant Therapy Program.”
– The Dawkins Family

WHAT IS ECI – EARLY CHILDHOOD INTERVENTION AND WHY IS IT NECESSARY?

WHAT IS MAKE THE FIRST FIVE COUNT AND HOW CAN IT HELP YOUR CHILD?

WHAT IS THE ASQ (AGES AND STAGES QUESTIONNAIRE) AND HOW CAN IT HELP?

Want more info? Info@eastersealshouston.org

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Therapists: True Friends and Advocates

The following blog was written by the father of Anna, an Early Childhood Intervention graduate. Mr. Joshua David English eloquently shares the deep impact that ECI has had on his daughter, himself, and his entire family.

In late summer 2014, my youngest daughter, Anna T. English, was prenatally diagnosed with Down Syndrome.  Down Syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by the presence of a third copy of chromosome 21.   It is typically associated with physical growth delays, characteristic facial features, and mild to moderate intellectual disability.  It affects all ethnicities, genders, and economic classes.

Anna English ECI GraduateAs my wife and I educated ourselves on our child’s diagnosis we quickly learned that while the syndrome has a wide range of symptoms, the key factor in mitigating most, if not all, is early intervention.  Within weeks of Anna’s birth our pediatrician encouraged us to contact the local Early Childhood Intervention program office (Easter Seals Greater Houston) to request services.  In Texas, the ECI program falls within the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and is available to children from birth to three years of age.  Texas’ ECI program receives funding from several sources, including funds appropriated to the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) and the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), and funding outside of the General Appropriations Act (GAA).  Without programs such as ECI, millions of disabled children in America would go without the necessary treatments.

Soon after contacting Easter Seals Greater Houston we were assigned an intervention specialist and over the course of my daughter’s first three years of life we have been privileged to receive services from dedicated and professional therapists.  We were continually impressed with each therapist that worked with Anna, and with Anna’s progress.  She quickly broke typical notions of what a child with her diagnosis was capable of and continually made progress that shocked even her mother and I.   Without programs like ECI and the steadfast dedication of these professionals, my daughter would not be as high functioning as she is today.  While there have been many therapists assigned to our case, we wish to highlight the below individuals.

Ms. Britni Smith, Early Intervention Specialist – Ms. Smith was the first to visit our home and helped establish goals for our barely one month old daughter to achieve.  She was extremely professional, well versed in the types of services our daughter needed and has been with us throughout our eligibility in the program, ensuring the right services are provided at the right time.  My wife and I cannot speak highly enough of Ms. Smith and are so thankful a person of her talents chose to serve children with disabilities.

Ms. Jeanie Martinez, DPT –  Ms. Martinez is warm, passionate, and has aggressively pursued every goal we set for Anna.  She pushed Anna hard when it comes to her physical therapy and that’s what I wanted.  She has been a true partner in Anna’s development and will always be remembered for not only educating Anna, but my wife and I as well.

Ms. Elizabeth Clark, SLP – Ms. Clark came to us late but made a marked improvement in Anna’s development.  She helped my wife and I locate a local mother’s day out program that has begun accepting children with special needs.  Her dedication to Anna’s well being, development, and as a friend will always be remembered.

Ms. Morgan Cooke, SLP – Ms. Cooke came to us even later then Ms. Clark, but has already made a marked improvement in Anna’s speech development.  She often provides us easy to use tips and tricks to help Anna between therapy sessions.  This approach provides us the tools we need as parents to help Anna grow. 

Lisa Rand, COTA –Ms. Rand has been a partner from the beginning. She always has Anna’s best interests at heart and brings thoughtful, and creative ideas to further Anna’s development.  Ms. Rand is warm, genuinely caring and personable and we value her.

Anna greets each therapist with a smile and a wave and intently plays with each.  They serve as more than medical service provider, they have become true friends and members of our extended family.  As we age out of ECI and enter a new program I would be remiss if I did not attempt to impress upon you the importance of these type of programs.  Other affected citizens, my extended family, and I strongly encourage you to continue funding programs like Early Childhood Intervention and to support legislation like the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Part C to ensure those with disabilities in our country have the voice they so deserve.

Enclosed you will find a picture of Anna on her first day of pre-school this year.  So proud of herself for carrying her water bottle and too proud to let go of the art project she completed and would later give to her grandmother.  I cannot thank the overall ECI program, Easter Seals Greater Houston, or the individual therapists enough for what they have done for my daughter, my family, and I.

With hope for the future of disabled children in America,

Very Respectfully,

Mr. Joshua David English and Ms. Alice Kim Dang

Parents of Early Childhood Intervention Graduate, Easter Seals Greater Houston

Easter Seals Greater Houston’s ECI Program helps children ages birth to 36 months with disabilities and developmental delays achieve their goals in cognitive, social/emotional, communicative, adaptive and physical development. Learn more here.

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Service Dogs are Veterans’ Best Friend

IMG_3718This blog post comes Marjorie who is the wife of a veteran, Tom, who participates in Easter Seals Greater Houston’s veteran’s mental health program as well as the service dog program.  Marjorie is a staff member and she and Tom are the amazing parents of two daughters. Their young girls were both adopted and born with disabilities. They are an absolutely amazing family.

Norman and Tom 1“Norman is one of Easter Seals Greater Houston’s most recent service dog pairings. He is a labrador retriever and was born on Christmas day in 2016. It wasn’t until he joined our family in February 2017 that we realized what a gift he would be to all of us.  As the wife I was ever hopeful that he would be able to help my veteran husband with managing his post traumatic stress disorder.  In June 2017, Norman became an integral part of our family when my husband, Tom,  got sick.  We picked up Norman from additional service dog training as soon as Tom got out of the hospital. Norman comforted Tom and their bond grew even more.  As the training continued, Norman became more helpful even as a puppy in training.  When Harvey hit there were many helicopters flying overhead which triggered severe PTSD and anxiety, Norman was alerting Tom as his anxiety increased.  He helped Tom manage his PTSD and helped me to be more aware of when Tom was having a hard time even in dire circumstances.  For that I am forever grateful. I do not know what the outcome would have been during this extremely stressful time without Norman.

Norman Reichard puppyWe have also had an unexpected result of having Norman in our family.  Our 5 year old daughter with special needs and also a client of Easter Seals has a tendency to “wander off”.  Norman, as apparently his secondary job, will alert us immediately if she goes too far.   He never barks unless she has gone beyond a boundary that he seems to know instinctively.

Norman and Tom 2In November, Norman became a certified service dog having completed all his training.  He and Tom are a true team now.  You will not see Tom without Norman.   I will forever be grateful for Easter Seals Greater Houston giving my husband more freedom from his PTSD symptoms and for his help with our daughter as well.”

Marjorie, Wife of Veteran in Veteran’s Program, 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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