Tag Archives: family2family

From Fear to Confidence: Rudy’s Unexpected Journey with Technology

I met Rudy and his wife Andrea in April 2015, when BridgingApps, a program of Easter Seals Greater Houston, presented at the St. Luke’s Stroke Support Group on using apps and mobile devices. Like many who were recovering from a stroke, Rudy was interested in how technology could help him, but also overwhelmed by the idea.

“I was resistant because I thought it was too hard,” Rudy confides. “After my stroke, I thought learning was over. I really did.”  When asked what was difficult for him, he gave the example of reading. Rudy loves to read, but post-stroke the task of reading was not pleasurable as it had been before, just extremely difficult.  He would read something, lose his place often and not understand what he just read. It was frustrating and demoralizing.

Wanting to learn more and despite feeling overwhelmed, Rudy and Andrea attended a BridgingApps open house event in the spring, took a tour of the AT&T Assistive Technology lab and asked many questions about how mobile devices stroke_support_st._lukes-300x225might be used. “It would take me a hundred years to learn everything,” Rudy declared. I offered to lend Rudy an iPad to try it out for a month at home to see what he thought of it. Rudy was appreciative, but noncommittal and politely declined. I then suggested another option that might less stressful and invited Rudy and his wife to attend BridgingApps monthly collaborative training at the Apple Store Highland Village. These meetings take place in a distraction-free, low stress accessible room with compassionate, knowledgeable staff.

Rudy and Andrea attended the monthly classes facilitated by BridgingApps at the Apple Store. Though neither of them owned a mobile device, they came eager to learn each month and borrowed different sized devices for the hands-on trainings, including an iPhone, iPod Touch and full sized iPad. We covered everything from the accessibility features of iBooks, to speak screen, using Siri for shortcuts, calendar and notes apps and how to navigate the basics of the device. Rudy diligently took notes at each class, and Andrea was excited about his interest. Andrea said that she enjoyed the slow pace of the class and the fact that the instructor repeats instructions and simplifies them for participants.

One month in the fall, Rudy’s daughter Teresa and her husband attended the BridgingApps training together with Rudy and Andrea to see what her parents were up to. They shared a device, asked questions and practiced the various tasks. Throughout this process, Rudy began to relax and said “the whole experience has made me more aware of what my capabilities are. When I experienced the features of iBooks that allows the words to be read aloud to me, sped up or slowed down and highlighted as I go along, that was amazing to me! It really helped a lot, and if I don’t understand something or lose my place, with the touch of the screen I can hear it again and again.  I feel more confident.”

Fast forward to our monthly training in January 2016, where Rudy proudly whips out an iPhone 6 Plus and places it on the table next to his notebook ready to learn. Andrea giggles and puts her brand new device on the table. After class when I asked when they bought their devices, they answered “In December, Teresa said ‘enough’ and bought them for us!”  I asked how Rudy felt about having a smartphone and what he has been doing with it, he positively glows. “I love it. I read the news, I check the weather, I look at maps, and I FaceTime with my grandson who lives in Brownsville.”

Feb 2016 BA blog picAndrea chimes in “The other day I heard piano music, and there he was playing the piano using Garage Band.” Rudy laughs and adds “I love music and majored in it in school, so I discovered this app. It is fantastic.”

Next steps for Rudy and Andrea? “We love the classes and will continue to come. We are grateful for all that we have learned.”

Having watched this journey unfold and observing Rudy’s initial excitement, fear, hesitation, followed by determination and courage, it has been a privilege to get to know Rudy and his family. Andrea mentions that BridgingApps and this technology has opened up new horizons for Rudy that have surprised and delighted her.

“I really can learn again,” says Rudy with tears in his eyes.

Cristen Reat, BridgingApps Founder, Easter Seals Greater Houston

For more information on our BridgingApps program, click here.
To hear more about Rudy’s amazing story, click here.

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Robert’s Road Warriors

Join Easter Seals Greater Houston and Chairmen Katherine and Bob Dowdell on Saturday, April 9th for the 5th Annual Family Fun Walk, Walk With Me, at the Houston Zoo.  The Dowdell’s, alongside their team, Robert’s Road Warriors, are walking to support their 19 year old son Robert who struggles with cerebral palsy and epilepsy.

“Robert was first diagnosed with cataracts and then cerebral palsy at the age of 14 months.  Fortunately, he was able to participate in Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) – physical, occupational and speech therapyECI offers a jump start for children with delayed developmental issues like Robert. While many of those years were mixed with hardships and challenges, Easter Seals was a constant support throughout. Easter Seals was with our family every step of the way to make Robert’s “disability” seem more like a “different ABILITY”.

Robert attended his first Easter Seals Camp when he was seven years old.  smiles robert dowdellHe attended Camp Buckaroo, a summer day camp for kids with special needs, and Camp Smiles, a week long spend-the-night camp in Burton, Texas.  Robert had never spent the night away from home, but I packed up his walker, wheelchair and orthotics for his adventure.  At camp, Robert was encouraged to try new things he never dreamed he could do, as he needed assistance with many everyday tasks. He did all the normal camp things; horseback riding, zip line, fishing, shot archery, sang karaoke, and danced and – for the first time in his life, he like a “normal” kid. He was loved for who he was, just as he was.  At the end of each camp session, Robert would cry when he saw we were there to pick him up…he didn’t want to leave!

????????????????????????????????????At age 15, Robert attended Camp Most. Camp Most is focused less on activities and more on building socialization skills in teens.  Robert learned important things like how to start a conversation, how to tell people about his disability, and how to determine his strengths to build a resume.  Robert has learned how to set goals.  His goals for 2016 include: to do his BEST in everything that he CAN do, to be a better brother to his sister, Katie and to be independent.  Easter Seals Camps have proven to be some of the most transformative events in Robert’s life to date.

Community support of Walk With Me is a blessing to many families in the greater Houston area – one that the Dowdell Family can personally attest to. Easter Seals provides life-changing services to people of all ages with all types of disabilities.  Thanks to Easter Seals, Robert is strong, happy, perseverant and optimistic about his bright future, and we are confident that Easter Seals will continue to help him become more self-reliant and prepare him for his future. Please consider supporting Walk With Me to guarantee services for Robert and other Houstonians with disabilities to help them discover their potential and hope for limitless possibilities!”

-Katherine Taylor Dowdell
Walk With Me Chair, Proud mother of Katie (22) and Robert (19) and grateful beneficiary of Easter Seals Greater Houston programs

Katherine and Robert DowdellMore About Walk With Me: 
Walk With Me is a 5K or shorter Family Fun Walk that helps raise awareness and resources for programs of Easter Seals, which help children and adults living with all types of disabilities. For more information contact Madison Shofner at 713-838-9050×304 or mshofner@eastersealshouston.org or visit our event website, click here!

More About the Dowdell Family:
Robert lives in Briargrove Park with his family.  His father, Bob, is an executive with Prosperity Bank and his mother, Katherine, is a retired banker and fundraiser.  Katherine serves on the Board of Directors for Easter Seals and Bob was instrumental in gaining the support of Prosperity Bank, the Title Sponsor for this year’s Walk With Me event.  Robert’s big sister, Katie, is a senior at Louisiana State University.  Robert is a senior at Westside High School.  He is active in Best Buddies Texas, Capernaum-a Young Life group for special needs kids, and Easter Seals Camp Most.

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My husband, Doug, and I welcomed our wonderful son, Duncan, after our 39th birthdays. Having met at 21, we’d spent the better part of two decades dining at the best “cheap eats” in Houston, taking weekend jaunts in Texas, exercising daily, and enjoying the occasional happy hour. Quite simply, we appreciated the benefits of living as DINKS (double-income, no kids).

Dec 2015 Respite blog PNO 1So along came our beautiful baby. Overnight, our lives transformed in rewarding and challenging ways I never could have imagined. Of course, this is true for any new parent, but there exists an additional anxiety, concern and effort when you care for a child with special needs. Doctors’ appointments, therapy, testing, tutoring, special-ed meetings, financial challenges, and countless hours of online research: It’s just plain exhausting.

So, when we heard about the Easter Seals Greater Houston Respite Program, Parents’ Night Out, we were cautiously optimistic.  We were happily surprised at its affordability: $10 for four hours of babysitting by Easter Seals’ skilled volunteers and staff.  But, we know our son. He is fearful of new situations, despite having attended summer camps with Easter Seals Greater Houston. Bless his heart, he is visually impaired, has epilepsy and CP, so who could blame him?Dec 2015 Respite blog PNO 2

Our concerns were unfounded and he made fast friends at Parents’ Night Out. The volunteers exemplify patience and understanding, each offering a weekend night to care for our son, later telling us how much they enjoy Duncan!  Six months later, he asks to attend the “babysitting place” nearly every Friday night.  Doug and I have actually seen three movies and been out to dinner twice during the last six weeks! That reconnection is critical with the added stress of our days.

From respite for caregivers to summer camps and fun activities for children, Easter Seals is a blessing for thousands of people in the Greater Houston area. And the Graham family is proof of that.

-Catherine Graham, Respite Program client parent

For more about Easter Seals‘ Care Giving Services, click here.
For more about Easter Seals’ Camps and Recreation, click here.

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Meredith Vieira…Caregiver, her most important job

The morning of May 9th, I woke to bad news and good news.  The news from the Today Show was poignant, both sad and yet inspiring. Meredith Vieira announced she is leaving her anchor position! 

The Today Show has been my wake-up friend for many years, as it has been for many Americans. I nursed my babies in a rocking chair watching Tom Brokaw, and listened stunned to Katie Couric as the Twin Towers came down.  Meredith added a lightness and sweetness to the program.  She worked her way to the top of her career, after graduating Magna Cum Laude and becoming a new announcer in 1975.  A journalist of 36 years, finally reaching the top.

Meredith is, also, a Caregiver. She resigned her coveted position to devote more time to her husband who is battling the deadly neurological condition of Multiple Sclerosis.  Meredith Vieira is one of 50 million caregivers in the United States caring for a child/adult with a disability or a disabling medical condition and the census says the percentage is ever-increasing.

As the Director of a respite program serving Caregivers, I have firsthand knowledge of caring for a loved one.  The day can be full of worry, isolation and fatigue; the day can be full of beauty and inspiration.  But one thing is certain: these caregivers need support!  Today, the Texas State Legislature is moving forward on plans to reduce or eliminate many support systems needed by Caregivers.  We cannot let this happen.  We must tell the story of how support systems, such as respite care, are the lifeline for Caregivers,  and the horrible outcomes if these supports are eliminated….divorce, child abuse, drug abuse and even institutionalization of the family member.

The bad news is that we are losing Meredith Vieira who helped jump-start our day.   The good news is that she will be there for her husband to help him jumpstart his day!  She made a life-changing decision to become a full-time Caregiver; she chose love, caring and devotion, over career, money and prestige.  Yes, this morning, the Today Show was poignant, sad, inspiring.   Meredith, and 50 million other caregivers, deserves our love and support.  I will miss you Meredith Vieira!

Linda Latimer, LCSW, Director – Respite Services

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Just By Chance?….I don’t think so….

As if, you couldn't love working here!

Amazingly enough I found my way to this place completely by chance and at the same time specifically on purpose.  I think that’s the way the best parts of life work.  My “godbrother”, who is 2 years younger than I am, was born with cognitive impairment and cerebral palsy.  I remember being in the house with him as a child and knowing that everyone in the house including my godbrother was in immense pain. Why – I didn’t know.  Three other smaller children in the house from infant to toddler  – all seemed vaguely to act like they were in trouble.  I remember my godmother rubbing her son with sandpaper. I remember that the doctors told her that it would help stimulate his nerve endings.  Still I didn’t understand – I just knew that all were incredibly stressed and that I had heard whispers of divorce from my parents. Flash forward to junior high. My family and my “godfamily” moved to Austin. He was not with them. I don’t really remember knowing where he was. I just knew the family was happy….and sad…all at the same time and that I loved them as much as I loved my own family.

Flash forward again through college, through working and living in NYC, through a marriage and a child and then back to Houston. Once again, we were all here, except my “godbrother”.  As an adult, I now knew, that he lived in a home with wonderful caregivers who all but adopted him into their own families, a loving family that visited often and a really joyful life. As an adult, I now knew, what my “godparents” decisions had to be. I won’t go into to whys and hows and explanations.  We fight hard to help families stay intact, to provide support for people with disabilities to live in the community, but for my “godbrother”, just know that it was a decision that had to be made.  Organizations such as ourselves, Family2Family, Texas Projects First and Houston Center for Independent Living exist for this reason today.

So, I find myself in the midst of a job search. I decide after having worked for a very large Madison Ave. law firm…that maybe I need to be thinking about the greater good….and I apply for as many non-profit administrative assistant positions as I can find. This was before the internet, when we still actually looked at the phone books delivered on our doorsteps.  I must have sent at least 50 resumes in the mail. The only phone call and interview I received was, you guessed it, from UCP and my mentor, Manny Mones.  I remember walking through the doors of the old building and feeling an overwhelming sensation of coming home, at ease, at peace, and knowing that I would be getting the position.  And I did. My “godmother” came to take me to lunch soon after and asked me as we were driving away from the building if I remembered it at all.  I didn’t – she told me that my “godbrother” had come to UCP, when we were children and I had come with him. That’s explains a lot…probably more than I actually can imagine or more than some might even believe. From as a child, to first working here to now – the programs we offer now so much more than when my “godbrother” and I were children.  

And I am still here 16 years later – as the Development Director now.  I can’t imagine being anywhere else. This place – now Easter Seals – is so special. I have seen so many families, clients, children, adults, with the support of immense goodness, have shared in the ups and downs, and good and bad in the past 16 years. All for the greater good – the life lesson I received is so much bigger than me.  All for a reason, all for a purpose and sometimes, if you are lucky, just by chance.

By Kelly Klein, Development Director, Easter Seals

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