Tag Archives: United Way

Celebrating NDEAM – National Disability Employment Awareness Month

David Wright is a recent graduate of Stephen F. Austin High School in Sugar Land where he was in our Easter Seals Houston High School High Tech / RAMP (Ready to Achieve Mentoring) program since his freshman year. David has been interested in becoming a herpetologist for a long time and knows A LOT about it. Freshman year it was hard for our staff to keep him on track because he always wanted to talk about lizards, snakes, and reptiles. We literally couldn’t get him to talk about anything else! Through the years David got better about this, was more open to participating in what the class was doing and it was obvious he was starting to pick up on the importance of our mentoring and lessons about social cues and soft skills and more. Jacquelyn Privatera Miller went with him to his interview for the internship at the Houston Museum of Natural Science at Sugar Land and he was SO professional, acted like a well prepared young adult and dressed himself so well for the interview. Everyone was really impressed. David is thriving in this environment and has opened up more and can have great conversations with people including his new co-workers. He even hugs Jacquie now when he sees her, which he would never ever have done before. So really he has just grown and matured so much in the last few years and is doing a really impressive job at his internship!  Help us congratulate David  as he is enjoying his 20 hours/week internship AND is also enrolled at Wharton Community College! Huge thanks to the museum and the museum staff for making it a life changing experience for David!

High School/High Tech is a community-based partnership of parents, educators, rehabilitation professionals and business representatives working together to encourage students with disabilities to explore the fields of science, engineering and technology. Only 56% of students with disabilities graduate from high school. High School/High Tech was developed to address this situation. Most individuals with disabilities have not had the encouragement, role models, access and stimulation to pursue challenging technical careers or courses of study. Through High School/High Tech, students with disabilities are presented a mix of learning experiences that promote career exploration and broaden educational horizons. High School/High Tech also offers a mentoring program called RAMP – Ready to Achieve Mentor Program. Learn more about High School/High Tech.

Jacquelyn Miller, Easter Seals Greater Houston, High School High Tech / RAMP

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Days Of Caring

On Friday September 28th, ExxonMobil and Easter Seals Greater Houston Adult Services Program went on field trip to the Houston Zoo together as part of the United Way Greater Houston Day of Caring. We really couldn’t have asked for a better day as the weather was perfect, the animals were active and the friendships were forming. About twenty-five ExxonMobil employees volunteered as buddies to walk through the zoo with adults with disabilities from the Adult Services Program. Split up into groups of 5 participants with 5 ExxonMobil volunteers, they were off to explore. Following the one-mile trail, noted on the zoo map, the groups stopped to see all the animals that the Houston Zoo has to offer. Many of our adults said while they loved watching the elephants play and dunk each other in the water during bath time, they were also excited about meeting new people.  We were so delighted that ExxonMobil asked to attend the zoo outing with us. This outing would not have been successful without their planning and organizing help, as well as their hands-on participation.

The main focus of the program is to provide adults with disabilities with a safe environment to socialize, participate in activities and explore life-long personal growth. Community outings with organizations like ExxonMobil are important contributors to improving quality of life, social skills, fitness and so much more for our clients. If your organization is interested in planning an outing with our program, please contact Ashley Nichols at anichols@eastersealshouston.org. And like XOM – if you have matching funds for your staff volunteers hours it is 2 times the support! And 2 times the fun!

Thanks again ExxonMobil and United Way!

Ashley Nichols, Easter Seals Greater Houston, Adult Services

 

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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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Harvey Recovery Thank Yous!

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Transition Success and Walmart Employee of the Month!

Our Easter Seals Greater Houston Transition team met Paul and his mother last June  as a Hogg Foundation for Mental Health Transition Age Youth Project of Easter Seals Greater Houston/DARS client.  Thanks to the Hogg Foundation, this project offers services and support for persons, ages 16 – 27, who have are on the spectrum and have a co-occurring mental illness and is designed to help youth become more independent and successful in their communities. The many facets of the program include social skills training, supported employment, summer internships, college classes at the Houston Community College VAST Academy, BCBA Services, peer supports, referral assistance, financial coaching, on-line driver’s Education and access to our mobile technology program.

Paul had just graduated from Sam Rayburn High School in Pasadena, Texas. His only work history was as a volunteer through a high school program with a couple of companies in the Pasadena area.  Paul and his parents wanted him to find a part-time job with a number of specific permanents such as close to home, after 4:00 pm and Monday thru Friday.  Together, Paul and his transition counselor, Robert Aranda, created a resume reflecting his volunteer experience and a reference list of his former supervisors.  They met to complete on-line applications, practiced mock interviews and reviewed social skills for interviewing techniques. Paul interviewed with companies through Summer and Fall.

In December, Wal-Mart called Paul in for an interview.  His Transition Counselor says he is a very likable and responsible individual and that he really wants to show his parents that he is able to expand his learning curve and become more independent.  Paul’s interview at Wal-Mart was a hit with the Human Resources Department and he was hired this past December as a Cart Attendant.  Wal-Mart was very accommodating with assisting Paul with the work schedule he needed.  Within two months, Paul’s supervisors noted his work great ethic, enthusiasm and customer service.  Paul was selected Employee of the Month for February!!

Robert Aranda, Transition Specialist, Easter Seals Greater Houston
RAranda@eastersealshouston.org

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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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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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