Tag Archives: Veterans

My Independence Day

Dear Easter Seals Greater Houston,

I want to express my feelings about training my service dog puppy, Just Bob, during these extreme conditions, and with my limited physical abilities. Without the Easter Seals Veterans Service Program and partner, My Service Dog, being available to provide safe environments, leadership, and guidance, I would have given up by now.

My life has changed in more ways than I could have imagined having this highly intelligent puppy in it. He is also a member of my family and they feel the same about him. We all work together to teach him, love him, and correct him. In just over a couple of months, Just Bob has enhanced my life, and the lives of my entire family. I honestly cannot believe how much he means to me and how I could not do without him.

In the beginning I was wondering how I could train Just Bob from a puppy, build a strong foundation and teach a full-blown service dog. It was only possible thanks to Easter Seals Greater Houston and My Service Dog’s constant communication, assistance, and guidance.My Independence Day

A perfect example of your team’s dedication and commitment is the photo attached to this email. There was ‘no way’ I was going to get into my wheelchair and let someone push me around a nature path where other people could see.  I am glad that she finally convinced me because it was a great training session, the weather was beautiful, and Just Bob learned how to maneuver with my wheelchair like never before. The outing did me good, taught both of us so much, and wore Just Bob out!

Thank you all from the bottom of my heart,

Blaine C.

Learn more about Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Veteran Service Dog Program.

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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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ESGH Group Activities Statement (COVID-19)

2020 CoVid Cancellation

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March 3, 2020 · 8:20 am

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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Military Financial Wellness With Freddie Mac

Set any New Year’s Resolutions to help build and maintain better credit? We can help!  Take advantage of our webinar series with Easterseals and Freddie Mac – build and maintain better credit, and prepare for successful long-term home ownership! paull roberts 2

Did you know that Veterans are more likely to have credit card challenges? We meet countless Veterans and military families facing difficult situations, which is why we’ve created more resources and options for military members looking to achieve financial wellness. Check out our video series below!

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Big Gifts and Little Gifts According to Our Will

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My name is Will Ellery.  I am 8 years old and I go to Parker Elementary.  My mom works at Easter Seals.  Sometimes I get to go to camp with her.  When I do, if everyone has gone first and had all the turns they want at the activities, then sometimes I get to go too.  I’ve never been able to do the ropes course because I always get scared.  One time I put on the harness and that was all I could do.  Another time I climbed up the ladder to get on the giant swing, but then I just climbed back down the ladder.  One time I started climbing the rock wall, but then I came back down after halfway because I didn’t feel safe.

Before Thanksgiving I got to go to the Veterans and family camp.  I met my friend, Ms. La’Tori, there.  She was there by herself because her baby is sick.  She is in the NICU at the hospital.  I was in the NICU too when I was a baby so that’s something we have in common.  Ms. La’Tori said she was going up the rock wall by herself, but she was going to wait for everybody else.  I told her I wasn’t allowed to go until last, and only if there was enough time.  She asked me if I had climbed the rock wall before, and I told her my stories about getting scared.  She said, “Well, why don’t we try going together?”

So we stood and waited together.  Sometimes I would get butterflies in my stomach.Will and La'Tori 2  I asked Ms. La’Tori if she was sure we could go together.  She said yes.  I asked her if she would stay with me and not go too fast.  She said yes to that too.  Some of the big older boys were going up the wall fast like Spiderman!

When it was our turn I went on the left side and Ms. La’Tori went on the right side.  She smiled real big and asked if I was ready.  I said yes and we started climbing.  Ms. La’Tori stayed right next to me.  Sometimes I even went a little faster than her!  When I had trouble on the hard parts she asked me if I was okay.  She tried to help me by pointing to rocks I could put my hands and feet on.Will and La'Tori 3

I made it to the top first!  When I got to the top I cheered for Ms. La’Tori so she could make it to the top too.  I was hoping we could go down the zipline together, but there was a line of people on her side.  I thought I would be scared to go down the zipline because I wasn’t going with Ms. La’Tori.  But you know what?  Once I got all the way to the top, nothing was scary anymore!  It’s like I just had to climb the wall once and then I got brave.

Since I went down the zipline first, I got to watch Ms. La’Tori from the ground.  I guessed she was probably scared up there.  So I yelled real loud that she didn’t need to worry and that it was going to be so much fun.  She went down the zipline a really brave way – backwards!

I’m really glad I met Ms. La’Tori at camp.  She helped me do something I never got to do before!

Note from Will’s mom (Christine Ellery, Easter Seals Program Director): Some of the greatest blessings of working at Easter Seals have been the experiences and interactions with people my kids have had.  From a young age, my kids have met people of all ages and all abilities and disabilities, and as Easter Seals has expanded its Veterans Program, my kids have met amazing Veterans and Veteran families.  All these people have helped to shape my kids and their capacity for kindness and compassion.

About Will’s story above…  One thing worth mentioning is La’Tori is an Air Force Veteran, so probably not as afraid of heights as Will guessed!  I loved and appreciated how capable and brave La’Tori made Will feel, from the times she let him climb a little faster than her, to her taking in all his words (um, screams) of ziplining advice and no-fear from below.  She made him feel so confident.  And I hope being at Veterans and family camp made La’Tori feel confident.  As a mom whose baby was also in the NICU, I know there are so many questions and so much to be anxious about; it’s hard to feel confident.  But watching La’Tori with Will, it’s so easy to see what a great mom she is.  I’m so excited La’Tori’s sweet baby girl gets to come home soon!    

Christine Ellery, Easter Seals Program Director  ; Will Ellery, Lifelong Easter Seals Houston Volunteer and Kenzie Richard, Easter Seals Program Coordinator

 

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The Debt We Owe Our Heros

Veterans are not a monolith. They possess a variety of talents and skills and needs after the epic storm that crashed and stalled over Houston in Aug of 2017.  Hurricane Harvey was a call to action and many Veterans responded valiantly putting themselves in harm’s way once again to assist their own families, their neighbors, and the community-at-large. 

They borrowed John-boats and utilized high clearance vehicles, expertly jimmying equipment for high water rescue. They guided the confused and grief-stricken with clear and simple instructions to pack a survival bag and abandon things that could not be transported to higher ground. They stood up distribution warehouses and procured supplies from a generous nation and efficiency and effectively pushed water bottles, diapers, and sanitation supplies to where they were needed most in this flooded city.

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 They rendered physical and psychological first aid with compassionate and comforting expertise. They applied training, insisted on teamwork, established chains of command and networked with over-saturated emergency response systems. They warned us of the various toxic exposures in water-born illnesses, insect carried diseases and predicted the rapid growth of mold between brick and sheetrock. When they faced obstacles, they engaged in creative problem solving to invent new ways to overcome.

Technology-assisted them including Easter Seals Greater Houston’s BridgingApps program. Facebook and Instagram, walked talkie apps, even Pinterest crowdsourced ideas and speed help around a city that knew we had to help ourselves, just as we knew we depended upon each other for our literal survival. Websites were born that matched people who needed help mucking and gutting with volunteers ready to get to work clearing a path to recovery. As mountains of debris piled on curbsides, rotting in the blazing sun, the next phase of the disaster began. Once the urgency subsided, and the adrenaline supply was exhausted, aspects of community-wide post-traumatic stress became evident. 

And our Veterans suffered from familiar foes of fatigue and survivor’s guilt, hypervigilance and insomnia, nightmares and relationship turmoil, numbness and self-neglect. They were triggered by the ever-present helicopter traffic that reminded them of the sounds of war. They were triggered by cramped sleeping quarters in large rooms filled with cots and chaos.  As the immediate aftermath of the disaster waxed, Veterans of the Storm named Harvey eventually went home to their own personal disasters, that were very real whether or not their own houses were damaged by the slowly receding muddy waters that had engulfed the city. 

We owe a debt of thanks to the heroes that walk among us in civilian dress. Veterans hide in plain sight but still carry the weight of duty and profound responsibility to serve and protect this nation.  We owe them more than simple gratitude.  

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ESGH was and is proud to be at the forefront with them through Harvey and our Harvey Recovery work thanks to our community, Save The Children, The Mayor’s Fund, Americares, Freddie Mac, Simmons Foundation and so many more. (https://www.eastersealshouston.org/Programs/harvey-heroes.html) AND we are proud to be able to continue offering our veterans programs and services to our current and retired military – through our #TexasVeteransandFamilyAlliance, our #mentalhealth program and so much more as well as continuing in our efforts for Harvey Housing recovery.

Amy Harkins, Easter Seals Greater Houston, Veterans Program and Harvey Recovery, Psychologist

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Making the Impossible Possible

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Making the Impossible Possible Involves Math

Hugging your child             Going to school                             Flying

Camping with Family       Sleeping through the night       Going to an Astros game

What do these all have in common?

Veterans and their family members did these things when they were involved in therapy.

For us at Easter Seals, we want to help you create the life you want to live. This means what you think is impossible might be possible if you are willing to do the work, use your strengths, and team up with one of us to make it a reality. I can tell you that none of the people who accomplished those goals above thought they could do it. They were isolated at home. They had spent years wanting to do something different. One Veteran would say “I feel like life is passing me by”. They did it! Not overnight, but they worked at it and stayed connected. Doors opened. They were able to seize opportunities to do something new with people they care about and by themselves. How do I describe the surprise and relief these Veterans and family members experienced? Let’s try . . .

Imagine walking into a room and something you have wanted is right there. It’s yours. You might not trust it at first, but then you settle into believing you can have it. You realize you have it. That’s it. That is the feeling those Veterans and families had. Surprise then disbelief and finally Relief. You can have this.

Something Important to You    +       Team Work       +      Effort       =   Creating Your Life

Let’s see what we can make happen together.

You can reach us at 346-330-3859 or veterans@eastersealshouston.org

Veterans Program, Easter Seals Greater Houston 

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