Help Easter Seals and M&T Bank Provide a Magical Evening for Children with Disabilities

Notes from the President:

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On February 15, Easter Seals Serving DC|MD|VA will host our signature family event, Bright Stars at Disney on Ice Presented by M&T Bank. It’s a special evening of fun for children whose everyday obstacles may make it challenging to attend an event like Disney on Ice, and every year we hear from thrilled families how much the event means to them.

In addition to providing a great evening for so many families in the community, the funds we raise through sponsors (individuals and corporations) and Bright Stars’ Presenting Sponsor M&T Bank enable us to make profound, positive differences in the lives of adults, children and veterans of all ages, abilities and backgrounds every day. Children like Daniel DeBatt, who along with his parents, Megan Scully and Chris DeBatt, were recently featured in a segment on “Great Day Washington” on WUSA9. Megan and Chris shared how Easter Seals and the staff at the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Child Development Center in Washington, DC are helping their family thrive.

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The fundraising for the event is led by Bright Stars Committee Co-Chairs Cecilia Hodges of M&T Bank and Craig Ruppert of The Ruppert Companies, and Founding Bright Stars Committee Co-Chair David Ross of Atlantic Realty Companies. Their hard work and dedication to Easter Seals ensure that we can make our programs and services available to families who need us and that we can continue to innovate to meet our community’s evolving needs.

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M&T Bank is not only the Presenting Sponsor of Bright Stars, but also helps staff the event with a team of enthusiastic and smiling volunteers every year.  Led by Cecilia Hodges, the M&T Bank team of volunteers helps ensure that every Easter Seals family has a carefree and fun-filled evening.

Along with Presenting Sponsor M&T Bank, Easter Seals thanks Empowerment Sponsors the Ruppert Companies and Alan Meltzer, and Opportunity Sponsors Atlantic Realty Companies, Specialized Engineering, The Halle Companies, David & Katherine Bradley, Jim Fontana and Rob & Linda Faktorow. To see a complete list of companies and individuals supporting Bright Stars, please visit our sponsor page.

However, you don’t have to be a major corporation to be a sponsor of Bright Stars at Disney on Ice Presented by M&T Bank. Individuals, families, and companies of all sizes can support our mission by sponsoring or donating.

For more information about sponsorships or ticket sales, please contact Events Manager Megan Mills at 301-920-9702 or mmills@eseal.org.

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So mark your calendar for February 15, and join us and thousands of your neighbors to enjoy a magical evening as we discover the full story of Disney’s Frozen presented like never before at Bright Stars at Disney on Ice Presented by M&T Bank!

You’ll witness dazzling ice skating, special effects and unforgettable music that will magically transport you to wintry Arendelle.  And you’ll do so with the knowledge that YOU are making it possible for the children and adults with disabilities or special needs, including wounded warriors, military, veterans and their families enjoy a special night.  And you’ll feel good knowing that you are ensuring Easter Seals continues to create an inclusive community where ALL thrive.

I hope to see you on February 15!

Honoring Dr. King’s Legacy

Notes from the President:

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This January 15th, we honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a national holiday celebrating his birthday. But did you know that by Congressional designation, the federal holiday is also a National Day of Service?

Taking place each year on the third Monday in January, the MLK Day of Service is the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service – a “day on, not a day off.”

Americans from all walks of life join together on that day to strengthen our communities by bridging barriers and working to create solutions to social problems. Doing so moves us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a “Beloved Community.”

Here at Easter Seals, we embody those ideals as well, through the work we do every day. For almost 100 years, we’ve been providing exceptional services, education, outreach and advocacy so that all people with disabilities or special needs, including veterans and military families have equal opportunities to live, learn, work and play in our communities. In Easter Seals’ Inclusive Community, as in Dr. King’s Beloved Community, all individuals are valued and people with disabilities and special needs are embraced.

Our hardworking and dedicated staff strive to create a world in keeping with Dr. King’s vision. But we couldn’t do it without the generosity of our supporters and the commitment of our volunteers.

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And so on this Day of Service, I’d like to call attention to the service of two such volunteers, my friends Frank Finelli and Channel Hilliard with The Carlyle Group.

Frank is a West Point graduate and Army veteran who is very involved with charitable efforts to assist veterans through his work with groups like the Travis Manion Foundation (which presented Frank with its 2016 Corporate Leadership Award), and spearheads The Carlyle Group’s corporate volunteering partnership with Easter Seals.

Thanks to Frank’s efforts, volunteers from The Carlyle Group’ Washington, DC and Rosslyn, Virginia offices are a regular presence at our Child Development Center of Northern Virginia. Sometimes, the activities are simple, like painting and coloring exercises, free-play on the playground, learning time with flashcards and some dramatic play in the classrooms. Or they could be more intensive, like helping the pre-kindergarten students in our Little Warriors program improve their literacy and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills.

Channel serves on our Bright Stars Committee. Bright Stars is one of Easter Seals’ signature events. Thanks to the generosity of our corporate sponsors and volunteers like Channel, thousands of children and adults with disabilities, including veterans, wounded warriors and other deserving families are able to enjoy an exciting night out. At the same time, the event also raises funds for the critical services Easter Seals provides to the DC region. In the past, the event was an evening at Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and now will be celebrated with Disney on Ice at the Capitol One Arena on Thursday, February 15th.

When I asked Channel for her thoughts about service work, she told me, “It is our pleasure to serve and continue to serve. I am a very spiritual person and believe that God set the example for us to make sacrifices and serve others. That is the true demonstration of love – serving one another.” 94fe29994c7b7b7ac6023baaf1c53781

Frank echoed Channel when he said, “In addition to the spiritual point on which Channel and I are completely aligned, as a veteran myself, I am honored to both have served and to now serve those who have served and their families, who make tremendous sacrifices each and every day.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” I know firsthand that people like Frank and Channel answer that question through their deeds. And help make the world a better place.

If you’d like to know more about volunteer opportunities with Easter Seals, whether it be at the corporate level, or as an individual with one of our programs, click here.

Looking Back on 2017

Notes from the President:

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As 2017 winds down, it’s a chance to reflect on the past year and Easter Seals Serving DC|MD|VA’s impact on our community and the supporters who made it possible.

The year started with a personal and professional milestone, as well as an organizational one. There was a passing of the leadership torch at Easter Seals as I succeeded the legendary Lisa Reeves as President and CEO. Lisa retired after 17 years as the head of Easter Seals and 35 years with the organization. She dedicated her professional life to helping the community, and it is both an honor and a responsibility to follow in her footsteps.

The Board of Directors, staff, and community leaders honored Lisa with a farewell celebration in the Richard & Rae Swirnow Center of Excellence in Training. In recognition of her visionary leadership, we dedicated The Lisa A. Reeves Community Room in the Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation Adult Day Services in The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Inter-Generational Center.

March brought us The M&T Bank Bright Stars. For 20 years Easter Seals has partnered with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus to bring joy to children who otherwise might not be able to attend because of their disabilities or special needs. While 2017 marked our final year with “The Greatest Show On Earth,” as the Circus has now closed, we will now be partnering with Disney on Ice to continue the Bright Stars legacy of fun for children and fundraising to support vital Easter Seals services. To learn more about or support Bright Stars at Disney on Ice Presented by M&T Bank on February 15, 2018, please click here.

The Bright Stars event provides vital funding for our programs and helps make profound, positive differences in the lives of children like James. This year, our child development centers  helped nearly 400 children reach their potential and receive the highest quality early education, therapy services and equipment they need to thrive.

In May, Easter Seals honored those “Changing Lives” and presented our Advocacy Award to Ellyn Dunford, Military Family Advocate and spouse of General Joseph Dunford, 19th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Dan Valenzuela, President of Safeway Eastern Division, in recognition of their commitment to advancing opportunities for children and adults with disabilities or special needs, active duty military and veterans and their families.

Held at the Washington Hilton Hotel, the annual awards ceremony and dinner drew more than 600 guests and sponsors, and raised more than $900,000 to support crucial Easter Seals programs throughout the region.  During the event, Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Kyle White announced a $10 million investment in Easter Seals by the Cohen Veterans Network (CVN) to launch the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic. The Cohen Clinic provides behavioral health and support services to veterans and their families throughout the greater DC region. This transformational investment will expand the reach and impact of our programs and services and change the lives of thousands of veterans and military families in our community.

In 2018 we will present our Advocacy Award to Steven A. Cohen, Chairman & CEO of Point72 Asset Management and Founder of the Cohen Veterans Network as well as General and Mrs. Mark Milley, the 39th Chief of Staff of the US Army and Military Family Advocates. For more information about the 2018 Advocacy Awards, please visit our website here.

The summer was a busy time of construction at Easter Seals as we removed our administrative offices from The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Inter-Generational Center and devoted the entire building to client services.  As part of that renovation, we’ve now celebrated the Grand Opening of the Cohen Clinic and are already serving over 70 veterans and military family members.  It’s an honor to have a recently retired Air Force Colonel, Dr. Tracy Neal-Walden, as the Director of the Clinic, and if you read her guest blog you’ll see why.

The Cohen Clinic is the latest addition to the array of services Easter Seals offers veterans, active duty servicemembers, National Guard and Reservists and their families.  The Veteran Staffing Network has now placed over 1900 veterans in 23 states, and coached thousands more as they transition from military to civilian life.

In our three Adult Day Services centers across the region, adults and seniors are thriving each and every day, as are their caregivers. Our staff organizes activities at our centers and in the community, like hayrides, holiday parties, birthday celebrations, gardening and more. We also have the great fortune of having the support of volunteers to help celebrate birthdays, organize fun activities, and help us strengthen the community.

So, as you can see, 2017 was a busy year for Easter Seals and I’m excited to be able to tell you about our priorities and plans for 2018 in my next blog post. But for now, let me wish you all the happiest of holiday seasons and my hopes for peace and happiness in your lives and across the world.

Unlocking Easter Seals’ Potential

Notes from the President:

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“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

 

 

I’m excited to share that this past weekend Easter Seals Serving DC|MD|VA began an important, guided journey working with Unlocking Potential, a new nonprofit founded by Carly Fiorina. The goal of this journey is to strengthen our leadership capacity so that we can do even more for our community. We chose to work with Unlocking Potential because its philosophy is so aligned with Easter Seals’ core values. It was founded on the leadership philosophy of its Chairman, Carly Fiorina, that leaders are made, not born; that everyone has far more potential than they realize; and that people living closest to the problems are best positioned to solve them.

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It is so humbling to lead the incredible Easter Seals team. Over 50 of our team members from all levels of the organization chose to spend their weekend – in the midst of the holiday season – at a leadership workshop. Led personally by Carly Fiorina, the team worked to understand our opportunities and needs and begin the hard work of defining solutions that will position us to expand our services and impact on the community. The program was great because it balanced important, far-reaching leadership lessons with a practical, implementable focus. Amazingly, at the end of two full days of hard work (and, let me repeat, on a weekend!), the team was laughing, excited, and energized by the existing strength of our organization and  the opportunity build on it to do more.

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I am personally so grateful for the opportunity to learn from Carly and her team, and I wanted to share a few takeaways. Surprisingly for me, a crucial lesson was not just what Carly said, but her demonstration of true leadership behaviors. For example, she was truly present in every session and synthesizing the comments and feedback real-time – she wasn’t just delivering a planned lecture, but making her key points in the context of Easter Seals’ unique questions, comments, and position. It reminded me how important it is for me to step back and focus on the moment, no matter how many other things may need my attention – that’s living our core value of Respect.

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She also reminded us that criticism is the price of leadership. Easter Seals is stepping up to innovate, and with innovation comes risk. Sometimes we might not achieve every goal, and the naysayers will be quick to say “I told you so,” but in trying we achieve a lot more for our community.

As we worked together, we identified some important opportunities for the Easter Seals team. For example, as the organization grows, we must ensure that all of our team members understand the breadth and scope of our services and their important role in our success.. We all want to speak with pride about the great things Easter Seals does, and help our community members access our services, but we can’t do that without sufficient information. This is an important opportunity for me as CEO to ensure that I communicate to every team member both what we do and how important each individual is in delivering our mission.

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Frankly, there’s also some fear about the pace of change, and that’s understandable in an organization that has almost doubled in size over the last five years. I recognize that every individual who works at Easter Seals has a hard job. We are in the trenches every day delivering intensive services for the most vulnerable members of our community. That is a big responsibility. Then to say that in addition delivering an exceptional experience for every participant every day we ALSO need to innovate and change. That can be challenging, maybe even scary.

And that’s why my responsibility to our exceptional team is to ensure that they have the training and skills to take that on – to make it a little less challenging and a lot less scary – and why I’m so excited about our partnership with Unlocking Potential to build our capacity to achieve these ambitious goals.

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It was a great weekend – and a great first step – on a 6-month guided journey with Unlocking Potential and a lifelong leadership journey for Easter Seals team members.

Giving Thanks for the Easter Seals Family

Notes from the President:

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I have a simple message for you this Thanksgiving – Thank you! Life has provided me with many blessings and among them is you. Because if you’re reading this, it’s very likely that you have been involved with Easter Seals in some way, or that we have helped you or your family.

Perhaps you are someone whose family has benefitted from the vital services we provide to the community. Or you have helped us spread the word about how we change lives.

You could be someone who has supported our work, by generously giving of your time as a volunteer. Maybe you have made a donation in the past or are a regular contributor.

You could be one of our dedicated staff of professionals which, on a daily basis, provides the exceptional services that ensure that all people with disabilities or special needs, including military, wounded warriors, veterans and their families, have equal opportunities to live, learn, work and play in their communities.

We couldn’t do it without you. You are part of the Easter Seals family.

We all have a hand in making Easter Seals the truly amazing organization that I’m honored and privileged to lead. Together we all help make our community a better place, and change lives in the process.

On behalf of the Board of Directors, the leadership and the staff of Easter Seals Serving DC|MA|VA, may you enjoy a Thanksgiving filled with the blessings of family and friends.

Celebrating Two Decades of Making Learning Fun

Notes from the President:

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Yesterday was a special day at Easter Seals as we celebrated Delores Williams, who has been shaping the lives of young students at the Easter Seals Child Development Center inside the National Archives and Records Administration for 20 years!

Our leadership team had a wonderful time observing Delores’ mastery of her classroom, and hear from her students what they love about this exceptional educator. Just a few of the responses from the two-year olds included, “she reads to me,” “she sings,” and “she plays.” Reactions such as that tell you all you need to know about the effect she has on her students. And why long-time employees of the National Archives stop Ms. Williams in the hall to keep her up to date on the accomplishments of her grown students, some of whom are now in college!

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Those success stories, and the responses Delores’ style and methods elicit from her students are the embodiment of Easter Seals’ child-centered “learn through play” curriculum. Our educators help children learn to explore their world. The sense of curiosity our teachers nurture, and the joy they incorporate into the learning process set Easter Seals students up for a lifetime of educational achievement and workplace success.

Of course, Ms. Williams had more wisdom to share. When I asked her what kids need most, she noted that “the biggest thing is making sure that every child feels loved and understood no matter what is happening with behavior at the moment. Even when children misbehave, and every child will at some point, they still need to feel loved, and that’s what I provide.” She also noted how kids do grow up faster now than when she first joined Easter Seals 20 years ago – they are exposed to more at a younger age, and that is also why she believes the undercurrent of love and acceptance is more important than ever.

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Finally, Ms. Williams shared how important the culture at Easter Seals is. She appreciates the diversity of our families and staff – the many cultures and special needs represented make Easter Seals a fun and learning environment for her, and that’s why she has been with us for 20 years! It’s great to celebrate a lifelong learner nurturing future generations of lifelong learners!  Please join me in congratulating Ms. Williams!

Dr. Tracy Neal-Walden Continues to Serve

For my inaugural blog post, I gave you an overview of our Military & Veterans Services, such as the Veteran Staffing Network. In honor of both the upcoming commemoration of Veterans Day, and the official opening of the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Easterseals, the latest addition to the array of services Easter Seals offers veterans, active duty National Guard and Reservists and their families of our region, this will be my first post to feature a guest blogger.  And who better to tell you about the new Cohen Clinic than its director, Dr. Tracy Neal-Walden?

Dr. Neal-Walden is a licensed clinical psychologist and a retired Air Force Colonel with more than 25 years of experience in mental health treatment, leadership, outreach and policy. She holds a Ph.D in Clinical Psychology from Drexel University-Hahnemann Medical Campus in Philadelphia, PA., and we are so thrilled to have  here as the leader of this wonderful new resource.

tracy-borderAfter a 24-year career dedicated to behavioral health services as an active duty member of the U.S. Air Force, it is an honor and a privilege for me to be the director of the new Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Easterseals.

The grand opening events made for a special day for all of us at Easter Seals and our partners at the Cohen Veterans Network (CVN) who have worked so hard to make our clinic a reality.

Ours is one of five new locations opening in 2017 as part of the CVN’s chain of behavioral health clinics. We provide low or no-cost, high-quality services and case management resource referrals for veterans, National Guard and Reserve servicemembers and their families, and the families of Active Duty servicemembers.

The network’s founder and namesake, Steven A. Cohen, became involved in veteran’s mental healthcare after his son returned from a tour in Afghanistan with the U.S. Marine Corps. In 2016, Mr. Cohen launched the CVN with a pledge of $275 million to support the creation of 25 clinics across the nation.

Our grand opening offered the opportunity to introduce military, government and business leaders to Easter Seals and to showcase our beautiful new facility that strengthens Easter Seals’ comprehensive support services for veterans and military families.

Thanks to the vision and generosity of Mr. Cohen and the CVN, I have had the opportunity to create a clinic that embodies all I’ve learned about behavioral health services over the course of my career. A clinic where we can overcome barriers to care, thus enhancing access for those who might not have been able to receive these services elsewhere.

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Moreover, my team of high-caliber clinicians and support staff, many of which are veterans like myself, employ evidenced-based methods in a warm and welcoming environment.

As the latest addition to Easter Seals’ array of Military and Veteran Services, the Cohen Clinic is part of the larger safety net of support we offer, with the opportunity to leverage other Easter Seals programs, like the Veteran Staffing Network, to further enhance the quality of life for our clients.

We are also leveraging the extensive professional and personal networks of these programs and those of our clinicians, outreach and support staff to ensure that every veteran and military family member in the area who needs our services knows about the Cohen Clinic, and that we are here for them.

I’m so glad that we were able to be joined by other special guests, Dr. Anthony Hassan, CEO of the Cohen Veterans Network, Mrs. Ellyn Dunford, military family advocate and spouse of Gen. Joseph Dunford, 19th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Sgt. Kyle White, Medal of Honor recipient. They were able to convey to our guests the need ensure that our veterans and military families receive the support and services they need to strengthen our community.

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It is an honor to be able to lead the Steven A Cohen Military Family Clinic at Easterseals and continue a career dedicated to the well-being of those who have served this country, and their families. I’m also honored that we are a part of an organization like Easter Seals, which offers a multitude of innovative services to our veterans and military families. We are making a difference in their lives, and strengthening the community.

Intergenerational Month

Notes from the President:

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September is such an exciting time at Easter Seals. In addition to being the start of the new school year, we are also celebrating Intergenerational Month, which celebrates and encourages intergenerational connections (bringing together young and old through planned activities that benefit both).

At Easter Seals, fostering intergenerational connections is a key component of our Vision Statement because research has shown that older adults who participate in intergenerational activities have less depression and fewer falls while children who participate have higher reading scores and better social skills! Those are outcomes everyone can get behind and why we’re pleased that Generations United, the leading advocates for intergenerational programs around the world, has named Easter Seals a Program of Distinction.

I can see these impacts every day when I am in one of our Child Development or Adult Medical Day Care Centers. Whether it’s the fun school-age volunteers and older adults have together at our Baltimore Center, reading activities in our Child Development Center of Northern Virginia, or especially a shared art activity in The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Inter-Generational Center.

When I think about the value that our intergenerational programs adds to the lives of those we serve, I’m reminded in particular of two pairs we helped bring together: Calvin and Micah, and Annie and Owen.

Calvin is 65 years old, and for nearly 40 years he did not leave his home. When Calvin’s mother passed away, his brother Gary became his caregiver and wanted to help Calvin reconnect with society. “After being secluded for so many years, I wanted Calvin to have a better life,” said Gary. “I was on a mission, and that’s when I found Easter Seals.”

Micah came to Easter Seals as a toddler through our Little Warriors program. Even at his young age, Micah had already developed an understanding of and sensitivity to people with disabilities because his Dad was at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center recovering from combat injuries. “Micah only remembers his father without legs,” said his mother, Victoria. “When he was a baby, he would scoot on the floor with his dad, and that was just the norm for us.”

Two very different life experiences brought Micah and Calvin together, but Easter Seals has helped them form an incredible bond. Calvin and Micah connected because of Micah’s persistence and engaging personality. Most adult friends would circle around the children, excited to participate in the activity, but Calvin would sit on the side lines during activities, engaging only if asked. He was usually quiet and kept to himself, whereas Micah was a little ball of energy. Micah took the initiative of asking Calvin to help with activities, especially arts and crafts.

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Calvin and Micah

The relationship soon grew to giving regular hugs for hellos and goodbyes and Micah leaning his head on Calvin while reading books together, and I was curious how such a deep bond developed, so I spoke to Jessica Linnenkamp, the Intergenerational Program Coordinator here at Easter Seals. She shared that “Calvin never seemed to expect Micah to approach him, but he was happy with the attention when Micah did seek it out. Micah was utterly drawn to Calvin, and thus an intergenerational friendship was born.”

Annie is 55, has developmental disabilities, and is so gregarious that she’s known as the “Ambassador of Easter Seals” when visitors come to The Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Adult Day Services. She is an advocate for the intergenerational activities. She shared, “I just love coming to Easter Seals every day,” said Annie. “I especially love seeing all of the kids.”

In particular, Annie loves to share activities with Owen, who is four years old. They bonded over a shared love of coloring and singing as well as the shared experience of each being the younger sibling of a big brother. They get together every Thursday morning at Easter Seals. “I know Owen is really excited to see me – he’s my best buddy.”

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Annie and Owen

Easter Seals gives Annie a feeling of community and an opportunity for socialization after she moved into a group home, which can often feel isolating. Easter Seals and Owen helped her rediscover her joy and their relationship has reinvigorated her. “I didn’t expect to make so many new friends here,” said Annie. “I’ve had some rough times, but I am very happy now. I feel like a kid again.”

I hope these stories help you see what the research tells us – intergenerational programming is a boon to young and old, and that’s why it’s such a key part of our Vision here at Easter Seals.

Raising Expectations for Special Education

Notes from the President:

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Did you know that only 33% of working age adults with disabilities are employed?  Our vision is to maximize independence, inclusion, and contributions to society, and 33% is not good enough.  That’s why we’re so thrilled about the unanimous Supreme Court ruling on Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District that said school districts must give students with disabilities the chance to make meaningful, “appropriately ambitious” progress. I believe this will have far-reaching implications for the 6.5 million students with disabilities in the U.S. and ultimately on employment and independence.

Research shows that higher expectations ultimately lead children with disabilities to achieve more, gain confidence and independence, and develop a stronger sense of self.  Researchers have also found that the quality and quantity of young children’s social communicative behaviors are highly predictive of long-term developmental and functional outcomes. That’s why skills acquired in the first five years of a child’s life lay the foundation for future success in school.  By providing high quality, inclusive classroom experiences and early intervention services right from the start, Easter Seals is preparing our children for success in school and setting them up for an inclusive academic future.

Mikey is a great example. Supporters of Easter Seals may remember Mikey and his parents, Mike and Virginia, from our Advocacy Awards video in 2015.  Mikey was stillborn at birth but was able to be revived, and his family was referred to Easter Seals by DC Early Intervention.  After they enrolled Mikey in the CDC, our Veterans Staffing Network also helped Mike find a job here in Washington, D.C. when he was at risk of having to take a position in the Middle East far from his family.

When Mikey started at Easter Seals at 11 months of age, all his father wanted for him to do was to hold his own bottle.  We weren’t sure then what Mikey would be capable of doing.

Mikey on his first day at Easter Seals!
Mikey on his first day at Easter Seals!

Three and a half years later, Mikey is not only feeding himself, but he’s running and playing and is even potty-trained (a milestone his mom was not sure would ever happen).  Mikey is using more and more words and is also able to share his thoughts in sentences via a speech generating device provided through a grant from the Comcast Foundation, and after graduation from our Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Child Development Center in DC is now attending a public charter school in a general education classroom.

Mikey in June 2017 with his speech generating device!
Mikey in June 2017 with his speech generating device!

All of us at Easter Seals are so excited that Mikey will be in a general education classroom where he will have the greatest opportunity to learn – that placement is an incredible testament to the hard work of Mikey, his family, and the entire staff led by Jill Chimka, Regional Director of Therapy, L’Ornya Bowie, Senior Director of Child Development Operations, and Carol Watson, Senior Vice President of Programs.

Although Mikey will continue to need specialized services, I know Easter Seals has laid a solid foundation for Mikey and his parents to have the skills needed for him to have a very bright future.  Go Mikey!

Celebrating Inclusion, “Back to School,” and Kindergarten Readiness

Notes from the President:

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It’s that time of year again: “back to school.” As a dad with three daughters and as the leader of Easter Seals, where early education is core to our mission, I understand the mix of emotions – the anticipation tinged with apprehension – this time brings. I think it’s a time of wonderful possibilities, a chance for children to revel in the joys of learning, and an opportunity for parents to share the wonder of watching their children progress.

Part of what makes working at Easter Seals so exciting is we know that ALL children can learn and grow. Our Child Development Centers enable kids with disabilities and special needs to learn right alongside their typically developing peers, and everyone benefits from that inclusive approach. Typically developing children benefit from the extra training our teachers have and become leaders and role models while also learning that their friends with disabilities have plenty of abilities too. Children with special needs see modeling of age-appropriate behaviors from their typically developing peers and receive the maximum benefit from early intervention during the first five years of life, when 80% of brain development occurs.

We see the impact of our high-quality early education every day, but it becomes especially pronounced at this time of year when our “seniors” graduate from Easter Seals to attend kindergarten. We’re always thrilled to receive reports back from parents about how well prepared our children are to succeed in school, and it’s a pleasure for me to share one example.

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In the summer of 2014, the Strong Start/DC Early Intervention program evaluated Grace because her family was concerned about her development. Testing confirmed that she had delays in several areas of development, most notably communication and social skills. Strong Start recommended Easter Seals’ Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Child Development Center because they knew we could provide full-time early care and education as well as the early intervention services Grace needed under one roof so that her parents could work and not be distracted with the myriad appointments that were needed for Grace’s success.

Grace started at the center in September 2014 when she was under two years old. Easter Seals’ speech language pathologist Maia Magder worked with Grace, her teachers, and family to help develop Grace’s language and social skills through practice and by prompting her through daily routines. She made astounding progress, and after six months had met all the goals on her treatment plan. A year after enrolling at Easter Seals, standardized testing indicated that Grace’s skills were well within normal limits for her age and some were even in the high average range. She was able to move on from early intervention services, but remained at Easter Seals.

Fast forward to 2017, and we find Grace celebrating her last day at Easter Seals.  She’s leaving us to attend a Montessori public charter school where we are confident she’ll excel. On her last day, her grandmother Susan shared this lovely message with us: “Did not want to waltz away from Easter Seals without expressing profound thanks for a stellar experience.  The past three years have been transformational for Grace.  There is nothing better than a great launch for a youngster.  Grace is happy, confident and quite in love with learning.  All the best and thanks again for all you do!”

Easter Seals’ Child Development Centers provide services to ALL children – those who are typically developing AND those with disabilities or special needs; those who can afford to pay AND those from low- to moderate-income families. For those unable to afford the difference between actual cost of services and payment from insurance, Easter Seals secures grants from private foundations and government agencies as well as generous support from individual and corporate sponsors.

If you know a child who could benefit from high quality early education, please contact us, and if you’d like to support our ability to continue serving all who need us regardless of ability to pay, please donate here.