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.

Celebrating Those Who Make Easter Seals Special

Notes from the President:

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One of the best parts of my role as CEO of Easter Seals Serving DC|MD|VA is visiting our centers and connecting with the children, adults, and caregivers we serve, as well as with the incredible team members who work so hard every day.

It is especially gratifying when I get to be part of celebrating the team members who have been with Easter Seals for 10 years or more. Whenever an employee reaches that milestone, I visit to present a service award, but more importantly, the entire Center community – participants and staff – comes together to celebrate the accomplishment. Each time I see something unique, whether it’s Penny, one of the older adults served in our Adult Day Services program saying, “It used to be that I hated Mondays and loved Fridays, but now because of the incredible staff at Easter Seals I hate Fridays and love Mondays,” or a classroom of two year-olds singing “Happy Birthday” because they know their teacher has done something great and that’s the celebration song they know!

This year we are celebrating 11 employees with 10 or more years of service, and I am excited to share a few of their stories so you can share my joy in the community that Easter Seals represents.

Amanda Barnes is teacher at our Child Development Center of Northern Virginia. Thanks to our partnership with the Virginia State Department of Labor’s “Project Pathfinders” initiative, she has been able to advance her career while working to enrich the lives of the children she instructs:

“I have worked at Easter Seals for 16 years and wanted to continue to advance in my career. Renee, the Assistant Director at my Center, helped me learn about a program that would enable me to earn my degree, which will make me eligible for a promotion! Thanks to Easter Seals, I am able to enrich my education and further my career in this field that I love, while learning the newest best practices to use with the families we serve.”

Jill Chimka directs our Early Intervention Services. She will be soon be celebrating her 15-year anniversary as an Easter Seals employee, but has a relationship with the organization dating back to her time as a summer camp counselor with the Easter Seals affiliate in Colorado.

Jill lives in the neighborhood where our D.C. Child Development Center is located, and often runs into parents of the children we serve after they graduate. I love hearing her retell the story of a young girl born with cerebral palsy. When the girl was born, her Mother quit her job to care for her, and when she found Easter Seals she was ready to re-enter the workforce. She decided to enroll in a training program to become a teacher, and later ended up teaching Jill’s daughter:

“Easter Seals feels like a second home to me. I’ve had two children of my own attend our inclusive center in D.C. They were well cared for and had the opportunity to make friends of all ability levels. I love our mission and being there for families in their time of need. I’m proud of our early-intervention team and the great accomplishments our children are able to achieve as a result of their hard work.”

Christie Cooper works as a health technician at our Hagerstown Adult Day Services location. She has been with us for 11 years and has watched Easter Seals grow:

“One of the biggest changes during that time is the number of clients we serve each day. When I first started there were only about 20 clients a day. Now we have double that number.”

She also appreciates how an organization that is “person-centered” and works to accommodate the special needs of clients and their families applies that same philosophy to its employees:

“There has not been a time when Easter Seals has not been family-oriented and understanding when ‘life’ happens. Having young children, this is very important to me and I am grateful for that understanding and flexibility available from Easter Seals.”

Brooke Kaiser leads Respite Services from our Silver Spring headquarters and has also been with us for 11 years. Although she always had a passion for serving children, and volunteered with various organizations, she had made her living in public relations. But when she saw an open position with Easter Seals, she knew it was the right opportunity to combine her passions with a career. Like Christie, she has also witnessed the growth at Easter Seals, not just in how many we serve, but also in who we serve:

“I’m proud that we now offer so many great services to military and veteran families. And it’s been wonderful to see how the respite program has grown since its beginning. As a military spouse, I truly understand the importance of supporting our military and veterans and not just the service member, but the ‘whole family unit.’ I love that we allow individuals to feel independent while we are helping them.”

Our Easter Seals team demonstrates an amazing commitment to respect – both in how we as an organization interact with our team members and in how our team members interact with our participants and their caregivers. It is truly something wonderful to experience.

Business Leaders Make the Case for Early Childhood Education

Notes From the President:

jon-borderBefore I became involved with Easter Seals I had no idea that every year, almost 50,000 children in DC, Maryland and Virginia enter kindergarten with undiagnosed disabilities or delays. This is a huge problem for our community because those children have lost the opportunity to benefit from early intervention during the first five years of life, when 80% of brain development occurs. Often, despite the best (and very expensive) efforts of schools, these children can never catch up!

Easter Seals Serving DC|MD|VA is working to change that. Our Early Care and Education Program provides high-quality education and intervention for young children, where those with special needs learn right alongside their typically developing peers, a practice called “inclusion.”

Often I’m asked, “My child doesn’t have any special needs, so why would we benefit from sending them to an Easter Seals Child Development Center?” Because our incredible teachers and administrators are trained to serve children with special needs, I can give two answers:

  1. Easter Seals provides stimulating educational experiences to promote each child’s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive growth and ensure each child reaches his or her full potential.
  2. Because many delays and disabilities, such as autism, are diagnosed through observation as a child grows, we help parents understand if their child should be tested, and if a need is found we coordinate and provide therapy right in our Centers. This way, children receive the highest quality care in the natural environment, and parents are spared the logistical nightmare of coordinating and attending therapy sessions. This makes it easier for parents to juggle all their responsibilities.

Another organization that understands the pressures families face is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. The Foundation is dedicated to strengthening America’s long-term competitiveness. They educate the public on the conditions necessary for business and communities to thrive, and on emerging issues and creative solutions that will shape the future.

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On June 21, they held an event to introduce a new initiative and report, “Workforce of Today, Workforce of Tomorrow: The Business Case for High-Quality Child Care,” to explore the role of high-quality child care as a critical mechanism for strengthening the current and future workforce.

A distinguished panel of scientists, educators, public policy experts, advocates, and business leaders, including Easter Seals Emeritus Board Member Craig Ruppert of the Ruppert Companies, spoke at the event. They examined the concept of high-quality child care as not just a benefit for working parents, but also a critical component of America’s early education system.

As a Board Member, employer, and brother of a sibling who was helped by Easter Seals’ early intervention, Craig highlighted the importance of high quality, inclusive child care to benefit children, employees and employers.

At Easter Seals, we see the impact high-quality child care has on children and families every day. We are proud that business leaders like Craig allow us to show that our programs are an investment in the well-being of not just those we serve, but also in creating a strong workforce now and in the future.

If you are a business owner, executive, landlord or property manager, you have an opportunity to make a difference by enabling us to provide scholarships to children who need our services, but otherwise could not afford them. Increasing your commitment can allow Easter Seals to manage an inclusive center on your site, which can improve:

o   productivity and retention if you are a business owner/executive;

o   the attractiveness of your property if you are a landlord/property manager.

Please reach out to me if you’d like to learn more about ways to support or partner with Easter Seals.

Lightening the Load of Alzheimer’s

Notes From the President:

jon-borderWhen President Ronald Reagan designated the first National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month in 1983, fewer than two million Americans had Alzheimer’s disease; today, the number of people with the disease has soared to nearly 5.5 million and by 2050 as the population ages the number could reach 16 million.* President Reagan himself lived with Alzheimer’s disease for nearly a decade, and complications from the disease were a contributing factor in his death.

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that damages and eventually destroys brain cells, leading to a loss of memory, thinking, and other brain functions. It is ultimately fatal. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, every 66 seconds someone in the United States develops the disease.

Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia also take a heavy toll on the caregivers and families.  In fact, twice as many caregivers of individuals with dementia indicate substantial emotional, financial, and physical difficulties than caregivers of people without dementia.

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This is where Easter Seals Serving DC|MD|VA’s Adult and Senior Services fill a critical need. Our Adult and Senior Care Centers offer benefits to both caregivers and people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Every one of our participants receives the vital health and welfare services they need, administered by caring and dedicated professionals.

For people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, the Centers serve as a place outside the home for people to remain active in the community and socialize with their peers. A place where they receive health and supportive services, such as physical therapy, speech therapy, medical supervision and assistance with personal care. A place to engage in fun activities like art, music, and exercise.

In addition to the respite that caregivers get when their loved one is at an Easter Seals Center, we have monthly support groups to ensure that their unique needs are addressed, they interact with peers, and they remain strong and healthy to provide the care their loved ones need.

The story of Gary and his family illustrates how our Adult Day Services and Caregiver Support combine to keep Gary in the community. At the young age of 55, Gary was diagnosed with progressive nonfluent aphasia, a form of dementia. Gary’s ability to communicate deteriorated quickly, and he is no longer able to speak, read, write, or work.

His wife Pam struggled to balance taking care of her family, working, and being a caregiver. When Gary’s condition worsened and he could no longer be left alone to do daily tasks, she had to find other options. “Home-care just didn’t make sense for us, Gary is so independent and he needed an environment that would encourage socialization and provide engaging activities,” said Pam.  She made the decision to turn to Easter Seals. “Since Gary has started at Easter Seals I finally feel like I have support,” said Pam.  “He is able to live a better quality of life, I am so thankful that when he comes here he is engaged.”

Pam worked with Easter Seals staff to create a reference book to help Gary communicate with his caregivers. The book has images he can point to based on situations and categories, such as food, family members, and health and wellness questions. This allows Gary to be heard and allows his caregivers to better understand his needs. Gary can even let you know what his favorite Easter Seals activities are by pointing to ring toss, art, bowling, the jukebox music game, and gardening.

Easter Seals is not only providing Gary with the tools he needs to thrive in his environment, we are allowing Pam to get the respite she needs to continue to be strong for her family.

While there may be no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and other associated brain diseases such as Gary’s at this time, Easter Seals offers Pam and all the caregivers and families of our participants an affordable and stimulating, community-based alternative to nursing homes and in-home care.

Can Easter Seals Adult and Senior Care Centers help you or someone you know? Click HERE to learn more about our centers or email info@eseal.org to receive more information.

 

*Now designated as National Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month. All statistics and information about the disease taken from the Alzheimer’s Association.

Easter Seals Serving DC|MD|VA Launches First Blog and Discusses Importance of Veteran Services

Notes From the President:

jon-borderIt’s wonderful to share my first blog post as President and CEO of Easter Seals Serving DC|MD|VA.

In this blog I’ll regularly share news about Easter Seals and our programs from a personal perspective, and the issues, lessons and insights that I gather from the privileged position of working  alongside our talented and committed staff. I’m excited to have another venue to spread the word about the impact of our exceptional services.

I began my work with Easter Seals twelve years ago as a board member. I joined the staff as Chief Operating Officer in 2011, and was honored and humbled to succeed Lisa Reeves as CEO in February. It’s a privilege to lead a staff of more than 200 dedicated professionals who create solutions for our community’s most pressing emerging needs – ensuring children with special needs realize their full potential, keeping seniors in the community and out of nursing homes, supporting caregivers in their vital and unsung role, and fully integrating veterans and military family members back into life at home.  To me, that integration of everyone into a common community where each individual can focus on his or her ability, not disability, makes Easter Seals unique.

Since May is Military Appreciation Month, this is a great time to share information about an area that many don’t associate with Easter Seals, but is a vital part of our work – Military and Veteran Services.

For nearly 100 years, Easter Seals has supported people of all ages with disabilities and special needs. In recent years, we’ve used that framework to expand into assisting active duty military, veterans, and their families.

Recently separated veterans have a high unemployment rate, but Easter Seals offers an innovative solution. Our Veteran Staffing Network operates nationally and is a ground-breaking nonprofit staffing agency for veterans, service members and their families. The program launched in 2013 with two goals:

1.      Ease the transition for veterans, wounded warriors, Guard and Reserve, and their spouses to civilian life by enabling them to find employment and establish meaningful careers.

2.      Connect businesses with the high-quality talent they seek that Veteran Staffing Network clients represent.

To date, the Veteran Staffing Network has coached more than 5,000 clients and placed more than 1,000 of them in meaningful, career-focused positions.

The Military Family Respite Program provides a critical service for military families with children who have severe disabilities and their siblings. Families get some much needed “time off” from their parenting duties and specialized support for their children. These vital breaks help create and sustain healthy and stable homes. We’ve expanded the Respite Program to include “Little Warriors,” children of wounded service members recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Easter Seals was founded to serve children, and our Little Warriors Child Development Program provides high-quality early childhood education, intervention, and therapy for families of wounded soldiers, allowing service members to focus on their own recovery.

Veterans who have served our country from World War II to today’s conflicts are all served by Easter Seals Senior and Adult Day Services, where veterans at risk of institutionalization can find socialization, medical care, and hope at our Adult Day Centers.

You can see that when it comes to veterans, Easter Seals has created a suite of services to enable those who have served to receive the support, quality care, and recognition they have earned and to become connected with our local community.