Male Caregivers – Leading the Way at Easterseals

Chances are that if I ask you to picture a caregiver you’ll picture a woman. That’s not surprising – according to Michigan State University, 66% of caregivers are women. In previous blogs I’ve often highlighted the disproportionate impact of caregiving on women; and as we emerge from COVID, that has been exacerbated by childcare difficulties as discussed in my recent Washington Post OpEd.

As we approach Father’s Day, though, I want to take the opportunity to highlight some unsung heroes – male caregivers. Among the thousands of friends and neighbors who benefit from Easterseals programs every year are men like Michael Smith, who have become caregivers themselves. I’m also proud of the diverse team at Easterseals that includes many men in caregiving roles and honored to highlight three today. Marcus Bolston, Larry Johnson, and Dr. Shea Lott are wonderful examples of our commitment to creating a hopeful, inclusive community where all people realize their potential and live meaningful lives. They embody our Core Values of Respect, Responsibility, Integrity, Innovation, and Care – listening to our participants’ needs then adapting programs to realize the participant’s goals.

Marcus Bolston: Director, Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Adult Day Services

Marcus (left) celebrating the 100th birthday of an ADS participant.

Marcus Bolston takes pride in connecting with people from all backgrounds, “Anytime you get to work closely with families and the individuals you serve, you build a great connection that lasts for a long time.” In his role as Adult Day Services Director, Marcus enjoys creating a socially enriched environment, connecting with patients, and also ensuring high quality care for participants with a wide range of diagnoses, including Alzheimer’s disease, Dementia, and Down syndrome. For Marcus, respect means taking every opportunity to learn from those around him. For example, Marcus recently drove a patient with no transportation to get his vaccine in Baltimore, and, “When he came back he shared how much he learned about the individual and the good conversation they had,” notes Marcus’ supervisor, Liz Barnes.

For Marcus, connecting with those around him is natural. His favorite memories from his years with Easterseals are the times with his staff and participants during holiday parties or events. He hosts regular holiday-themed parties for Christmas, Cinco de Mayo, New Years and the occasional cookout, “Most importantly I get to meet people from all walks of life, hear their stories, and learn from them which is both inspiring and humbling.”

Larry D. Johnson, Jr.: Director, Easterseals Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Child Development Center

Larry’s supervisor, Tara Phillips, speaks highly of his aesthetic eye and keen ability to prepare classroom environments that are inviting and comforting to children based on their needs. However, the memory of Larry that resonates strongest for her exemplifies his true character, “Soon after Larry was hired, he recognized the landscaping at the Child Development Center needed an upgrade.” He wanted the center to look warm and welcoming for children and their families, so he took that upon himself. “One Saturday morning,” Tara continued, “Larry came to the center with his personal lawn mower and lawn bags and he cut the grass and trimmed the hedges. He was sweating, but noticeably intent on cleaning up the last debris that were on the sidewalk.”

If you ask Larry, he’ll tell you there’s no better feeling than having a conversation with a child and listening to his or her innocent take on the world. His time with children brings him joy every day, but his role as a leader is not lost, “It is extremely rewarding to have team members further their education because I’ve inspired them. To know that I have had that kind of influence on someone feels good.”

Dr. Shea Lott: Lead Clinician, Clinical Psychologist The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Easterseals

When he joined the Easterseals team in October, Dr. Shea Lott set out to ensure that veterans, active duty servicemembers, and their families have access to the highest quality care so they can fully participate in our community. As Lead Clinician and Director for Clinical Training at the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic, Shea wears many hats and juggles many administrative priorities – but if you ask him, none are more important than helping veterans and their families, “When treatment has concluded and the clients say the services changed their life or the life of their family member for the better – that’s a priceless and timeless experience.”

At Easterseals, Shea takes pride in using evidence-based care to ensure his clients heal. He recently treated a client with PTSD caused by observing and experiencing discrimination in the wake of the DC protests, riots, and insurrection. “Working with this individual and leveraging prolonged exposure therapy has been a game changer for the client, whose symptoms of PTSD are now in remission,” says Shea. “This is a great example of therapy leading to improved interpersonal interactions and self-concept development so that the individual can participate fully in our vibrant community.”

For Marcus, Larry, and Shea, their profession is so much more than a paycheck. It’s an opportunity to heal, serve, and learn; and we are a better organization for having men of their character on our team. To Marcus, Larry, Shea and the rest of our team, I appreciate your unwavering commitment and dedication.

Children with Autism Can Still Be Assessed During the Pandemic

This year we mark a unique Autism Awareness Month, with most of us having been isolated and socially distanced for over a year. While that is hard on all of us, it is a crisis for young children. Full data on early intervention services in 2020 are not yet available, but the statistics that are out show trends that must concern us all:

  • In the 2019-2020 school year, even before the full impact of the pandemic, the number of 3 to 5-year-olds receiving Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part B services dropped by 12 percent versus the previous year.
  • A study in New York City found 15 percent fewer infants and toddlers receiving services in the summer of 2020 versus the summer of 2019. New referrals were down even more.
  • Race-based disparities are evident. On average, black children with autism receive their diagnosis almost two years older than white children and black children with autism were almost 3 times less likely to receive an autism diagnosis on their first specialist visit than white children.

This information is troubling for all of us, not just the children and families whose children are not being screened. There is ample research demonstrating the efficacy and efficiency of early intervention, and societal costs increase dramatically when interventions are delayed or withheld. That’s why I’m asking for your help!

Please do all you can to spread the word about Make the First Five Count.

This is a FREE Easterseals screening tool that enables anyone to enter observations about a young child and receive a custom report of areas of concern, if any, and ways to access early intervention services in your area. If you need any assistance, please also feel free to contact Easterseals’ Senior Director of Early Intervention and Therapy, Jill Chimka.

You can also learn more about living with autism by registering for our Candid Conversations Webinar on Tuesday, April 20 at 2:00pm EST. Join our panel of subject matter experts as they share resources on how to navigate from childhood to adulthood at this monthly Candid Conversations: Pathways through Life – Growing up with Autism.

For more information on how to ensure your children continue to thrive during the pandemic, check out other topics from our Candid Conversation series:

With your help, we can ensure that children continue to receive life-changing screening and therapy services. Thank you!

Being Great as We Celebrate the Legacy of Dr. King

In one of Dr. King’s final speeches, delivered two months before he was assassinated, he shared:

If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant…By giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve…You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.”

Today especially, therefore, please join me in recognizing and celebrating the greatness of the Easterseals community – volunteers, donors, staff, and participants. It’s an honor to be part of a team where every day each individual embodies Dr. King’s ideal of servant leadership by serving each other and embracing Easterseals’ vision of a hopeful, inclusive community where all people realize their potential and live meaningful lives.

I recognize and understand the stress that is a part of our daily lives during the pandemic and with so much unrest. I appreciate those whose daily efforts are helping increase the well-being of our community by creating a sense of hope and safety. Thank you for creating a more just and equal society.

Easterseals Looking to 2021: A Letter from Our President & CEO

Dear Friend,

The past year changed each of us. The challenges called us to question, to reevaluate, to adapt. While 2020 wasn’t easy—and self-reflection leading to change requires effort—I see many positive developments. Many of us have refined our priorities, developed greater resilience, and exhibited compassion.

Just as the year led individuals to question and to change, organizations grappled with those same struggles. l am grateful and humbled by the way clients, supporters, and staff at Easterseals DC MD VA came together to tackle the challenges and devise creative and effective solutions. The pandemic and the social unrest during 2020 caused us to reflect anew on the evolving needs of the community and our strengths.

This soul-searching process:

  • Validated the critical importance of our Vision—“Easterseals creates a hopeful, inclusive community where all people realize their potential and live meaningful lives.” 2020 proved that a community cannot survive when some members are excluded or live without hope;
  • Focused our future growth on areas of greatest need including (1) improving the quality and accessibility of early education, (2) employment services, and (3) expansion of mental health care services;
  • Produced important innovations to meet immediate community needs safely; and
  • Reinforced the importance of having a sustainable organization that can weather difficult times.

When the pandemic shut down our normal operations, we knew that the needs of our clients did not go away, but in many ways became more critical. By April, Easterseals had developed new partnerships and was delivering food, PPE, medical supplies, diapers, and wipes to our most vulnerable families, and the team keeps those deliveries going every week! But even more importantly, as we connected with our families through these deliveries, drive-bys, zoom and telephone calls, we understood that we are really delivering HOPE.

Other times hope starts with the recognition that “I have a voice” and “what I want matters.” One of Easterseals greatest contributions is helping individuals build on their own strengths.

Marsi, whose two-and-a-half-year-old son Langston has Down syndrome shared that she became more confident and competent in helping her child. With Easterseals support, Marsi learned, “That I can actually do OK! Langston has special needs, and for the longest time I’ve always thought: I’m not a therapist, I am just a mom. But I’m slowly starting to let go of the ‘I’m just a mom’ idea. I am grateful for all the strategies you have shown that I can do with Langston right at home.” Read Langston’s story here.

Sometimes hope means knowing that others are in the same boat and hearing their ideas. We recognized that within our organization and through our partnerships, we have a real brain trust. The entire staff joined together to create our Candid Conversations webinars on vital topics like: Talking to Our Children About Racism, Ensuring Your Child Stays On-Track During COVID-19, Disability Employment, and Addressing the Mental Health Crisis in the Age of COVID. Replays of these fascinating sessions are available here.

And sometimes hope means just having fun. While we won’t have large, in-person celebrations for a while, we have come up with new ways to connect and to garner support for our programs. Early in 2021, Bright Stars Bedtime Stories Presented by M&T Bank will raise vital funds for Easterseals services and bring joy to thousands of children with disabilities and those from low-income, military, and first responder families. Participants will be able to log-in to hear celebrities and other special guests read specially selected books.

The challenges call to mind the inspirational words of a great American. In his famous I Have a Dream speech, Dr. Martin Luther King called on us to “hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.” As we start 2021, I look back with gratitude to the generous supporters who have enabled us to achieve so much—thank you! And I look forward with optimism to the potential of the new year—a time of health, renewed connections, and continued innovation and commitment so that we deliver the hopeful and inclusive community of Easterseals’ Vision.

Wishing all a happy and healthy New Year,

Jonathan Horowitch
President & CEO

Bright Stars Night at Disney on Ice Presented by M&T Bank Raised Over $319K for Easterseals

On February 13, Easterseals hosted our signature annual family event – Bright Stars Night at Disney on Ice Presented by M&T Bank (Bright Stars) – at the Capital One Arena.

More than 2,500 children, families and supporters from the community joined Easterseals DC MD VA on this special night to enjoy enchanting ice skating performances by their favorite Disney movie characters from Toy Story to Moana and, of course, Frozen.

Even Mickey Mouse made a special appearance at our pre-event Circle of Heroes VIP reception to take photos with our honored guests and sponsors, whose generosity helped us raise more than $319,000!

I want to thank our 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, as well as all the Committee members who did so much to make this event successful.

Their hard work and dedication to Easterseals ensures that our innovative programs and services are available to people of all ages with disabilities, special needs, military backgrounds and their families.

Now going on their eighth year as presenting sponsor of Easterseals’ Bright Stars, M&T Bank always brings a group of more than 20 volunteers to support our event and ensure that the children of all ages have a great time at the VIP reception.

Cecilia also presented M&T Bank’s latest commercial, which features Easterseals as one of the bank’s most valued community partners.

Kristen Berset-Harris, Co-Host of WUSA9’s Great Day Washington, served as Master of Ceremonies for our reception.

In early February, Kristen visited Easterseals Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Inter-Generational Center in Silver Spring and got to see two of our founding programs in action—the child development center and the adult day service center.

In addition to serving children and adults with disabilities, Easterseals is committed to serving our veterans and military families with high-quality behavioral health, employment and respite services. And we are serving even more children from Maryland’s Prince George’s County, with our Head Start programs, helping them and their families in underserved communities break out of the cycle of poverty.

Without support from our generous donors and sponsors for events like Bright Stars, we would not be able to continue to strive towards our vision of creating hopeful and inclusive communities where ALL people can achieve their potential and live meaningful lives.

We are committed to making an impact every day for the people we serve and ask that you help us continue making profound and positive differences for our communities by donating, volunteering or even spreading the message about our programs.

Service Dogs in Training Provide Therapy for Wounded Warriors

jonA large part of Easterseals’ success in achieving our mission – making profound, positive differences in the daily lives of people of all ages with disabilities, special needs, military backgrounds, and their families – is the collaborations we have with other like-minded organizations.

For National Dog Day (August 26), The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Easterseals (Cohen Clinic) and Warrior Canine Connection (WCC) hosted an event together at the clinic to introduce a different type of therapeutic strategy for wounded warriors living with mental health issues: training service dogs.

IMG_2089Two beautiful golden retrievers were introduced to the group by Emily McNeal, a veteran training program manager with Warrior Canine Connection. She was thrilled to introduce these canines to our veterans with the hope of drawing interests to WCC’s Mission Based Trauma Recovery (MBTR) program.

“Warrior Canine Connection’s program is unique in that we not only train service dogs for veterans, we also enlist them in the process,” said Emily McNeal, WCC service dog training instructor. “We deploy passionate and skilled trainers to teach dog psychology and commands using behavioral, cognitive and physical technique training. During the process, veterans are 20190826_115341healing their relationships and families, discovering new ways to express themselves in a positive way, creating bonds working with our dogs and feeling a sense of accomplishment by seeing these dogs placed in a forever home. Through our partnership with the Cohen Clinic, we believe we can reach a greater veteran population of those desiring to continue the mission, seeking purpose since leaving the military, as well as participating in volunteer work that thrives on fulfilling the Warrior Ethos.”

All of WCC’s service dogs, including those in training, are named after veterans and have their own Facebook page. Beverly is 19-months old and was named in honor of USAF Major Beverly Groogan, Ret., who served with the United States Air Force for 20 years.


J.J. is 16-months old and was named after Jesse Jack Martinez, a U.S. Army Private First Class who died in Iraq in July 2004. Both dogs had the opportunity to interact with our veteran participants in an exercise of being called over, making eye contact, responding to “sit” and then of course—THE REWARD!


In less than an hour, clearly, all our veteran participants were charmed by Beverly and J.J. and found petting and playing with them to be highly therapeutic. Outreach Manager Mallary Lass, USAF Ret. with the Cohen Clinic said that many of our clients have already been asking us about service dogs, and animals have been known to be extremely helpful within the therapeutic community. This event was an opportunity to bring that to Cohen Clinic clients.

20190826_112742“I am interested in training service dogs because I know it worked for me. My dog was given to me as a therapy dog and she’s been my lifesaver. She helps me with a lot of my issues and I just see this as a great way to give back,” said Derrick, U.S. Army veteran.

All selected service dogs go through an initial training with a puppy parent that lasts about 18 months before moving onto more advanced training. It is estimated that by the time one WCC canine is finished with training, he or she would have helped up to 60 warriors throughout the process.

Warrior Canine Connection utilizes its Mission Based Trauma Recovery model to empower returning combat veterans who have sustained physical and psychological wounds while in service to our country. Based on the concept of warriors helping warriors, WCC’s therapeutic service dog training program is designed to mitigate symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and other challenges, while giving injured combat veterans a sense of purpose and help in reintegrating back into their families and communities. As part of their training, veterans have the responsibility to teach the dogs that the world is a safe place. Through that process, they must convince themselves of the same.

20190826_123720“This partnership is a win-win for both The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Easterseals and the Warrior Canine Connection because it allows both organizations to help our wounded warriors find the best way to bring joy back into their lives. For the Cohen Clinic, helping veterans get better is more than just managing the mental health aspect of it. It is also about helping veterans find wellness, which is just as important,” said Mallary Lass, USAF Ret., Outreach Manager with the Cohen Clinic.

20190826_121115“I’ve been trying to involve myself in more stuff. So when the Cohen Clinic sent me the information, I thought it would be a good chance to work on socializing myself after I came back with my trauma. With this program, I also like that I can be flexible with my commitment and maybe participate once a week. Plus, I like the idea of giving back to the veteran community,” said Natalie, U.S. Army veteran.

Veterans interested in the program can volunteer by working alongside a professional trainer to assist in the training process for a fellow veteran.

The Cohen Clinic is also working with the Warrior Canine Connection on an eight-week training session that will be open to our veteran community. For more information on the session, please contact Outreach Manager Mallary Lass at

For more on the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Easterseals, please go to our website at

Breaking Down Barriers to Care for Veterans with PTSD

jonFourth of July is coming up and most people spend it outside with their flags raised honoring both the holiday and those serving in the military. What many may not consider is how this display of patriotism may affect a veteran, particularly one with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

It is important to note that anyone who has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event can develop PTSD, not just military personnel. That said, today’s blog focuses on the impact of PTSD on veterans and military family members.

Studies show that 12.5 percent of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD. However, only half of those with PTSD ever seek treatment. Some symptoms of untreated PTSD include intrusive painful memories, flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance of reminders and previously enjoyable experiences, depression and anxiety, and in extreme cases, suicidal thoughts or behavior.

african american family holding usa flag

Veterans in our community are not just warriors, they are also parents, spouses, siblings, and members of families who love them and can’t bear to see them suffering. That is why Easterseals partnered with the Cohen Veterans Network to open the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Easterseals (Cohen Clinic) in 2017. Our Clinic serves veterans and military family members by providing them with high-quality behavioral health care, regardless of their ability to pay and regardless of their discharge status.

More importantly, the Cohen Clinic treats each client with a holistic approach to address the complex challenges that veterans and military family members might be facing.

anneke croppedTo help provide more insight to veterans living with PTSD, we spoke with Anneke Vandenbroek, Ph.D., ABPP – a licensed clinical psychologist and the lead clinician at the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Easterseals – who has been working with military service members for over 20 years in the treatment of PTSD, depression, anxiety disorders and other behavioral health disorders. She shares with us HOW the Cohen Clinic is helping veterans break down barriers to get the support they need for PTSD.


Q: The Cohen Clinic provides evidence-based therapies to help veterans with PTSD. What EXACTLY are evidence-based therapies?

Evidence-based therapies are treatments that have been researched across multiple studies and proven to be effective. Those studies might compare different treatments to each other, or they might compare a treatment to no treatment. Larger studies look at all the evidence across multiple studies to figure out which treatments are most effective. The treatments that are most effective are considered the ‘gold standard’ and that’s what we practice here.


Q: How effective are evidence-based therapies for treating PTSD?

The two most commonly used, and researched as being the most effective treatments for PTSD, are Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE). Clients can choose either one and do equally well with them.

As for outcomes, studies indicate that about 50 percent of clients with PTSD who are treated with either treatment will no longer meet the criteria for PTSD when treatment is completed. Of the remaining 50 percent, about 60 percent will have significant improvement in their symptoms. This means overall, 80 percent will have a positive outcome from these treatments.


Q: What can veterans expect to happen during treatment?

CPT consists of twelve 50-minute sessions of individual therapy. It can also be done as a group, but right now we only offer it as an individual treatment. It focuses on the change to thoughts and beliefs that have come about as a result of trauma. We help clients identify and examine those thoughts and beliefs and work to modify them. It’s very focused on improving the thinking aspect of PTSD.

PE consists of 90-minute sessions that vary from 6 to 12 total sessions, depending on the client. This therapy focuses on the avoidance component of PTSD and getting people back to the activities and things they enjoyed prior to the time they had PTSD. So we are looking at addressing the memories and the behaviors that have been avoided because of PTSD. For instance, people may stop going to the grocery store because they are uncomfortable in crowds. PE really focuses on helping people resume those activities that have become difficult for them as a result of the trauma.

Q: What kinds of traumas have been addressed with clients who have PTSD?

We have seen clients with a variety of traumas including combat-related, traumas that healthcare providers may encounter in combat situations or as casualty situations. So, for instance, working on a ship, like The Comfort, and responding to humanitarian disasters or a first responder kind of trauma, like a 9-11. Then there are traumas that result from early childhood abuse, being a victim of a crime or physical assault, as well as other miscellaneous traumas, like a car accident or something similar.

Q: Previously, stigma has been flagged as a major barrier for veterans and military family members when seeking adequate support for PTSD. However, now we are also learning that veterans have a hard time accessing care. Is access becoming more of a barrier than stigma for veterans when trying to get help?

I think the stigma is still a challenge for a lot of people, but we also know that barriers to care make it more difficult for people to get treatment. Barriers could be things like excessive wait times, the expense of coming to treatment, the logistical challenges around travel or times that our services are available.

The Cohen Clinic addresses these things on multiple fronts. For instance, we offer early morning appointments, we have weekend and evening appointments in order to work around people’s schedules. We offer childcare for when people need to come to appointments but have young children. We want to make it easier for them to make their appointments knowing that their children will be cared for while they take care of themselves. The ability to pay for services is not a barrier to care here.

018We also offer telehealth services, which is one of the BIGGEST things we can do to overcome barriers to treatment because people can access care from their living room, office or even a parked car. They don’t have to take time to travel to the clinic. It really only takes 50 minutes out of their day to attend the appointment, so they don’t need to use leave time, travel time, get stuck in Beltway traffic to get here. It’s really fantastic.

Telehealth definitely reduces barriers and make it easier for people to access care. The technology is easy to use. If you can use an app on your smartphone, then you can use telehealth services. And I think it allows people who normally have difficulty accessing care to come in and get treatment.

Overall, it’s really up to the clients to decide what they are comfortable with. They can choose to come in person, connect via telehealth or even try a combination of both. The critical thing is just to be available to them.

Q: Is the quality of care via telehealth as good as in-person?

Telehealth really is an effective way to engage with clients and research shows that it is equally effective. The outcome for clients who engage in telehealth is as good as outcomes for clients who engage in in-person therapy. An additional benefit is that it is so much easier to come to appointments and keep appointments. For example, let’s say one of our clients who normally comes in caught a cold. Instead of canceling his/her appointment, we could still do it via telehealth. Perhaps a schedule change came up and one of our clients now needs to head somewhere else in the area. With telehealth, he/she can still make the appointment.

I also really like it. In some ways, it’s actually easier than an office because I can share handouts and things to the clients immediately. I can show them links to resources online or just share my computer screen. At first, I thought it could be emotionally cold or disconnected, but I didn’t find that to be the case at all. I feel I have the same relationships with my clients via telehealth that I do in person. Clients also report a high degree of satisfaction with their services over telehealth.

Q: How does the clinic protect privacy with online therapy?

We use ZOOM, which is a HIPPA compliant, encrypted platform, and is very secure. Every telehealth session has a unique identifier that no one else can use to log in. The client gets a link and they are the only person with that link for the meeting.

Q: Are there any disadvantages to using telehealth for mental health services?

The only disadvantage I can think of with telehealth is that with new technology it can be a little bit challenging for some people. On occasion, there might be some connection problems due to slow internet service or low bandwidth. Usually, there are workarounds when those issues arise.

In order to address that, we always do a telehealth initial check with our data manager. She connects with the clients before the first scheduled appointment to make sure that they know how to use the link that is sent to them and is able to connect via smartphone, tablet, laptop or whatever they are using so that they know how to use it and are ready to go with their sessions.

For more information on how to connect with the Steven A. Cohen Military Family at Easterseals to get help with PTSD or any other related behavioral health support, please go to our website at

[Part 3] A Conversation with Jon: Reflecting on the Past and Looking to the Future

jonOn April 22nd, we celebrated 100 Years of Service at Easterseals. A milestone I am incredibly proud to be part of in our century-long history.

Easterseals has always been an organization that sees the world differently. When Edgar Allen founded Easterseals in 1919, he didn’t know that the organization would still be changing lives – one person, one family at a time – 100 years later.

Edgar AllenWhat he did know was that it was WRONG to hide children who were “crippled” or different in hospital wards. He knew that each of these individuals could contribute to society and make it better. That they deserved to be included. So he created Easterseals. It could have failed – the public that feared individuals with disabilities could have shunned him.

Instead, he took a risk and established an organization that evolves every day to create a hopeful, INCLUSIVE community where ALL individuals realize their potential and live MEANINGFUL lives.  Edgar Allen led a revolution.

Silver SpringToday, we are one of 71 affiliates across the country providing life-changing services to people of all ages with disabilities, special needs, military backgrounds, and their families in our communities.

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this blog series, we discussed how our services allow children with and without disabilities to thrive in their classrooms, help adults with disabilities live a more dignified life and provide veterans and military families facing challenges find a way back to better.

Our support of the individuals and families we serve is not only about providing a service but reflects our commitment to creating hopeful, inclusive communities where all people have the opportunity to achieve their potential and live meaningful lives.

In Part 3 of this series, I’ll dive deeper into how the Easterseals’ vision is creating a better society where everyone in our community is 100 percent included in the next century.


Q: What does creating an inclusive community mean for Easterseals?

Creating an inclusive community simply means integrating people with disabilities and special needs, including veterans and military families, in the broader community, so that we can be a stronger community together. It’s about making sure EVERYBODY has the same opportunities and access to resources they need to participate in all aspects of life to the best of their abilities.

Q: Why is that important? 

Inclusive communities are important to Easterseals and our society because everybody has the right to live, learn, work and play in their communities. It is about creating a real sense of equality for people of all abilities.

DSC_0113We also believe that a critical time for us to learn the importance of inclusion starts at a young age when children are taught social norms. For us, teaching children with and without disabilities in an inclusive classroom setting provides invaluable learning, healthy socialization and growth for all children.

Children with disabilities get the opportunity to learn alongside their classmates and friends rather than in separate classrooms. Typically developing children get the opportunity to learn the value of empathy and diversity, lessons they can carry with them the rest of their lives.

Since a big part of our program is to ensure that kids are prepared for school by the time they are 5-years old, we value the great feedback we receive from kindergarten teachers who tell us that children from Easterseals show impressive social and emotional development— like sitting still during circle time, waiting their turn and showing empathy for other classmates. We attribute all that to our inclusive environment.

Furthermore, inclusion helps children with special needs to achieve the best results. For example, just this week we received this note below from a mom of a child with autism who attends our Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Child Development Center in D.C.: “I am REALLY thrilled with this and with all of Beck’s progress. Honestly, there is no way to thank you all for everything you have done for him and his future. But I will say THANK YOU anyway.”

file-35This came about because the parent had a recent meeting with the public schools to review their recommendations when the child graduates from Easterseals at the end of the summer. When her son (who has Autism) was initially evaluated 2 years ago by the school system, they recommended that he be placed in a self-contained (all special education) classroom with 4 hours of speech therapy a month.  The schools indicated that Beck’s “adaptive, cognitive, social and communication skills were delayed to the extent that they recommended a small classroom size with a small student-to-teacher ratio and an adapted or modified curriculum.

The family turned down that school’s classroom placement and enrolled their son in Easterseals instead where he was placed in a classroom with typically-developing children and receiving services from our early intervention team.

Now, he is a very different child.  He participates independently in daily routines, has great communication skills and most importantly, he has a lot of friends.

After coming to observe and evaluate Beck recently, the school system modified their recommendation and are now recommending a general education classroom with limited special education support and just 2 hours of speech therapy a month.

Q: In addition to inclusion, what role does innovation play in helping Easterseals decide how best to serve its community?

Innovation is one of our core values and it is actually critical to the success of any organization. For Easterseals, we started 100 years ago serving “crippled children” and for many are best known as providing therapy for children who had been disabled by polio. That disease has since been eradicated in the U.S. If our focus had remained on supporting children affected by polio, Easterseals wouldn’t exist today. Yet, we are still around.

To me, innovation means really considering the huge problems society faces and figuring out how we can find new ways to reduce or eliminate those problems. For example, every year in the U.S. there are about a million kids who enter kindergarten at risk of undiagnosed developmental delays or disabilities because they didn’t have access to proper screenings or high-quality early education. In our region alone there are about 50,000 kids a year, which is a huge problem.

Now we are incredibly proud of our child development centers, but opening more centers, which requires raising millions of dollars, is not going to help all those children. So, what we’ve been trying to do is think of ways to exponentially increase our impact and leverage the skills that we’ve built around inclusion.

One of the things we are doing is working with the U.S. Army—one of the largest operators of child development centers in the world – and training their child development personnel on our inclusion model so that we can increase our impact on a larger scale. Each teacher has the potential to directly impact about 25 children a year, and as they interact with the other teachers in their center, it is hundreds of children each year. Just last year, we trained 20 teachers, so we had an impact on thousands of children!

Q: What innovative projects are in place for adults with disabilities?

For adults with disabilities, unemployment and underemployment are critical problems.  Only about a third of working-age adults with disabilities are employed. That means two-thirds are not working, which is a great loss of potential resources.

While there are many programs that provide great training and support, the issue still isn’t fully solved. So we came up with a solution where we can partner with other nonprofits that provide training services and leverage the relationships we already have with employers through the Veteran Staffing Network. The program I am referring to is called EDSN also known as the Easterseals Disability Staffing Network.

IMG_6131We want to provide a more comprehensive solution to employers and increase the percentage of people with disabilities finding meaningful employment. Since we launched more than a year ago, we are proud of the fact that we have helped coached more than 320 people and placed over 100 talented individuals living with disabilities in jobs they can be proud of.

Q: How else has Easterseals exemplified innovation?

It’s always great to highlight wonderful new programs, but a big part of what makes Easterseals so special is the caring nature of our staff, teachers and center directors, who are constantly coming up with new ways to enhance the lives of our participants.

Comcast Assistive Tech - Ms. Penny from Adult Day ServicesRecent examples that come to mind include our registered nurse in the Silver Spring Adult Day Center who came up with new ideas for enhancing our meetings between staff, participants and caregivers so that everybody is fully engaged and is able to give critical feedback.

Also, one of the assistant directors of our child development centers came up with a new process for welcoming new families into the Center, so they could feel more included when they joined. Innovation is not always about something huge and grand like a new program. It’s often something very tactical that can truly make a difference.

Q: As Easterseals looks forward into the future, how will you ensure the organization stays relevant to its community?

With technology constantly changing things, it’s hard to say exactly what direction we will take to stay relevant to our communities. But for us, technology is important in terms of how it can support our work. The key to staying relevant to our communities is still really about listening to what is going on within our communities.

For example, right now we know from studies that 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, and that number is projected to be 14 million by 2050. This disease is going to be a huge cost to society and there is no way that all of these people can go into nursing homes.

From our standpoint, we have to create new solutions like medical adult day centers and other ideas that can enable those individuals and their families to get the services they need to be supported without bankrupting the country.

Monumental problems like Alzheimer’s disease are going to require many organizations, governments and forward-thinking individuals working together to come up with viable solutions. And Easterseals has always been good at forging partnerships to bring groups and thought leaders together to solve national problems.

Innovative thinking has always been and will always continue to be a welcome at Easterseals.

For more information on how you can get involved with Easterseals as a volunteer, donor, board/staff member or partner, please go to our website at

Highlights from the 2019 Easterseals Advocacy Awards

jonOn May 10, 2019, we gathered at the National Building Museum in D.C. for an incredible night to celebrate 100 Years of Service and honor five inspiring leaders and advocates who embody Easterseals’ mission of making profound and positive differences to people’s lives every day:

Marjorie Morrison, President, CEO and Co-founder of Psych Hub, an online platform with engaging videos about mental health, substance abuse and suicide prevention;

General David Goldfein, the 21st Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force and Dawn Goldfein, who have been champions for military families for more than three decades; and

Joseph Martore, CEO of CALIBRE Systems Inc. and Gracia Martore, retired President and CEO of TEGNA Inc. They have been supporting Easterseals programs for children and families for close to a decade.

View More: Awards Chair Tom Portman and Easterseals Board Chair Robin Portman kicked off the event with a welcome of more than 500 guests and then introduced a powerful video of mother Angela Spraul, who shared how Easterseals supported her family after the passing of her husband, a veteran of the U.S. Navy.

Thyra and Kenny #3

Later in the evening the story of Kenny Packett, a participant of the Easterseals Adult Day Center, was shared through his mother Thyra. She highlighted how the Center was a godsend for her and Kenny, who has Williams syndrome, a genetic condition that is considered a milder form of Down syndrome.

Sneak Peek-0011.jpg

The Easterseals Advocacy Awards was not only filled with amazing stories of impact, inspiring imagery and delicious food prepared by Chef Robert Irvine, an Honorary Board Member, but it was also filled with inspiring words by our Advocacy Award recipients.


View More:

Marjorie Morrison: “We should never, ever, ever accept that it’s okay to lose more lives at home than on the battlefield. Together, and only together, can we change the current mental health climate.”

General David Goldfein: “There is one obligation as a leader of my institution that I have to get right…our sacred duty, and that is every soldier, sailor, Marine, and Coast Guardsmen that we send into harm’s way to do the nation’s business has got to be properly organized, trained, equipped and well led, courageously led. And when they come home from doing the nation’s business, they come home to their family, who we have taken care of while they were gone. Easterseals helps us perform our sacred duty.”

View More:

Dawn Goldfein: “Because of these programs, you provide hope. Hope to those who have served with courage – under and after fire – to those with visible and invisible wounds, to their spouses who exhibit a special kind of courage and are often the caregivers or advocates for their warrior husband or wife, and to their children. It’s an honor and a privilege to be associated with Easterseals.”


Gracia Matore: “Over the years, Joe and I have gotten to know the teachers, the administrators, and the children who benefit every day from their experiences at the Child Development Center. We see how the Center provides opportunities and an environment where children can blossom and thrive.”

Joseph Matore: “We see the Advocacy Award as an honor, but also a challenge to us and to everyone connected to Easterseals to continue being involved, continue to support, and continue to build this organization.”


Other honorable presenters and speakers who graced us with their presence include:

Ellyn Dunford, Spouse of General Joseph F. Dunford, USMC, 2017 Advocacy Award Recipient, and Easterseals DC MD VA Ambassador, who presented the award to Marjorie Morrison;

J.R. McDonald, Vice President of Government Affairs, Air Force Programs and Joint Strike Fighter with Lockheed Martin, who presented the award to the Goldfeins;

Charles Mann, Three-Time Super Bowl Champion and Honorary Board Member, and Damani Tichawonna, alumnus of Easterseals Child Development Center in D.C., who presented the award to the Matores;

Juliette Rizzo, Former Miss Wheelchair America and Board Member and Megan Scully, Easterseals Child Development Center Parent, who helped us raise donations from the audience; and

Holleyanne Milley, Spouse of General Mark Milley, USA, 2018 Advocacy Award Recipient and Easterseals DC MD VA Ambassador, who presented gifts to the Advocacy Award Chairs.

View More:

We also presented a Leadership Award, which recognizes non-management staff for their leadership qualities. This year it went to Edythe Holmes, a Lead Teacher who works with our two-year olds helping them to understand the world around them.

By the end of the night, Easterseals had even more to celebrate. Thanks to our sponsors, donors and participants in our silent auction, we raised more than $850,000 to support Easterseals vital programs that serve our community.

Thank you again to all our event sponsors and donors! The night wouldn’t have been a success without you.

And of course, the evening would not have even been possible without the hard work and dedication of our Advocacy Chairs, Steering Committee and Ambassador Committee, as well as our Events, Development, Communications & Marketing and Board Liaison teams.

For months they have worked tirelessly to ensure that EVERY partner, story and detail would help create a wonderful experience where our guests would be able to feel the impact and see the difference that Easterseals makes in the lives of the people we serve every day.

For more images of this amazing night of celebration, check out our Flickr page here.

Now if you missed your chance to attend our Advocacy Awards, don’t worry because the opportunity to get involved or give is ongoing. We also hope to see you next year at our 2020 Advocacy Awards.

To learn more about Easterseals, please go to our website at WWW.ESEAL.ORG.

[Part 2] A Conversation with Jon: Veterans Are a Part of Our Community

jonNext month, Easterseals will be celebrating 100 years of service to community members living with disabilities or special needs, including veterans and military families.

In Part 1 of this blog series, I talked about the meaning behind Easterseals’ definition of disability and why creating hope for our communities is such a powerful idea.

In THIS blog, I want to dive deeper into our veteran community and highlight why they are so important to the Easterseals family. But first, I would like to share why our services to veterans are important to me, which really boils down to two things. First, my dad was a Korean War veteran, though he served stateside, and he met my mom while he was stationed in Baltimore. Second, I truly believe in Easterseals’ vision, and part of that is working towards “inclusive communities”.

Currently, about one percent of our population serves in the military, and in many ways, military families now are perceived the way people with disabilities were perceived 100 years ago when Edgar Allen founded Easterseals. Separate, different, and frankly, maybe someone to be a little scared of. Just as Edgar Allen saw the perception as wrong and created a revolution to change it; we have the opportunity to change stereotypes of military families by making them a part of our community.

In fact, last year I took part in the inaugural class of the George W. Bush Institute’s Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program, so I could broaden my personal and professional knowledge and skill sets surrounding veteran services and strengthen Easterseals’ impact on veterans and their families.

To read more about my experience in the Stand-To-Veteran program, feel free to check out these past articles:


Q: Easterseals has a lot of programs that serve the veteran community. Why is this community important to Easterseals?

Veterans really matter to us because they are an important part of our community. Easterseals’ affiliate structure allows us to service the needs of our community, and here in DC, Maryland, and Virginia, there are many veterans and military families. If we weren’t serving them, we would not be fully serving our community.

As our Honorary Board Member, Deborah Mullen, shared when she spoke at our Advocacy Awards dinner, “veterans and military family members want what every other American wants: a good job for themselves and their spouse or partner, a good education for their children and a place to call home.” We are all one community with similar goals, and it’s important for Easterseals to support everyone to achieve that.

Often, we serve military families in a program we already have like child development. Also, starting a program for veterans can be a springboard for meeting broader community needs. For example, the vision for the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Easterseals is that over time we will have the capabilities to meet the mental health needs of the broader community. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates have increased 25 percent in general in the US since 1999. This is a hugely underfunded area, and the suicide epidemic is not just among veterans, but the entire community.

Q: The Washington DC metro area has many organizations that serve veterans. How are Easterseals’ veteran programs unique?

There are a couple of key differences. First, because Easterseals is a community-based organization and not solely a veteran service organization, our focus is on ensuring that veterans and military family members successfully integrate into our community – what they served to protect.

Second, Easterseals is focused on finding ways to innovate to serve the whole family. Many organizations rely solely on government funding for their programs, but Easterseals keeps a balance of philanthropic support, earned revenue, and government funding so that we can really meet community needs.

One example is our Little Warriors program. It provides scholarships so that young children of wounded warriors can attend our child development programs. This ensures that the children will be prepared for school when they reach kindergarten age, while the parents are able to focus on recovery and rehabilitation without worrying about the development of their children. It also enables the parents to become part of the community of other parents with young children. And often being part of the community and having group support can make all the difference.

Dedication 1For example, the Spraul Family has two daughters who attended the Little Warriors program. Unfortunately, their father Wes, a wounded Navy corpsman, took his own life. At that point, Mom Angela feared that her daughters would be removed from the program because government programs for wounded warriors were cut off upon Wes’ death. Of course, during this turbulent time continuity for the children was critical, and because we have philanthropic support we were able to continue to serve the Sprauls in the program.

What was also amazing to Angela was the way the Easterseals community came together to support her family. Other parents from the Center created a website for other parents to sign up to bring meals to Easterseals each day so that Angela wouldn’t have to worry about shopping and cooking. Angela shared that having community support played a major role in helping her stay strong for her girls.

Helping to integrate other Easterseals families with military families encourages the community to see that military families are more similar than different. There is a stereotype out there that every veteran has PTSD and may “go off” at any minute. That’s simply false.

Q: So what areas of veteran services does Easterseals feel makes the most difference?

Our goal is to help veterans re-enter into our communities by delivering high-quality employment and behavioral health care services that treat not just veterans but the entire military family, which I think are core areas.

The truth is unemployment and mental health issues are not physically obvious but can be just as debilitating for veterans and their family members. By supporting the whole person and their entire family, we ensure they succeed at re-entering back into civilian life.

Also, at our Cohen Clinic, we find that more than 60 percent of our clients are actually dealing with issues that pretty much everybody faces, like family and relationships, financial and parenting challenges, and depression and anxiety that come from everyday pressures.

Q: What does supporting the whole person mean? And can you give an example of what that looks like for a veteran?

Supporting a person as a whole tie to our core value of “respect”. It really means listening and understanding the underlying issues that a person faces, not just saying we know what’s best for you. For example, we had a 12-year Army veteran, Mike Inzeo, whose son Mikey was born dead then resuscitated and placed on life support. Many believed Mikey would not make it through the night, but he did. Mikey defied the odds and eventually went home, but he did have severe brain damage. His father Mike worked at night and stayed with his son during the day, so he could help with his therapies, but it was burning him out.

IMG_5404Eventually, Mike and his family decided to seek help and chose Easterseals to be a partner in care for their son. At the time Mike wasn’t even aware of Easterseals military programs. He chose Easterseals because of referrals from Mikey’s support team. As we got to know the Inzeos, we learned that Mike was considering a move overseas to earn more but didn’t want to be separated from Mikey. We connected him with the Veteran Staffing Network and helped him find a better job here in our area. By helping to support his unique child care and employment situations, we supported Mike holistically to achieve a better quality of life.

The same principle applies to veterans facing mental health challenges while they are seeking employment. If someone has mental health issues, it is unlikely they will have a successful job search or be fully successful at work. At the same time, if someone is unemployed it can exacerbate mental health issues. Thus the Veteran Staffing Network and our Cohen Clinic can provide cross-referrals to ensure the holistic needs of a veteran or military family member are met.

Q: How does Easterseals feel about partnering with other organizations in providing services to veterans?

Partnerships are extremely important because there aren’t enough resources to meet ALL the needs of veterans and military families. Different organizations have different skill sets and areas of expertise, which is why we collaborate with other veteran service organizations like Hiring Our Heroes, AMVETS, American Legion and Blue Star Families.

For us, our area of expertise for veterans and military families include providing them with low-to-no cost mental health care, helping to find meaningful employment, offering respite care for the families of wounded warriors, and giving their young children scholarships to attend our early care and education programs.

Collaboration is extremely important for our homeless veteran reintegration programs where our team has to build strong networks with other organizations to address the complex issues homeless veterans face such as housing, health and sometimes substance abuse. Basically, we believe that when organizations work together, we are ensuring our veterans are getting the best possible services and care available to them.

Similar to our adult day services centers, we don’t run group homes because it’s not our area of expertise. However, it’s critical that we partner with them to make sure that individuals who live in group homes have a great experience during the day and that their needs are met.

For child development and therapy, we partner with governments to make sure that we work with them in determining who is best to provide therapy to our children, especially when it comes to different jurisdictions. By working together, we maximize resources and increase efficacy for our families, which is what a community does for each other.

I cannot express enough how incredibly proud I am to be part of that.

More of “A Conversation with Jon” will be available in our April blog post where we will talk about how we plan to innovate to stay relevant to our communities and help those who need Easterseals services the most. For more information about Easterseals life-changing programs for veterans and military families, please go to our website at